Wow! This is my second time having the distinct privilege of exploring the archaeological wonderland of Bet Sha’an. I remember being blown away the first time and thinking to myself, “I’d like to go back there some day.” Today was that day!
Somehow it was an even more amazing experience for me the second time! We actually entered through the “back door”. We walked through what would have been a Scythian city, one of the cities counted within the Decapolis. Our guide referred to the city as Scythopolis.
To get there, we first had to walk over the Spring of Herod, which is also known as Gideon’s spring because it is where Gideon led his troops to drink water.
Scythopolis is located right along the southern path of Via Maris. It was likely a major marketplace. Scythoplis is not mentioned in the Gospels, but it would be on the way of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, so there is a high likelihood that Jesus and his disciples would have stopped there from time to time on their way to Jerusalem. At the very least they would have passed by it.
Scythopolis is the best current archaeological example of a Greco-Roman city in the time of Jesus.
The history of the city is fascinating. Having passed through the city, we ascended the hill just on the outside of the Scythopolis gates and noticed a building on the top that was created from mud bricks. Clearly this was Egyptian architecture. In fact, an Egyptian stone with hieroglyphic writing was unearthed from the site.
What was an Egyptian settlement doing in the middle of Israel? And what time period was it from? Archaeologists have dated the Egyptian portion of the settlement back to the time of Moses leading the children of Israel through the wilderness.
The general theory is that Egypt would have set up watch posts on the Via Mara since it was one of the only routes through which they would be attacked. This would allow them to have notice and keep control over the territory.
It is interesting to wonder if this is possibly part of the reason why Moses wondered around in the desert for so long. Obviously it was because of the disobedience of the Israelites, but perhaps it was also because God did not lead them out of Egypt just to they could go back to “Egypt”.