Bet Shean is a city in the north of Israel, on the crossroads between Jordan and Israel. It's the first city you meet when you approach the land of Israel from the East through the Yarmuk valley. You have to pass Bet Shean to continue Westwards through the Jezrieel Valley and on to the Mediteranean sea.
Conquerers and settlers have entered the land of Israel through the Yarmuk Valley. In 586 BCE Nebuchadnezzer entered here and Bet Shean was the first Israelite city he conquered. The Israelite captives he carried off as slaves to Babylon were probably gathered at Bet Shean and then marched through the Yarmuk valley.
These Jews established the first Jewish cities in Babylon, Sura, Pumpedita and Nehardea, where nearly 1000 years later the Babylonian Talmud was completed.
Amongst the settlers, Jacob was probably the first, but then the city was known as Succot . Nehemia also settled here and like father Jacob also named the city Succot.
This settlement was the first to be rebuilt. It was the realisation of a dream, expressed in the Psalm : "By the rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." This marked the beginning of the rebuilding of Israel. It's significance is acknowledged by the Rabbis of the Talmud who refer to Bet Shean as the gateway to paradise, the beginning of G-d's salvation.
In Jewish law the concept "Holy Land" applies to all cities settled by Nehemia. Bet Shean, therefore, forms the Eastern limit of the Holy Land. The definition of the concept "Holy Land" is important in deciding whether crops must be tithed or not, or whether land should lie fallow in the 7th year of rest or not. Crops East of Bet Shean, for example are not subject to certain tithes and those lands needn't lie fallow on the 7th year of rest.
When Pompey conquered Israel in the year 63 BCE he also entered the land through the Yarmuk valley. He declared it a Roman city. One of ten, known as the Decapolis. He changed its name to Scytopolis and invited people more culturally and nationally aligned to Rome than the Jews to settle there. Naturally he removed the Jewish population of the town, justifying his actions by saying that these were the true original inhabitants who had been ousted by the Jews. So in his opinion he was simply righting a wrong.
Henceforth Bet Shean, became an exemplary Pagan city. As in other cities, like Hippos, Seporis, Trachea etc. the Jews fiercly resisted being expelled from their cities and having them "paganised". Naturally to no avail. They were simply slaughtered or carried off to the slave markets and amphitheatres of the Roman world.
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Leon Gork (Tour Guide)
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