1 Sam 28:1-4 The next year, in c.1011BC, the Philistines start to move north along the coastal plain and gather near Shunem, in the Vale of Jezreel, to attack the Israelites on Mt Gilboa (see 14 on Map 55).
1 Sam 28:5-25 Saul consults a medium at Endor (an act forbidden by God – see Leviticus 19:26 & Deuteronomy 18:9-13). This attempt at clairvoyancy confirms Saul’s imminent downfall (see 15 on Map 55).
1 Sam 29:1-11 The Philistine forces move north from Aphek to attack the Israelites in the Vale of Jezreel (see 16 on Map 55).
1 Sam 30:1-31 David is sent back to Ziklag which has been attacked by the Amalekites. David pursues the Amalekite raiding party across the Negev Desert beyond the Besor Ravine and defeats them. David recovers everything the Amalekites have taken – including his two wives (see 17 on Map 55).
1 Sam 31:1-3 Meanwhile, the Philistines attack and defeat the Israelites at Mt Gilboa. Jonathan and two other sons of Saul are killed in battle (see 18 on Map 55).
Mount Gilboa and the Jezreel Valley (Beivushtang)
1 Sam 31:4-10 Facing capture, Saul takes his own life. His body is fastened to the city walls at Beth Shean by the Philistines and his armour is displayed inside the Temple of Ashtoreth (see 19 on Map 55).
1 Sam 31:11-13 Saul’s body is rescued by the men of Jabesh Gilead who live across the River Jordan in the Wadi al-Yabis (see 20 on Map 55). The reign of King Saul has lasted a little less than two years.
English translations of 1 Samuel 13:1 usually say Saul “was king over Israel for 42 years”. However, the word ‘forty’ does not appear in the original Hebrew of the Tanakh – the Hebrew Bible. The word ‘forty’ was only added hundreds of years later to a few late manuscripts of the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures used by the New Testament church in the 1st century AD. This explains why Paul in Acts 13:21, using a convenient round number, says – quoting the Septuagint – that Saul “was king for 40 years”.
The ancient city of Beth Shean lay on the pleateau below the slopes of Mount Gilboa near where the Vale of Jezreel meets the Jordan Valley. Functioning originally as an Egyptian administrative centre during the reign of Pharoah Thutmose III and for the following three hundred years, it was one of the Canaanite cities that the Israelites were unable to conquer following their invasion of Canaan in c.1406 BC (see Joshua 17:11-12).
At this important location, it was adjacent to caravan routes from north to south along the Jordan Valley and from west to east, inland from the Mediterranean coast. The city grew prosperous from the passing trade, and when the Philistines defeated Saul, they hung up his body on the city walls to announce to traders from surrounding regions that Philistia was now the power to be feared in Palestine.
Beth Shean remained a Canaanite city during the period of the ‘Judges’, but was eventually conquered by King David in c.1000 BC (see 2 Samuel 8:1). David’s son Solomon built large administrative buildings here, the remains of which have been uncovered in recent excavations. The Israelite city was destroyed by King Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria in 732 BC (see 2 Kings 15:29).
Following the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great in 332BC, Beth Shean was rebuilt as a Hellenistic (Greek) city and renamed Scythopolis (meaning ‘City of the Scythians’) – probably after Scythian mercenaries from the Steppes north of the Black Sea who settled here (see Colossians 3:11). It was conquered by the Roman general Pompey in 63BC and became the capital of the Decapolis, the confederation of ten Hellenistic cities within the Roman province of Syria that were designed to spread Graeco-Roman culture across the area.
Roman remains at Beth Shean
Today, visitors can explore the remains of Roman Bet Shean which lie beside the ruins of the earlier Egyptian, Canaanite and Israelite cities.
The oldest remains are those of an Egyptian temple on the summit of the tel (the settlement mound covering the ancient city). From the tel, visitors have an uninterrupted view across the Roman forum and the remains of an impressive eight-thousand-seater Roman amphitheatre. Other Roman remains include a colonnaded shopping street (the ‘cardo’), a hippodrome (a huge chariot-racing stadium), Roman baths and a temple to Dionysius, the principal Roman god of the city.