Places of Interest
1. Beth-Shean, also known as Beit Shean or Bet She’an, was a major biblical and secular city for thousands of years.
2. It’s located in the center of several main crossroads between the Jordan Valley and the Jezreel (Yizreel) Valley.
3. It’s about 15 miles (25 Km.) south of the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee and about 35 miles (55 Km.) east of the Mediterranean Sea.
4. The amphitheater/hippodrome in Bet-Shean was used by the Romans for pleasure events, games with animals, and gladiator type activities.
5. This arena seems to have served as both an amphitheater and hippodrome as it has openings into the arena from under the grandstands. It was common in Greek and Roman times that a city would have one stadium that could be used for both purposes because of financial and real estate reasons.
6. An amphitheater is different from a theater. An amphitheater has a full circle of seating wherein a theater just has a semi-circle of seating.
7. The amphitheater/hippodrome was also used to persecute Christians during the early church period and later.
8. This amphitheater/hippodrome has underground rooms where wild beasts were released to devour people and other animals.
9. On many occasions, they were released in a game-like event where believers who refused to deny Christ were torn to pieces and eaten alive while the crowd roared in a frenzy.
10. It’s sobering and gives a person chills to just think about it!
1. Beth-Shean was a key city long before the arrival of the Israelites because of its location. In the late Canaanite period (1600–1400 BC) the Egyptians ruled the area and the entire land of Israel.
2. Later, around 1000 BC, the Philistines also ruled the city for a time as they hung the body of King Saul on its walls after defeating the armies of Israel in the Battle of Gilboa.
3. When King David reigned (1008–970 BC), he conquered Beth-Shean, and it became part of Israel’s territories.
4. Later, in 732 BC, the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, destroyed Beth-Shean after defeating the northern Kingdom of Israel.
5. In the 4th century BC, Hellenistic (Greek) new settlers established a city-state (polis) in Beth-Shean. During the Hellenistic period, the city was named Nisa Scythopolis.
6. In 63 BC, the city was conquered by the Romans and became one of the cities of the Decapolis – a group of cities with a Hellenistic-Roman cultural character, most of them in Transjordan. Beth-Shean was one of the key cities of the Roman Empire in this area south of Galilee.
Places of Interest (Please See Maps Above)
1. The Arena: Comes from the word “sand.” It’s where the activities were carried out and was in the center.
2. Grandstands where the people were seated. The stadium’s many seats have crumbled over the years, but it’s estimated the seating capacity would have been between 10,000-20,000 people.
3. Entrance openings into the arena from under the grandstands.
4. Rooms under the grandstands where the animals and people would wait before being released into the area.
The Amphitheater in the Bible
1. Persecution was a common practice, and the Bible makes reference to what many believers faced.
Hebrews 11:35–38: Some were tortured, refusing to accept release so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Acts 7 records how Stephen was one of the first to suffer early Christian persecution. He was stoned to death outside the gates for the faithful manner in which he preached the gospel. After this, a great persecution arose against all who professed belief in Christ as the Messiah.
Acts 8:1: And Saul approved of his [Stephen] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2. History and tradition provide rich data regarding the believed fate of many of the apostles, along with other believers who suffered persecution for their faith in Christ during the early church period.
James the Great, the elder brother of John the Apostle, was beheaded in 44 A.D.
Philip, who served in Upper Asia was scourged in Phrygia, thrown into prison and later crucified in 54 A.D.
Matthew, the tax collector, served the Lord in Parthia and Ethiopia where he was slain with a halberd (a shafted weapon with an ax-like cutting blade and a speared end) in the city of Nadabah in 60 A.D.
James the Less, the brother of the Lord, served the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James. He suffered martyrdom at the age of 94 by being beaten and stoned by the Jews.
Matthias, the man who was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle, was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.
Andrew, the brother of Peter, preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations and was crucified on a cross at Edessa. The ends of his cross were fixed transversely in the ground, thus the derivation of the term, St. Andrew's cross.
Mark was converted to Christianity by Peter and served as his personal scribe. He was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria.
The Apostle Peter was sought by Nero to be put to death. Jerome wrote that Peter was crucified with his head down and his feet up because he thought himself unworthy to be crucified in the same way as Christ.
The Apostle Paul was persecuted all throughout his ministry. He was scourged, stoned, and finally, Nero had him beheaded by a sword.
Jude, the brother of James, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa in A.D. 72.
Bartholomew preached in several countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was cruelly beaten and then crucified by inpatient idolaters.
Thomas (doubting Thomas) preached the gospel in Parthia and India. His ministry caused the rage of the pagan priests, and he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.
Luke, the author of Luke and Acts, traveled with Paul through various countries and was supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree by the idolatrous priests of Greece.
Simon the Zealot preached the gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even Britain where he was crucified in A.D. 74.
John, the apostle whom Jesus loved, was sent from Ephesus to Rome where he was put into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by a miracle without injury but was then banished to the Isle of Patmos and there he wrote the book of Revelation. Nerva, Domitian's successor, said he was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.
3. There are ten persecutions mentioned in Foxe's Book of Martyrs that are quite gruesome.
The first mass persecution occurred under Nero in 67 AD. He was the sixth emperor of Rome and is remembered as the one who set Rome aflame and then blamed the Christians for the deaths and destruction caused by the fire. He had some Christians sewn up in skins of wild beasts and thrown to the dogs. Some Christians were dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in Nero’s gardens in order to illuminate them. Rather than diminished the spirit of Christianity, this persecution increased the devotion and commitment of Christians instead.
The second persecution happened under Domitian in 81 AD. Anything bad that happened like famine, pestilence, or earthquakes he blamed on the Christians and put them to death.
The third persecution occurred under Trajan in 108 AD. Christians were beaten, beheaded, and devoured by wild beasts. About ten thousand Christians were put to death.
The fourth persecution took place under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in 162 AD.
The fifth persecution is credited to Severus in 192 AD. Christians were burned at the stake, had hot tar poured on their heads, beheaded, placed in boiling water, and ravaged by wild beasts.
The sixth persecution took place under Maximus in 235 AD. At this time, numerous Christians were slain without trial and buried indiscriminately in mass graves, sometimes fifty or sixty cast into a pit together.
The seventh persecution happened under Decius in 249 AD. The main person martyred was Fabian, the bishop of Rome, who was beheaded on January 20, 250 AD.
The eighth persecution occurred under Valerian in 257 AD. Once again, every manner of torture was used to mock those claiming to be Christians. Persecution was also used for the entertainment of the rulers and their guests.
The ninth persecution occurred under Aurelian in 274 AD. when Felix, bishop of Rome was martyred.
The tenth persecution took place under Diocletian in 303 AD. This was commonly called the Era of the Martyrs. Persecutions were carried out with racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poisons, and famine.
Today, there are more martyrs for Christ than there has ever been at any time in the history of the church. Many of these take place in the Middle East and go unnoticed by the public eye. According to BBC News, there are around 100,000–250,000 martyrs each year for Christ.
Faith Lesson from Beth-Shean Amphitheater
1. God used persecution to give more validity, power, and meaning to the message of the gospel.
2. We show the world the value of our faith by what it cost us to keep and obey it.
3. During the years between 313 and 325 AD., Constantine, the Roman Emperor of that time, became a Christian and later declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.
4. It was the persecution of Christians that God used most to convert the Roman Empire to Christianity.
5. Through persecution, God changed the religion of the most powerful nation on the earth to Christianity.
6. The church has seen its greatest growth and maturity during the periods it was persecuted the most.
7. We are nearing a time when it is going to cost us to follow Christ as well.
Hebrews 12:1-6: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
8. Are we willing to suffer for our faith?
9. What does it cost us to follow Christ?
10. Do we stand firm on God’s word despite opposition?
11. Do we allow ourselves to be persuaded to compromise our faith because of pressure from our peers?
12. Do we deny Christ subtilty in moments when we’re around people who don’t share our faith?
13. The only thing these Christians who possibly died in this amphitheater here in Beth-Shean would have had to do to save their lives, and not be shredded to pieces by the wild beast, was to deny Christ.
14. But they didn’t, and today they have a special reward in heaven for being a martyr.
15. How about us, are we willing to do the same?