Posted by: lifeinthelevant | March 8, 2009

The city of Jaffa

I didn’t stray too far from Tel Aviv during my first week in Israel but I did spend many hours in an ancient city nearby.

Tel Aviv itself was founded only in 1909 making this year it’s centennial anniversary – a very young city by Middle Eastern standards. But head south along the Mediterranean coast and in a few miles you’ll get to the ancient city of Jaffa. This city also goes by the name Yafo in Hebrew and was called Joppa in ancient times. It was an important port city and quite a few things of Biblical significance happened here.

I’ve tried to put together a list of references to Joppa. If there are others you can find, please let me know!

1. Bringing in the cedars of Lebanon to build the temple (2 Ch 2:16, Ezr 3:7)

As promised by Huram, king of Tyre, to aid in Solomon’s construction of the temple: “We will cut whatever timber you need from Lebanon and bring it to you on rafts by sea to Joppa, so that you may carry it up to Jerusalem.”

And again, a few centuries later around 537 BC during the temple restoration efforts in Ezra: “Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia.”

I did go down to the Jaffa port late one night, but it was rather dark (and creepy) and I forgot my camera! So, I promise to go back, get a picture and insert it here. In the meantime, here’s a picture overlooking the port and lighthouse from a nearby building.

2. Jonah and the whale! (Jon 1:3)

“But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”

And sure enough, in modern Jaffa, you’ll find a stone sculpture of a whale πŸ™‚

A stone sculpture of Jonah's whale in Jaffa

As a side note, it’s right next to the Illana Goor Museum, a massive and imposing structure in Jaffa. I walked into the museum and guess who I ran into – Illana Goor! I’m used to visiting museums named after people who are long gone and it came as quite a shock to realize that Illana Goor is a modern artist who actually lives in the museum named after herself! I was continually tickled and amused by this fact during my tour of the art gallery (oops, I meant museum). But in her defense, her art does focus on mixing the ancient and the modern and at least partially justifies the naming choice. But I didn’t find it worth the nearly 30 shekel entrance fee 😦

3. Tabitha lived in Joppa (Acts 9:36, 38, 42, 43)

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.” (9:36-38)

Lydda is the modern city of Lod in Israel (around 20 kms away) and the story continues with Peter coming over to Joppa, raising Tabitha from the dead and then staying on in Joppa with Simon the tanner. Which brings us to the next mention of Joppa and I believe the most significant one.

4. Peter’s vision at Joppa (Acts 10-11)

“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, β€˜Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, β€˜By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a voice from heaven answered a second time, β€˜What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.” (11:5-10)

This vision led Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and while he initially took some flack for it from the other apostles in Jerusalem, it was an essential step in allowing the gospel to spread beyond the Jewish diaspora and reach all of mankind.

There’s now a Catholic church near the supposed site of Peter’s vision:

St. Peter's Church, Jaffa


Modern Jaffa is also home to one of only two Hebrew-speaking brethren assemblies in Israel (http://www.baj.co.il/eng/emain). It’s now my home assembly whenever I’m in Tel Aviv on the sabbath! The other Hebrew assembly is in Haifa. There are also Arab assemblies in Haifa, Nazareth, and Ibileen which I have yet to visit.

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Responses

  1. Jaffa today must be a comopolitan, modern city but knowing the background behind every street, every inch of land must be … mind-bending.

    The picture of the whale really drives that home .. anywhere else and it would be just a cute sculpture. It reminds me of this: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/leningrads-past-haunt/6938 on a much longer timeframe.
    The Catholic church as well …

    Now, how is the assembly working out without the Hebrew (yet?)

  2. Thanks for that link Eugene – definitely some very thought provoking pictures!

    Jaffa is still a very small city (and much more Arab than Tel Aviv). So, it isn’t as cosmopolitan yet though there seem to be quite a few artists now living in old Jaffa giving it a rather hip feel.

    I hope to post a detailed article later on the assemblies in Israel. At the Jaffa assembly they’ve been very kind in translating the entire service into English for me making the Hebrew a non-issue so far. But, I certainly hope to reduce that burden on them in the weeks ahead!

  3. we need updates πŸ™‚


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