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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Jerash

Jordan

 

Jerash, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman cities in the Middle East, lies in a broad valley among the biblical mountains of Gilead, about 50 kilometres north of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Ruins of ancient Jerash with modern city in the background (Britchi Mirela / Wikimedia)

Ruins of ancient Jerash with modern city in the background (Britchi Mirela / Wikimedia)

Under the name of Gerasa, it was one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis. This league of Greek cities, which came under Roman control in the 1st century BC, is mentioned in the New Testament.

People from the predominantly pagan Decapolis followed Jesus during his ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:23-25). Although Jesus visited the region (Mark 7:31), there is no evidence that he entered Gerasa.

The city became Christian in the Byzantine period, when its 25,000 inhabitants had more than 20 churches and bishops who took part in early Church councils. Ruins of most of the churches can still be seen.

Conquests by Persians and Muslims in the 7th century, followed by devastating earthquakes in the 8th century, caused the city to be abandoned. It was rediscovered only at the beginning of the 19th century, remarkably preserved after being buried in sand for centuries.

 

Triumphal arch stands outside city

Hadrian’s Arch (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Hadrian’s Arch (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Jerash is divided by the Wadi Jerash, with the ancient city on the west side of the valley and the modern city — dating from the first half of the 20th century — on the east.

Outside the ancient city’s South Gate stands a grand triumphal arch with three openings, built to mark a visit by the emperor Hadrian in AD 129-130.

Adjacent to this is a hippodrome, constructed in the 2nd century for horse and chariot races, with a seating capacity of 15,000.

This 245-metre by 52-metre arena is now the venue for the twice-daily (except Tuesdays) Roman Army and Chariot Experience, in which authentically dressed actors perform as legionaries, gladiators and chariot drivers.

Oval Plaza at Jerash (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Oval Plaza at Jerash (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Inside the ancient city, the Temple of Zeus at the south end of the cardo overlooks a vast colonnaded Oval Plaza that served as Jerash’s forum. Nearby is the South Theatre, seating more than 3000 spectators and still in use.

The main street, the Cardo Maximus, extends for 800 metres in a northerly direction from the Oval Plaza.

Halfway along the Cardo, a monumental staircase leads to an esplanade with the remains of an open-air altar. Beyond are the tall Corinthian columns of the hilltop Temple of Artemis, which dominated the city. To the right is the North Theatre.

An abundance of churches

Jerash had more than 20 churches, all built between AD 368 and AD 611, with some even sharing walls. Their abundance may be due to a practice of the Byzantine Church — still the custom in some Eastern churches — to permit only one eucharistic service at each altar every day.

Gateway to the Roman temple which was rebuilt as the church now called the Cathedral (Dennis Jarvis)

Gateway to the Roman temple which was rebuilt as the church now called the Cathedral (Dennis Jarvis)

Most of the ruined churches are to the west of the Cardo Maximus, between two side streets, the South Decumanus and the North Decumanus. They include:

The so-called Cathedral (though there is no evidence that it was the seat of the bishop). The oldest church in Jerash, it was built on the ruins of a Roman temple, on the southern side of the esplanade leading to the Temple of Artemis.

Its outdoor atrium contains a small pool, believed to have been filled with wine when the miracle at the wedding in Cana was celebrated.

Against an outer east wall is a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with an inscription mentioning Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The Church of St Theodore is to the west of the cathedral, and on a higher level.

An inscription that was over the main door reads: “The one passing by this place used to close his nose because of the bad smell; today he raises his right hand and draws the sign of the Holy Cross.” This is probably a reference to the sacrifices previously burnt on the nearby altar in front of the Temple of Artemis.

General view of the Church Complex (Fadi Shawkat Haddad)

General view of the Church Complex (Fadi Shawkat Haddad)

The Church Complex, west of the Church of St Theodore, has three adjoining churches that share an atrium. All were built between AD 529 and AD 533.

The Church of St George, on the south side, was still in use in the 8th century, when its mosaics were destroyed by iconoclasts opposed to the representation of humans and animals.

The mosaic floor of the Church of St John the Baptist, in the middle, is also damaged, but images can be seen of the four seasons, plants and animals, and the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Memphis.

The Church of Sts Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers who were doctors, is on the north side. Its mosaic floor, the most splendid in Jerash, has survived. Besides gazelles, rabbits, peacocks, sheep and other animals, the images include the churchwarden Theodore and his wife Georgia, praying with outspread arms.

West of the Church Complex is the Church of St Genesius, built in AD 611 — just three years before the Persian invasion that was the beginning of the end for Jerash.

 

Tel.: 962 2 635-1272 (Visitors’ Centre)

Open: Apr-Oct 8am-6pm; Nov-Mar 8am-5pm. Last entry to site one hour before closing time.

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Caffulli, Giuseppe: “Jerash, Pompeii of the East”, Holy Land Review, spring 2010
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Haddad, Fadi Shawkat: A Christian Pilgrimage Journey in Jordan (published by author, PO Box 135, Amman 11733, 2015)

 

External links

Jerash, Jordan (AtlasTours)
Jerash (VisitJordan)

Beit She’an

Israel

Beit She'an

Colonnaded street leading to tell at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

Beit She’an offers the most extensive archaeological site in Israel, with some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East, but its memory will forever be linked to one of the most ghoulish events in the Bible.

On nearby Mount Gilboa in 1004 BC, the army of King Saul, Israel’s first king, was defeated by the Philistines and Saul’s three sons were killed. To avoid capture, the wounded Saul fell on his sword.

The triumphant Philistines took the bodies of Saul and his sons and fastened them to the wall of Beit She’an. They put Saul’s armour in their temple.

David, who was to succeed Saul as king, composed a memorable lament over the tragedy, with the recurring line “How the mighty have fallen . . . ” (2 Samuel 1:17 – 27).

Beit She’an is about 13 kilometres south of the Sea of Galilee. Its location at the strategic junction of the Jezreel and Jordan valleys made it a coveted prize for conquerors.

Beit She'an

Columns toppled by the AD 749 earthquake at Beit She’an (Kasper Nowak)

Apart from the Philistines, its rulers included Egyptians, Israelites (though the Canaanite inhabitants initially rebuffed them), Greeks and Romans.

In the Roman period — under the name of Scythopolis — it was the leading city of the Decapolis and the only one of these 10 semi-autonomous cities west of the Jordan River.

From the 4th century until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 749, the formerly pagan city was a flourishing Christian centre, with a bishop and several churches.

 

City’s population grew to 40,000

Beit She’an began on the flat-topped hill that stands behind the ruins of the Roman-Byzantine city. This ancient tell, 80 metres high, contains 18 levels of occupation down to the first settlers around 4000 BC.

Beit She'an

Ruins of Beit She’an from the tell, with modern town in background (Steve Peterson)

In Roman times the inhabitants moved to the flat area at the foot of the hill. Here the city expanded to around 150 hectares in area, with wide colonnaded streets leading to elegant shops with marble facades and mosaic floors.

The population of Scythopolis grew to 40,000 and the linen it produced made it one of the leading textile centres of the Roman empire. Centuries later it became a centre for processing cane sugar.

Excavations have revealed:

•  A three-tiered theatre for dramatic performances, seating 7000 people.

•  An amphitheatre holding 6000, where gladiatorial contests entertained soldiers of the Sixth Legion which was based here.

•  A huge bath and gym complex with swimming pools and halls heated by hot air from furnaces. Its public toilets had channels underneath with running water.

Beit She'an

Remains of Roman theatre at Beit She’an, which seated 7000 people (Seetheholyland.net)

•  A Roman basilica that served as a courthouse and administrative centre.

•  A nymphaeum, an elaborate monumental building with a decorative fountain.

•  A mosaic of Tyche, the Roman goddess of good fortune, wearing the walled city of Scythopolis as a crown and holding the horn of plenty in her hand.

 

Circular church replaced temples

On the summit of the tell, a steep climb obtains a sweeping panorama of the ruins below, the Jordan and Harod valleys and Mount Gilboa.

Beit She'an

Very public toilets at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

Here a great circular church, with a cloister around an open court, replaced the earlier Canaanite and Philistine temples during the Byzantine era.

Among the other churches in the lower city, one was dedicated to Procopius, a local martyr. Its location is unknown, but remains of other church buildings have been found and a striking red cross can be seen on the plaster wall of a niche in a bathhouse, probably used as a baptistry.

The modern town of Beit She’an has encroached on some of the ancient ruins. One of these is the Monastery of the Lady Mary, founded in 567 and named after a donor, perhaps the wife of a Byzantine official.

This complex — not usually open to the public — contains a series of rooms with beautiful mosaic floors. The mosaic in the central hall of the chapel depicts animals such as lions, camels, boars and ostriches around a zodiac illustrating the months of the year.

Interestingly, the remains of Jewish and Samaritan synagogues have been found along with churches from the time when Scythopolis was a Christian city. And after a Muslim army conquered the city in 634 and renamed the city Baysan, Christians and Muslims lived together until the disastrous earthquake of 749.

Beit She'an

Cross on wall identifies a probable baptistry at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

In Scripture

Canaanites of Beit She’an resist Manasseh: Judges 1:27

Philistines fasten Saul’s body to Beit She’an wall: 1 Samuel 31:10

 

 

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: +972-4-658-7189

Open: Apr-Sept 8am-5pm (except Friday 8am-4pm); Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (except Saturday 8am-5pm). Last entry to site one hour before closing time.

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Where happy explorers go to dig”, Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2011
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg: Beit She’an: Capital of the Decapolis (Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, 1996)

 

External links

Beit She’an (Jewish Virtual Library)
Beit Shean, Archaeology in Israel (The Jewish Magazine)
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