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BETHSAN (Bethshan, Βαιθσάν, Βεθσάνη), or SCYTHOPOLIS, a city of the Manassites, but locally [p. 1.399]situated in the tribe of Issachar. (Coinp. Judg. 1.27; 1 Chron. 7.29; Josh. 17.11.) It was situated to the east of the great Plain of Esdraelon (1 Maccab. 5.52), not far from the Jordan, and was 600 stadia distant from Jerusalem. (2 Macc. 12.29.) In the time of Saul it was occupied by the Philistines, who, after the battle of Gilboa, hung the bodies of Saul and his sons to the walls of this city. (1 Sam. 31.10, 12.) It is placed by Josephus at the southern extremity of Galilee. (B. J. 3.3.1.) He calls it the chief city of the Decapolis, and near Tiberias. (B. J. 3.8.7.) Elsewhere he states its distance from Tiberias to be 120 stadia. (Vita, § 65.) Ptolemy (5.16) reckons it as one of the cities of Coelesyria. Pliny (5.18), who assigns it to Decapolis [DECAPOLIS], says that it was formerly called Nysa, from the nurse of Bacchus, who was buried there. Several conflicting accounts are given of its classical name, Scythopolis, Pliny and others ascribing it to the Scythians, who are supposed to have occupied it on their invasion of Palestine (B.C. 568--596), recorded by Herodotus (1.105). Reland (p. 983), who rejects this, suggests a derivation from the fact mentioned by St. Jerome, that the Succoth of Gen. 33.17, was near this place, on the opposite side of the Jordan, so making Σκυθόπολις equivalent to Συκοθόπολις. The modern Greeks derive it from Σκῦτος == δέρμα (a skin or hide), without offering any explanation of the name. This name is first used by the LXX. in their translation of Judges, 1.27 (Βαιθσὰν, ἐστι Σκυθσ῀ν πόλις), and occurs in the Apocryphal books without its original name. (1 Macc. 5.52, 7.36; 2 Macc. 12.39.) It early became an episcopal see, and is famous in the annals of the Church. Its modern ruins bear witness to the extent and importance of the ancient city. Burckhardt found it 8 1/4 hours from Nazareth, “situated on a rising ground on the west side of the Glor,” the μέγα πέδιον of Josephus, i. e. the Valley of the Jordan. “The ruins are of considerable extent, and the town, built along the banks of a rivulet and in the valleys formed by its several branches, must have been nearly three miles in circuit.” (Travels, p. 343.) Irby and Mangles approached it from Tiberias, and noticed traces of a Roman road on the way, and a Roman mile-stone. The principal object in the ruins is “the theatre, which is quite distinct, .... 180 feet wide, and has this peculiarity above all other theatres we have ever seen, viz., that those oval recesses half way up the theatre, mentioned by Vitruvius as being constructed to contain the brass sounding tubes, are found here ..... There are seven of them, and Vitruvius mentions that even in his day very few theatres had them.” (Travels, pp. 301, 303.) The necropolis is “at the NE. of the acropolis, without the walls: the sarcophagi remain in some of the tombs, and triangular niches for the lamps; some of the doors were also hanging on the ancient hinges of stone, in remarkable preservation.” A fine Roman bridge, some remains of the walls and of one of the gates, among which are prostrate columns of the Corinthian order, and paved ways leading from the city, are still existing.


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.105
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 5.18
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