Located 30 minutes south of the southernmost tip of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at Bet She’an as part of our pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This is the site of the largest archeological dig in Israel. It really was magnificent. Acres of ruins from the Byzantine era (a few hundred years after Jesus’ time). .
Millennia before that, however, Saul confronted the Philistines for the final time on Mount Gilboa just to the southwest of this Philistine stronghold. Saul had begun to build up a serious track record of sin against God, and the last straw (evidently) was when he consulted a witch at En-dor before going into battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 28). Because of his sin, God handed the Israelites over to the Philistines and they slaughtered Saul, his three sons, and a large portion of the Israelite army. After the battle, the Philistines cut off the heads of Saul and his sons, and sent them to various Philistine cities/strongholds to encourage their troops. They then “fastened [Saul’s] body to the wall of Beth-shan” (1 Samuel 31:10b ESV), which today is called Bet She’an, which is the site we visited.
While there, our tour guide taught us about the Roman architectural pattern for “main streets”, which is still in use today in the US and other parts of the world. The Romans would always create two main roads in any city: the Cardo Maximus, which formed a straight line down the middle of the city from north to south, and the Decumanus Maximus, which similarly ran between east and west. A row of shops under a covered colonnade typically ran down either side of these main streets to form the Roman equivalent of the modern “Main Street”. Then, a grid system of Cardo and Decumanus roads are then typically built radiating out from these main roads, similar to the way the roads align in a grid from Michigan Ave (the Cardo Maximus) and Madison Ave (the Decumanus Maximus) in Chicago.
In addition to the maximus roads and the mall (the covered colonnades along the Cardo Maximus), there was also a large Roman bath house, stables, a theater, and an amphitheater. In the distance, at the other end of the Cardo Maximus is a Biblical tel, into which several layers of civilization have been stacked to create a rather large mound. Excavation of this tel is ongoing.