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

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Mon Mar 10 18:13:01 EDT 2008

Dear Jim,

There are actually several different places called Ophrah in the Bible. The 
Ophrah of Benjamin (eg. Josh. 18:23) is usually identified at Taybeh (one of 
several modern Arab towns by that name), NE of today's Ramallah. The usual 
explanation for the name shift is that "Afrit" is a she-demon in Arabic, and 
since no Arabic-speaker wants to live in a place called "she-demon", the 
name was changed to Taybeh, "good".

The Ophrah of Abiezer of Judges 6:11, hometown of Gideon, is presumably in 
the territory of the Abiezer clan of Menashe, Gideon's tribe. Afula used to 
be a popular suggestion, until it turned out that there is almost no 
evidence for Iron age I settlement at the site. The same goes for the Taybeh 
in the southeastern Galilee, on the Issachar hights. In an article published 
in Cathedra 22 (1982), Hanan Eshel makes a good case for identifying this 
Ophrah with a small Iron I site south of Samaria. So while the shift 
Ophrah-Afula is linguistically possible, phonetic similarity is not the only 
factor that goes into site identification.

As far as Ophrah - Ephrathah, well, we've been through that one before.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <JimStinehart at aol.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 4:51 PM
Subject: [b-hebrew] Afula vs. Biblical Ophra vs. Biblical Ephrathah

> 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:
> _https://oa.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/4162/TMP.objres.80.pdf?sequence=1_
> (https://oa.doria.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/4162/TMP.objres.80.pdf?sequence=1)
> 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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