[b-hebrew] Afula vs. Biblical Ophra vs. Biblical Ephrathah

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Mon Mar 10 10:51:58 EDT 2008

Afula vs. Biblical Ophra vs. Biblical Ephrathah
1.  Modern Afula Is Biblical Ophrah
I agree with the majority view of scholars that modern Afula, on the northern 
edge of the Jezreel Valley in northern Canaan, is Biblical Ophrah.  Modern “
Afula” is spelled ayin-peh-vav-lamed-he.  Per Judges 6: 11, Biblical “Ophrah” 
is spelled ayin-peh-resh-he.  The presence or absence of a vav is commonplace 
in variant spellings of a geographical place name.  The only significant 
difference between the two spellings is lamed vs. resh.  “Egyptian r and Semitic l 
are interchangeable”.  See the nice analysis of this issue at pp. 140-141 of 
the following website, which concludes that modern Afula is Biblical Ophrah:
2.  Is Biblical Ophrah Biblical Ephrathah?
My own controversial, new assertion is that Biblical Ophrah and Biblical 
Ephratah are one and the same place.
(a)  Linguistics
At Genesis 35: 16, 19, “Ephrathah” is spelled aleph-peh-resh-tav-he.  At 
Genesis 48: 7, the final he is dropped, resulting in aleph-peh-resh-tav.
The city of Ophrah pre-dates the Hebrews and the emergence of the written 
Hebrew language.  So it is not surprising that there are two different Hebrew 
spellings of the initial guttural vowel-type sound:  ayin vs. aleph.  These 
variant spellings may reflect differences in regional accents over the centuries.  
The only other difference in spelling is that “Ephrathah” has a tav at (or 
near) the end.  Presumably that was the older full-length name, and over the 
course of many centuries the name got shortened by dropping the final tav.  
Linguistically, ayin-peh-resh-he (“Ophrah”) may be fairly close to 
aleph-peh-resh-tav-he (“Ephrathah”).
(b)  Geographical Sense
On this new reading, Genesis 35: 16, 19 and 48: 7 now, for the first time, 
make geographical sense.  Jacob starts out west of Bethlehem of Galilee, in 
northern Canaan (not near Bethlehem of Judea in southern Canaan near Jerusalem).  
Jacob is traveling southeast, and is on the road to Ophrah/Ephrathah, which is 
located on the northern edge of the Jezreel Valley.  (This is the farthest 
south Jacob will go prior to getting to the Jordan River.)  On the road to 
Ophrah/Ephrathah, Rachel dies, at Bethlehem of Galilee.  After burying Rachel at 
Bethlehem of Galilee, Jacob proceeds past Ophrah/Ephrathah, and then goes 
northeast to nearby ayin-dor/En-dor/Migdal-eder/the fortified (migdal) town of 
ayin-dor, which is just north of the hill of Moreh (“Mt. Moreh”).  (There was no 
fortified town, or any “En-dor”, between Bethlehem of Judea and Hebron.)
In terms of distances, Bethlehem of Galilee is about 10 miles northwest of 
Ophrah/Ephrathah, and historical ayin-dor/En-dor is about 6 miles northeast of 
Ophrah/Ephrathah.  The Egyptian army routinely covered 15 miles a day under nor
mal circumstances.  Even though Jacob would be slowed down by his large flock, 
Jacob might have been only one day away from getting to Ophrah/Ephrathah, and 
planning to get to Ophrah/Ephrathah the next day, when Rachel died at 
Bethlehem of Galilee, 10 miles away from Ophrah/Ephrathah. 
“Ephrathah” is not an older name for Bethlehem of Judea (or for Bethlehem of 
Galilee).  Nothing in secular history supports that traditional view.  
Rather, Ephrathah is historical Ophrah, the place to which Jacob was heading when 
Rachel died at Bethlehem of Galilee.
“...[A]nd there was still some way to come to Ephrath [Ophrah];  and Rachel 
travailed, and she had hard labour.  …And Rachel died, and was buried in the 
way to Ephrath [Ophrah] -- [that is, at] Beth-lehem [of Galilee]. …And Israel 
journeyed, and spread his tent beyond Migdal-eder [the nearby fortified (migdal) 
town of ayin-dor/En-dor].”  Genesis 35: 16, 19, 21
“And as for me [Jacob], when I came from Paddan, Rachel died unto me in the 
land of Canaan in the way, when there was still some way [10 miles] to come 
unto Ephrath [Ophrah];  and I buried her there in the way to Ephrath [Ophrah] -- 
[that is, at] Beth-lehem [of Galilee].'”  Genesis 48: 7
3.  Conclusions
(a)  Regardless of whether the Patriarchal narratives are “myth” (not my 
view), or closely based on secular history (my view), we would expect the 
Patriarchal narratives in any event to make geographical sense.  The only way to make 
sense out of “Ephrathah” and “migdal Edor” in the text is to view them as 
being, respectively, historical Ophrah/Afula, and the nearby fortified town of 
ayin-dor/En-dor, in northern Canaan.  Accordingly, the “Bethlehem” mentioned 
in chapters 35 and 48 of Genesis must be Bethlehem of Galilee, in northern 
Canaan, not Bethlehem of Judea in southern Canaan.
(b)  If my new controversial view were accepted, then one main consequence of 
that would be that the divine promises of Promised Land to Isaac and Jacob 
focus on the valuable, fertile land of northern Canaan, rather than being 
limited to the relatively undesirable land of the Negev Desert.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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