(Beth-sheʹmesh) [house of the sun].
The name of four cities in the Biblical account.
1. A city located on the northern boundary of Judah, listed between Chesalon and Timnah. (Josh. 15:10) It is evidently called Ir-shemesh (city of the sun) at Joshua 19:41, where it appears as a boundary town of the tribe of Dan, Judah’s neighbor to the N. Judah subsequently bequeathed Beth-shemesh to the Levites as a priestly city.—Josh. 21:13, 16; 1 Chron. 6:59.
Beth-shemesh is identified with Tell er—Rumeileh near present-day ʽAin Shems, this latter place partly preserving the ancient name. Beth-shemesh thus lay about sixteen miles (26 kilometers) W of Jerusalem and was situated on the main road from that city of the Philistine cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon. It was evidently a strategic point militarily as it guarded the upper portion of the Valley of Sorek and one of the main approaches from the coastal plains into the Shephelah region and the mountains of Judah. Excavations carried out at the site indicate an ancient history for the city, with considerable evidence of Philistine influence.
When the Philistines, plagued by disease, sent the ark of Jehovah back to Israel the cows pulling the wagon of their own accord headed for this Levite city of Beth-shemesh. However, the improper action of some of the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh in looking upon the ark of the covenant brought death to seventy of them. (1 Sam. 6:9-20) The phrase “fifty thousand men” occurring at 1 Samuel 6:19 in the Hebrew is not connected with the “seventy men” by any conjunction and this is considered by some to indicate an interpolation. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book VI, chap. 1, par. 4) in discussing the Biblical account mentions only seventy men as killed, omitting all reference to the fifty thousand.
Beth-shemesh was one of the cities connected with King Solomon’s administrative arrangement for providing food for the royal table. (1 Ki. 4:7, 9) Long narrow rooms believed to have been used for grain storage have been found there, and also a huge stone-lined silo some twenty-three feet (7 meters) in diameter and almost nineteen feet (5.7 meters) deep. Numerous grape and olive presses unearthed indicate that the area was very productive in oil and wine.
King Amaziah (858-829 B.C.E.) unwisely challenged Jehoash of Israel and suffered defeat and capture at Beth-shemesh. (2 Ki. 14:9-13; 2 Chron. 25:18-23) During the reign of Ahaz (761-745 B.C.E.) national degradation and infidelity resulted in the loss of Beth-shemesh to the Philistines. (2 Chron. 28:18, 19) A stamped jar handle bearing the inscription “belonging to Eliakim, steward of Jaukin [a shortened form of the name Jehoiachin],” was excavated at Beth-shemesh and is suggested to relate to the king of that name, perhaps indicating that the kingdom of Judah in time regained control of the city from the Philistines. The city was finally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon about 607 B.C.E.
2. A fortified city in the territory of Naphtali. (Josh. 19:35-39) Though not driven out, the Canaanites residing in this city became subject to forced labor for the Naphtalites. (Judg. 1:33) The ancient site remains unidentified.
3. A town of Issachar near the Jordan. (Josh. 19:22, 23) While different sites have been suggested, modern authorities prefer an identification with elʽAbeidiyeh on the banks of the Jordan just a couple of miles (3 kilometers) S of the Sea of Galilee and about ten miles (16 kilometers) E of Mount Tabor. The ancient name is possibly preserved at nearby Khirbet Shamsawi.
4. A city in Egypt included in Jeremiah’s prophecy of coming devastation upon that nation. (Jer. 43:13) It is considered to be the same as Heliopolis (a Greek name also meaning “city of the sun”), located a few miles E-NE of modern Cairo. It is elsewhere referred to in the Scriptural account by its Egyptian name, On.—See ON No. 2.