BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Beth Shean in the Bible and Archaeology

The story of the death of King Saul as told by archaeology and the Bible

Beth Shean in the Bible and Archaeology

The imposing tell of Beth Shean. In the Bible the city plays an important role following the death of King Saul and as a major Israelite administrative center. Excavations over the past century have revealed what archaeology (and the Bible) can—and can’t—tell us about the site’s history. Photo: Gaby Laron, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The most famous episode featuring Beth Shean in the Bible follows the death of King Saul on Mt. Gilboa:

The Philistines came to strip the slain, and they found Saul and his three sons lying on Mt. Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped him of his armor … They placed his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they impaled his body on the wall of Beth Shean. When the men of Jabesh-Gilead heard about it—what the Philistines had done to Saul—all their stalwart men set out and marched all night. They removed the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shean and came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took the bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days (1 Samuel 31:8–13; cf. 1 Chronicles 10:8–12).

Archaeology seeks to uncover an even broader picture of a site’s past. In the Bible, Beth Shean is a major administrative center in Solomon’s kingdom, but excavations show that the site was an important one long before (and after) the kings of Israel reigned over it. Even so, can archaeology and the Bible corroborate the same historical event?


As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

Multiple excavations at Beth Shean in the past century have revealed a 6,000-year history of settlement at the site. Located near the intersection of two well-traveled ancient routes, Beth Shean proved to have important strategic value as early as the fifth millennium B.C.E., when it was first settled. Civilizations rose and fell at the site throughout the Chalcolithic period and Bronze Age. Some of the most impressive finds at Beth Shean came from the Late Bronze Age, when Egyptian pharaohs ruled over much of Canaan and used Beth Shean as a crucial administrative center to rule over its vassal kingdoms.

Unfortunately, due in part to later Roman and Byzantine construction at the base of the mound, excavators have not yet revealed any portion of the Beth Shean city wall from the 11th century B.C.E., when the Biblical story about King Saul’s death most likely occurred. And although the city was certainly occupied at this time, there is no evidence of a Philistine presence at the site then. So archaeology has not confirmed the Bible’s stories, but it has shed light on an even richer past at Beth Shean.

For more about the death of King Saul and the aftermath at Beth Shean in the Bible, as well as the extent to which archaeology and the Bible agree about Beth Shean’s past, read “Was King Saul Impaled on the Wall of Beth Shean?” by Amihai Mazar in Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2012.


BAS Library Members: Read “Was King Saul Impaled on the Wall of Beth Shean?” by Amihai Mazar as it appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on February 23, 2012.


Become a member of Biblical Archaeology Society, and gain All Access with your membership today

The BAS Library includes online access to more than 9,000 articles by world-renowned experts and 22,000 gorgeous color photos from…

  • 45 years of Biblical Archaeology Review
  • 20 years of Bible Review, critical interpretations of Biblical texts
  • 8 years of Archaeology Odyssey, exploring the ancient roots of the Western world
  • The fully-searchable New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, an authoritative work of the past century of archaeological study
  • Video lectures from world-renowned experts
  • Four books published by BAS and the Smithsonian Institution

Plus, you get access to so much more from your All-Access pass:

Biblical Archaeology Review print edition:

Enjoy the same current issues in glorious, traditional, full-color print …

  • One year of print issues of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine

Biblical Archaeology Review tablet edition:

Stay on top of the latest research! You get …

  • One year of issues of Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, all on your iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle Fire
  • Instant access to the complete tablet edition back-issue catalog of BAR from the January/February 2011 issue forward

All of this rich and detailed scholarship is available to you—right now—by buying a special All-Access pass.

That’s right: when you purchase your All-Access pass, you get a ticket to four decades of study, insight and discovery. Why not join us right now and start your own exploration?

Whether you’re researching a paper, preparing a sermon, deepening your understanding of Scripture or history, or simply marveling at the complexity of the Bible – the most important book in history—the BAS All-Access pass is an invaluable tool that cannot be matched anywhere else.

You'll get to experience all the discoveries and debate in beautiful clarity with Biblical Archaeology Review, anytime, anywhere! And the Library is fully searchable by topic, author, title and keyword, as well as the Special Collections like this one.

The All-Access pass is the way to explore Bible history and biblical archaeology.

Related Posts


8 Responses

  1. Camelia says:

    Very good

  2. Silverwwolf says:

    I take it they cut off Sauls head as a kind of jab at the Israelites for the death of Goliath whose head was cut off. I probably would have been more humiliating to leave Saul his head so Philistine passerby could mock and scorn.

    My question is where was David in all this. He surely could have snuck up behind the Philistine army with his large contingent and mounted a rear flank attack and try to help the one he called the “annointed one of God” in his severest trial. In fact it might have boosted morale umpteen points.

    Or was he hoping for exactly this turnout and his poem was more about Jonathan the King who was now out of his way in a bid for the throne?

  3. Nige says:

    ——- “Beth Shean proved to have important strategic value as early as the fifth millennium B.C.E., when it was first settled.” — If you use BCE (Before Common Era) you are denying Christ and removing Him from history! This is shameful and wrong on a site about Bible matters – you ought to be well aware of this.

  4. Gene R. Conradi says:

    SAUL

    [Asked [of God]; Inquired [of God]].

    1. A Benjamite descended from Jeiel (presumably also called Abiel) through Ner and Kish (1Ch 8:29-33; 9:35-39; see ABIEL No. 1); the first divinely selected king of Israel. (1Sa 9:15, 16; 10:1) Saul came from a wealthy family. A handsome man, standing head and shoulders taller than all others of his nation, he possessed great physical strength and agility. (1Sa 9:1, 2; 2Sa 1:23) The name of his wife was Ahinoam. Saul fathered at least seven sons, Jonathan, Ishvi, Malchi-shua, Abinadab, Ish-bosheth (Eshbaal), Armoni, and Mephibosheth, as well as two daughters, Merab and Michal. Abner, evidently King Saul’s uncle (see ABNER), served as chief of the Israelite army.—1Sa 14:49, 50; 2Sa 2:8; 21:8; 1Ch 8:33.

    The young man Saul lived during a turbulent time of Israel’s history. Philistine oppression had reduced the nation to a helpless state militarily (1Sa 9:16; 13:19, 20), and the Ammonites under King Nahash threatened aggression. (1Sa 12:12) Whereas Samuel had faithfully judged Israel, his sons were perverters of justice. (1Sa 8:1-3) Viewing the situation from a human standpoint and, therefore, losing sight of Jehovah’s ability to protect his people, the older men of Israel approached Samuel with the request that he appoint a king over them.—1Sa 8:4, 5.

    Anointed as King. Thereafter Jehovah guided matters to provide the occasion for anointing Saul as king.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200003847

  5. Ancient Beth Shan (Beth Shean) « Biblical Archaeology says:

    […] Beth Shean Professor Amihai Mazar’s profile (Institute of Archaeology, accessed April 2012) Beth Shean in the Bible and Archaeology  (Biblical Archaeology Society, accessed April 2012) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the […]

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


8 Responses

  1. Camelia says:

    Very good

  2. Silverwwolf says:

    I take it they cut off Sauls head as a kind of jab at the Israelites for the death of Goliath whose head was cut off. I probably would have been more humiliating to leave Saul his head so Philistine passerby could mock and scorn.

    My question is where was David in all this. He surely could have snuck up behind the Philistine army with his large contingent and mounted a rear flank attack and try to help the one he called the “annointed one of God” in his severest trial. In fact it might have boosted morale umpteen points.

    Or was he hoping for exactly this turnout and his poem was more about Jonathan the King who was now out of his way in a bid for the throne?

  3. Nige says:

    ——- “Beth Shean proved to have important strategic value as early as the fifth millennium B.C.E., when it was first settled.” — If you use BCE (Before Common Era) you are denying Christ and removing Him from history! This is shameful and wrong on a site about Bible matters – you ought to be well aware of this.

  4. Gene R. Conradi says:

    SAUL

    [Asked [of God]; Inquired [of God]].

    1. A Benjamite descended from Jeiel (presumably also called Abiel) through Ner and Kish (1Ch 8:29-33; 9:35-39; see ABIEL No. 1); the first divinely selected king of Israel. (1Sa 9:15, 16; 10:1) Saul came from a wealthy family. A handsome man, standing head and shoulders taller than all others of his nation, he possessed great physical strength and agility. (1Sa 9:1, 2; 2Sa 1:23) The name of his wife was Ahinoam. Saul fathered at least seven sons, Jonathan, Ishvi, Malchi-shua, Abinadab, Ish-bosheth (Eshbaal), Armoni, and Mephibosheth, as well as two daughters, Merab and Michal. Abner, evidently King Saul’s uncle (see ABNER), served as chief of the Israelite army.—1Sa 14:49, 50; 2Sa 2:8; 21:8; 1Ch 8:33.

    The young man Saul lived during a turbulent time of Israel’s history. Philistine oppression had reduced the nation to a helpless state militarily (1Sa 9:16; 13:19, 20), and the Ammonites under King Nahash threatened aggression. (1Sa 12:12) Whereas Samuel had faithfully judged Israel, his sons were perverters of justice. (1Sa 8:1-3) Viewing the situation from a human standpoint and, therefore, losing sight of Jehovah’s ability to protect his people, the older men of Israel approached Samuel with the request that he appoint a king over them.—1Sa 8:4, 5.

    Anointed as King. Thereafter Jehovah guided matters to provide the occasion for anointing Saul as king.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200003847

  5. Ancient Beth Shan (Beth Shean) « Biblical Archaeology says:

    […] Beth Shean Professor Amihai Mazar’s profile (Institute of Archaeology, accessed April 2012) Beth Shean in the Bible and Archaeology  (Biblical Archaeology Society, accessed April 2012) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the […]

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend