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Scythopolis

Titular metropolitan see of Palaestina Secunda

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Scythopolis, a titular metropolitan see of Palaestina Secunda. It is the ancient Bethsan (q.v.) so often mentioned in the Bible, as proved by texts in the writings of Josephus. Its Greek name Scythopolis is very likely derived from a colony of Scythians who invaded Palestine in the seventh century B.C. (Herodotus, I, 103-5), and left some of their number behind (Pliny, “Hist. natur.”, V, 16; John Malalas, “Chronographia”, V, in P.G., XCVII, 236; George Syncellus, “Chronographia”, 214 etc.). The earliest known use of the name is in II Mach., xii, 29, and in the Greek text of Judith, iii, 10. Although Scythopolis was the only town situated on the right bank of the Jordan, it was the capital of Decapolis and in the fourth century became the civil and ecclesiastical metropolis of Paleestina Secunda. Several bishops are known. Patropnilus, intimate friend of Arius and his adherents, assisted at the Council of Nicaea in 325 and at various councils of the Arians till 360. Cruel and fanatical, he ill treated the Catholic bishops exiled to Scythopolis, especially St. Eusebius of Vercelli. He was deposed by the Council of Seleucia in 359 and died soon after; his remains were desecrated by the pagans in 361. We may also mention Philip and Athanasius, both Arians; Saturninus, present at the Council of Constantinople in 381; Theodosius, friend of St. John Chrysostom; Acacius, friend of St. Cyril of Alexandria; St. Servianus, killed by the Monophysites in 452, honored on February 21; John, who wrote in defense of the Council of Chalcedon; Theodore, who about 553 was compelled to sign an anti-origenist profession of faith, still preserved (Le Quien, “Oriens christianus.”, III, 681-94).

At the time of the Frankish occupation, the see was transferred to Nazareth; the Greeks long preserved the Sees of Scythopolis and Nazareth, but only the latter now exists. Among illustrious Christians of Scythopolis were: St. Procopius, martyr (July 8), who belonged to the clergy of the town (Delehaye, “Les legendes hagiographiques”, Paris, 1905, 144-6); Asterius, commentator of the Psalms in the fourth century, cited with praise by St. Jerome; Cyril, charming historian of monastic life in Palestine, who wrote seven lives of saints. In the sixth century there were four churches at Scythopolis, dedicated to St. Thomas, St. John, St. Procopius, and St. Basil, a local martyr. Many monks lived in the town and its environs, occupied in making baskets and fans from the palms in the neighboring forests (Sozomen, “Hist. eccles.” VIII, 13); with them the four Tall Brothers took refuge when expelled from Egypt by the patriarch Theophilus for so-called origenist ideas. In 634 the Greeks were defeated by the Arabs in the marshes of Bethsan; in 1182 the little town fought valiantly against Saladin. Today Beisan is a Mussulman village, situated by the railway from Caipha to Mzerib in the Hauran. The ancient ruins still exist, especially those of the theatre which measures 130 meters in half-circumference; the ruined acropolis stands in the hill of Kalat el Hosn. The climate is charming, the land very fertile and well watered. Rabbi Simon ben Lakish said: “If paradise is in Palestine, its gate is at Beisan”.

S. VAILHÉ


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