General chronology
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City records - Beth Shan

This page summarises the history of Beth Shan, as revealed by the Old Testament, other textual sources, and archaeological surveys. Beth Shan's best known Old Testament reference is in connection with the death of Saul. It is commonly and virtually without dispute identified with Tell el Hosn, adjacent to the village of Beisan.

Contents

  1. Old Testament references
  2. Other textual references
  3. Archaeology
  4. Chronological implications

Old Testament references

It is assumed that Beth Shean and Beth Shan are alternative names for the same location. The former name is restricted to one specific episode, related in 1 Samuel 31:10-12 and referred to in 2 Samuel 21:12. After the Battle of Gilboa, at which Saul and certain of his sons were killed, their bodies were taken to Beth Shean and exposed as trophies on the wall. Men from Jabesh Gilead recovered the bodies to bury them appropriately.

According to Joshua 17:11 and 16, Beth Shan belonged to Manasseh but was actually in the territory of Issachar. However, Manasseh was unable to take the town from its Canaanite inhabitants, a fact also noted in Jdg. 1:27. 1 Chr. 7:29 repeats this tribal ownership. Solomon placed one of his regional governors there (1 Kings 4:12), but other than this, there are no references to Beth Shan after the establishment of the monarchy.

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Other textual references

The city is mentioned numerous times through New Kingdom Egypt. Thutmose III claimed to have the city under his control. In the Amarna letters, it was one of the few places to actually receive the reinforcements so many of the city rulers requested. An Egyptian governor's residency was maintained here throughout New Kingdom times (also at other nearby locations such as Tell es Sayideh and Aphek), and a garrison was maintained throughout the 20th dynasty, probably of Sherden. Egypt appears to have withdrawn a presence here at the end of the New Kingdom, but Shoshenk I listed it amongst the places he captured on his campaign.

Stelae of both Seti I and Rameses II have been found here. Seti's inscription reads (in part): "...one came to speak to his majesty as follows: 'the wretched foe who is in the town of Hamath is gathering to himself many people while he is seizing the town of Beth Shan'... Thereupon his majesty sent ... the first army of Re (named) 'Plentiful of Valour' to the town of Beth Shan ... When the space of a day had passed, they <the towns concerned> were overthrown with the glory of his majesty". That of Rameses II indicates a nearby threat from Habiru groups.

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Archaeology

The existence of a 4th millennium settlement, and an important Canaanite city in the Early Bronze Age, have been established but not yet thoroughly surveyed. By far the majority of work has focused on levels 9 up to 1, identified with the Late Bronze to Islamic periods.

Level 9 is matched with Thutmose III, on the basis of scarabs with his name found there. An extensive temple dedicated to Mekal, Baal of Beth Shan, is part of this level. Conventionally this dates to the early 15th century, and in New Chronology terms to the late 12th century.

Level 8 is comparatively unimportant and corresponds to the transition between 18th and 19th Egyptian dynasties - around 1300 BCE conventionally and 1000 according to the New Chronology. Level 7, parallel with the bulk of the 19th dynasty, is more extensive, and includes a temple with a stela depicting a goddess with horned headdress. A similar temple forms part of level 6, synchronised with Rameses III on the basis of a statue found there. Other evidence here points to the presence of a mercenary garrison, probably made up of Sea Peoples' troops on the basis of coffin styles.

At level 5 (conventionally in the 11th century BCE, New Chronology 9th century) two temples have been uncovered, dedicated to Resheph and Antit. After that there is little material settlement through until the Hellenistic period in level 3, after the Old Testament period of interest.

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Chronological implications

Beth Shan chronology The diagram to the right shows the relative placement of the archaeological findings and Biblical references to Beth Shan in both conventional and New Chronology terms. The Bronze to Iron Age transition is the point of greatest divergence between the two, and this is highlighted by the differences here.

Conventionally the archaeological record and Old Testament references tally, with no special explanations required.

However, the New Chronological redefinition of the Late Bronze to Iron Age transition breaks all of these points of correspondence. Judges is redated to the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, and Saul, being parallel to the Amarna period in Egypt, is also well within Late Bronze IIA. Hence the fact that Beth Shan is reliably described as an Egyptian garrison through the New Kingdom period into the start of the Third Intermediate Period is difficult. There are only a few possible resolutions of this. The most obvious is that Solomon - who is described as being able to appoint his own governor at the city - was in fact operating in a clearly defined subordinate role as an Egyptian official himself. In this case, part of his responsibilites may have been to appoint officials to administer his region, and an Israelite document would naturally have described this in its most favourable light. This explanation may be valid: however it is clear that at face value the match in the New Chronology of Tell el Hosn with Beth Shan is poor.

General chronology