Scythopolis (Σκυθῶν πόλις; Peshito- Syriac, Beisan; Vulg. ciritas Scytharum), that is, "the city of the Seythians," occurs in the A. V. of Judith 3:10 and 2 Macc. 12:29 only. In the Sept. of Jg 1:27, however, it is inserted (in both the great MSS.) as the synonym of Beth-shean (q.v.), and this identification is confirmed by the narrative of 1 Macc. 5:52, a parallel account to that of 2 Macc. 12:29, as well as by the repeated statements of Josephus (Ant. v, 1, 22; 6:14, 8; 12:8, 5). He uniformly gives the name in the contracted shape (Σκυθόπολις), in which it is also given by Eusebius (Onomast. passim), Pliny (H.N, v, 18), Strabo (xvi), etc., and which is inaccurately followed in the A.V. Polybius (v, 70, 4) employs the fuller form of the Sept. Beth-shean has now, like so many other places in the Holy Land, regained its ancient name, and is known as Beisan only. A mound close to it on the west is called Tell Shuk, in which it is perhaps just possible that a trace of Scythopolis may linger. But although there is no doubt whatever of the identity of the place there is considerable difference of opinion as to the origin of the name. The Sept. (as is evident from the form in which they present it) and Pliny (H. N. v, 16) attribute it to the Scythians, who, in the words of the Byzantine historian George Syncellus, "overran Palestine and took possession of Baisan, which from them is called Scythopolis." This has been in modern times generally referred to the invasion recorded by Herodotus (i, 104-106), when the Scythians, after their occupation of Media, passed through Palestine on their road to Egypt (about B.C. 600 a few years before the taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar), a statement now recognised as a real fact, though some of the details may be open to question (Rawlinson's Herod. i, 246). It is not at all improbable that either on their passage through, or on their return after being repulsed by Psammetichus (Herod. i, 105), some Scythians may have settled in the country (Ewald, Gesch. iii, 694, note); and no place would be more likely to attract them than Beisan — fertile, most abundantly watered, and in an excellent military position. In the then state of the Holy Land they would hardly meet with much resistance. SEE SCYTHIAN.
Reland, however (apparently incited thereto by his doubts of the truth of Herodotus's account), discarded this explanation, and suggested that Scythopolis was a corruption of Succothopolis the chief town of the district of Succoth. In this he is supported by Gesenius (,Votes to
Burckhardt, p. 1058) and by Grimm (Exeg. Handbuch on 1 Macc. 5:52). Sinee, however, the objection of Reland to the historical truth of Herodotus is now removed, the necessity for this suggestion (certainly most ingenious) seems not to exist. The distance of Succoth from Beisan, if we identify the former with Sakut, is ten miles; while if the arguments of Mr. Beke are valid, it would be nearly double as far. It is surely gratuitous to suppose that so large, independent, and important a town as Beth-shean was in the earlier history, and as the remains show it to have been in the Greek period, should have taken its name from a comparatively insignificant place at a long distance from it. Dr. Robinson (Bib. Res. iii, 330) remarks with justice that had the Greeks derived the name from Succoth, they would have employed that name in its translated form as Σκηναί, and the compound would have been Scenopolis. Reland's derivation is also dismissed without hesitation by Ewald, on the ground that the two names Succoth and Skythes have nothing in common (Gesch. iii, 694, note). Dr. Robinson suggests that, after all, City of the Scythians may be right, the word Scythia being used, as in the New Test., as equivalent to a barbarian or savage. In this sense he thinks it may have been applied to the wild Arabs, who then, as now, inhabited the Ghor, and at times may have had possession of Beth-shean.
The Canaanites were never expelled from Beth-shean, and the heathen appear to have always maintained a footing there. It is named in the Mishna as the seat of idolatry (Aboda Zara, i, 4), and as containing a double population Jews and heathens. At the beginning of the Roman war (A.D. 65), the heathen rose against the Jews and massacred a large number, according to Josephus (War, ii, 18, 3) no less than 13,000, in a wood or grove close to the town. Scythopolis was the largest city of the Decapolis, and the only one of the ten which lay west of Jordan. By Eusebius and Jerome (Onomast. s.v." Bethsau") it is characterized as πόλις ἐπίδημος and urbs nobilis. It was surrounded by a district of its own of the most abundant fertility. It became the seat of a Christian bishop, and its name is found in the lists of signatures as late as the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 536. The latest mention of it under the title of Scythopolis is probably that of William of Tyre (22:16, 26). He mentions it as if it was then actually so called, carefully explaining that it was formerly Bethshan. SEE BETH- SHEAN.