Several important and unique archaeological discoveries have been made in recent digs at the tell. The most ancient iron workshop in the world was discovered here in 2003. The only remnants of a fortified city with an advanced water system, from the time of the early Kingdom of Judah was found here. In all layers from this period, the bones of animals were all of kosher animals, in contrast to nearby ancient fortresses and settlements of that period such as Maresha, Azeka or Lachish, suggesting an early Jewish settlement and advanced kingdom in the early biblical "kings" period.
During the destruction of Judea by the Babylonians, the waterworks of Beit Shemesh were sealed and covered, and were not uncovered until 2004. Thus during the first Jewish return, known as the Second Temple period, there was no revival of the city, as opposed to many other places in the vicinity such as Beit Guvrin, Maresha, and others. Consequently, the small towns of Dayr Raban and Dayr Rafat had used secondary rocks for building, from this very ancient source. Also found nearby is a prehistoric Megalith circle, probably the structure responsible for the name Beit Shemesh.
The city is mentioned notably in chapter 6 of the book of Samuel I as being the first city encountered by the ark of the covenant on its way back from Philistia after having been captured by the Philistines in battle.
Beit Shemesh is the point from which the famous Convoy of 35, or Lamed Heh, set out to relieve the besieged Gush Etzion. On 15 January 1948 a group of 38 Palmach volunteers set out from the Hartuv area near Beit Shemesh. Soon after they set out, one of the soldiers sprained his ankle and the convoy of 35 continued on towards the besieged kibbutzim. Their presence was discovered after they met with an Arab shepherd and they were all killed in an ensuing battle.
Prior to 1948 the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood area was the site of a large Arab town called Beit Natif. Parts of this village's outskirts still remain in the Kibbutz Netiv Halamed Heh. The Arab town itself was built on remnants of an ancient Judean town, with various remnants of Jewish settlement from the time, such as a mosaic floor, wineries and other remains, especially from the period of the Hasmonean kings and earlier. This area is currently under dispute about preservation, having been subject of a grassroots campaign.
With the large-scale immigration from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, new neighborhoods were built at an accelerated rate in the city as the population grew rapidly. One particular group who settled in Beit Shemesh was made up of Jews who had converted to Judaism in two villages two centuries prior, and kept the religion in secret under the Soviet regime. Also in the 1990s, a large number of Ethiopian Jews started arriving in Beit Shemesh together with affluent new immigrants from English speaking countries. Later, in 2002, a large congregation of Ethiopian Jews of the Falashmura reached Beit Shemesh.
In the 1990s, new neighborhoods and districts were added to the city. A Haredi neighborhood, Nahala UMenucha was constructed adding yet another facet to the changing demographics of the city, whilst in 1998, two new sections of the city were established - Ramat Beit Shemesh A and B - which doubled the size of the city and further changed its demographics. Furthermore, in 2002, following tensions between the Haredi and non-religious population, concerning who should be populating Ramat Beit Shemesh, plans were drawn up to build an extra secular neighborhood called HaShachar, as a separate city. Work began at the entrance to Ramat Beit Shemesh, but because of legal problems and a continued dispute over the population of this new city, the plan was abandoned.
A negative day in the history of Beit Shemesh was March 13, 1997, when seven 11 year-old girls from the city from the Feurst School in the city were killed on a class trip to the Jordan Valley, visiting the "Island of Peace", a joint Israeli and Jordanian tourist resort, under Jordanian rule. A Jordanian soldier opened fire on the schoolchildren. King Hussein of Jordan came to Beit Shemesh to extend his condolences and ask forgiveness in the name of his country, a step which was seen both as touching and courageous.
Beit Shemesh has remained a Likud stronghold. This, as well as because of its population of Religious Zionist and Moroccan Jews, has meant that it has been host to some major politicians such as the 2006 visit of Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Ehud Olmert, who later became Prime Minister, and a visit by Shaul Mofaz who announced his plans to take leadership of the Likud Party only to later change his mind and join Kadima. Furthermore, Beit Shemesh was chosen by Amir Peretz as the place to launch his campaign to run for the Labor Party as candidate for Prime Minister. Natan Sharansky had one of his largest followings in the 2001 elections from Beit Shemesh, representing the feelings of Russian, Anglo, and Israeli born populations together.
Directly adjacent to the main part of Beit Shemesh lies the mostly Orthodox Jewish Ramat Beit Shemesh, which is often regarded as a separate town, even though it is a neighborhood of Beit Shemesh. Its name means "Beit Shemesh Heights", as it located on a mountaintop above the original city, approximately west of Jerusalem. Its population mainly consists of Orthodox Jews with many different outlooks and opinions.
The neighborhood has two sections, Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet (Alef and Bet signifying 1 and 2, respectively), often called RBSA and RBSB. The former area has a more mixed population of secular, religious, and (mainly American) Haredi Jews, while the latter is populated almost exclusively by the more fundamentalist Haredi Jews. RBSB is located between Beit Shemesh and RBSA, sometimes causing confusion and/or clashes of cultures and religious beliefs for people attempting to navigate their way through RBSB between RBSA and Bet Shemesh. Currently, a great deal of religious conflict has manifested itself in various areas of Ramat Bet Shemesh. The conflicts are not only between the Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) Jews and the Religious Zionist Jews, but within the Haredi and Chassidic Jewish groups themselves. See the following newspaper article that documents some of the 'issues'.
According to CBS, in 2001 there were 24,500 males and 24,600 females. The population of the city was spread out with 47.6% 19 years of age or younger, 17.1% between 20 and 29, 18.8% between 30 and 44, 9.4% from 45 to 59, 2.1% from 60 to 64, and 5.0% 65 years of age or older. The population growth rate in 2001 was 11.2%.
From the time when the city was started in 1952 the poluation of Beit Shemesh comprised a mixture of Olim from Iran, Iraq, Romania, Morocco and other North African countries and Kurdistan. Later in the 1990s new arrivals came from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and the affluent Western English speaking countries.
From the 1990s onwards, Beit Shemesh has a considerable Orthodox Jewish population, including a sizable Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) segment, that continues to expand and grow as religious families look beyond the more central areas of Jerusalem for available housing suited to large families. Many synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the community. Movements represented in Beit Shemesh include Ger, Belz, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, Satmar and Neturei Karta.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of English speaking Israelis who have moved to Beit Shemesh. Considerable numbers have come from North America, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia. This population tends to be Orthodox, educated and from middle income groups. The main areas of Anglo "settlement" are the Dolev area of RBS, Sheinfeld, Nofei Aviv and Migdal HaMayim. The Anglo immigration wave has seen real estate prices skyrocket in Beit Shemesh in general, and in the Anglo neighborhoods in particular.
Beit Shemesh has two industrial zones containing mainly small industry. This is especially true of the Northern industrial zone which is typified by carpentry and metalwork workshops, garages and wholesale and retail outlets. The Western industrial zone contains several larger companies including Beit Shemesh Engines Ltd. (BSEL) which manufactures and repairs jet engines and jet engine components, Barzellan and others. Nearby in the Noham industrial zone are situated various other factories and offices.
During the hi-tech boom of 1996-2001 it was host to several hi-tech startups.
Martial arts are also well represented in Beit Shemesh and there are martial arts clubs and schools. In the field of judo, Elitzur Beit Shemesh has won many prizes. Israel Kung Fu and world Nunchaku champion (2001) Eli Ivgi was born in and lives in Beit Shemesh.
On October 7, 2007, the city became a sister city with Cocoa, Florida. Mayors Mike Blake (Cocoa) and Daniel Vaknin (Beit Shemesh) both signed two copies of a contract declaring them as official sister cities.