beth-she'-mesh, beth'-shemesh (beth-shemesh; Baithsamus, "house of the sun"): This name for a place doubtless arose in every instance from the presence of a sanctuary of the sun there. In accordance with the meaning and origin of the word, it is quite to be expected that there should be several places of this name in Bible lands, and the expectation is not disappointed. Analysis and comparison of the passages in the Bible where a Beth-shemesh is mentioned show four places of this name.
1. Beth-shemesh of Judah:
The first mention of a place by this name is in the description of the border of the territory of Judah (Jos 15:10) which "went down to Beth-Shemesh." This topographical indication "down" puts the place toward the lowlands on the East or West side of Palestine, but does not indicate which. This point is clearly determined by the account of the return of the ark by the Philistine lords from Ekron (1Sa 6:9-19). They returned the ark to Beth-shemesh, the location of which they indicated by the remark that if their affliction was from Yahweh, the kine would bear the ark "by the way of its own border." The Philistines lay along the western border of Judah and the location of Beth-Shemesh of Judah is thus clearly fixed near the western lowland, close to the border between the territory of Judah and that claimed by the Philistines. This is confirmed by the account of the twelve officers of the commissariat of King Solomon. One of these, the son of Dekar, had a Beth-shemesh in his territory. By excluding the territory assigned to the other eleven officers, the territory of this son of Dekar is found to be in Judah and to lie along the Philistine border (1Ki 4:9). A Philistine attack upon the border-land of Judah testifies to the same effect (2Ch 28:18). Finally, the battle between Amaziah of Judah and Jehoash of Israel, who "looked one another in the face" at Beth-shemesh, puts Beth-Shemesh most probably near the border between Judah and Israel, which would locate it near the northern part of the western border of Judah's territo ry. In the assignment of cities to the Levites, Judah gave Beth-shemesh with its suburbs (Jos 21:16). It has been identified with a good degree of certainty with the modern `Ain Shems.
It may be that Ir-shemesh, "city of the sun," and Har-cherec, "mount of the sun," refer to Beth-shemesh of Judah (Jos 15:10; 19:41-43; 1Ki 4:9; Jg 1:33,35). But the worship of the sun was so common and cities of this name so many in number that it would be hazardous to conclude with any assurance that because these three names refer to the same region they therefore refer to the same place.
2. Beth-shemesh of Issachar:
In the description of the tribal limits, it is said of Issachar (Jos 19:22), "And the border reached to Tabor, and Shahazumah, and Beth-shemesh; and the goings out of their border were at the Jordan." The description indicates that Beth-shemesh was in the eastern part of Issachar's territory. The exact location of the city is not known.
3. Beth-shemesh of Naphtali:
A Beth-shemesh is mentioned together with Beth-anath as cities of Naphtali (Jos 19:38). There is no clear indication of the location of this city. Its association with Beth-anath may indicate that they were near each other in the central part of the tribal allotment. As at Gezer, another of the cities of the Levites the Canaanites were not driven out from Beth-shemesh.
4. Beth-shemesh "that is in the Land of Egypt":
A doom is pronounced upon "Beth-shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt" (Jer 43:13). The Seventy identify it with Heliopolis. There is some uncertainty about this identification. If Beth-shemesh, "house of the sun," is here a description of Heliopolis, why does it not have the article? If it is a proper name, how does it come that a sanctuary in Egypt is called by a Hebrew name? It may be that the large number of Jews in Egypt with Jeremiah gave this Hebrew name to Heliopolis for use among themselves, Beth-shemesh. being a translation of Egyptian Perra as suggested by Griffith. Otherwise, Beth-shemesh. cannot have been Heliopolis, but must have been some other, at present unknown, place of Semitic worship. This latter view seems to be favored by Jeremiah's double threat: "He shall also break the pillars of Beth-shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of Egypt shall he burn with fire" (save place). If Beth-shemesh were the "house of the sun," then the balancing of the state ment would be only between "pillars" and "houses," but it seems more naturally to be between Beth-shemesh, a Semitic place of worship "that is in the land of Egypt" on the one hand, and the Egyptian place of worship, "the houses of the gods of Egypt," on the other.
But the Seventy lived in Egypt and in their interpretation of this passage were probably guided by accurate knowledge of facts unknown now, such as surviving names, tradition and even written history. Until there is further light on the subject, it is better to accept their interpretation and identify this Beth-shemesh with Heliopolis.
See ON .
M. G. Kyle