Biblical Archaeology Review 38:2, March/April 2012

Was King Saul Impaled on the Wall of Beth Shean?

By Amihai Mazar

The Bible tells us that King Saul was killed by the Philistines and that his body (as well as those of his three sons) was hung on the wall of Beth Shean:

“The Philistines came to strip the slain, and they found Saul and his three sons lying on Mt. Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped him of his armor … They placed his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they impaled his body on the wall of Beth Shean. When the men of Jabesh-Gilead heard about it—what the Philistines had done to Saul—all their stalwart men set out and marched all night. They removed the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shean and came to Jabesh and burned them there. Then they took the bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and they fasted for seven days” (1 Samuel 31:8–13; cf. 1 Chronicles 10:8–12).

What does archaeology tell us? A fair question.

Archaeology tries to put the whole episode in context. Archaeology asks some broader questions. What were the Philistines doing at Beth Shean? And why Beth Shean in the first place? After all, Saul was killed on Mt. Gilboa. And what was the wall at Beth Shean like?

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