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

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Mar 11 12:55:33 EDT 2008

Yigal Levin:
You wrote:  “Afula used to be a popular suggestion [for being…t]he Ophrah of 
Abiezer of Judges 6:11, hometown of Gideon, …until it turned out that there 
is almost no evidence for Iron age I settlement at the site.  …Hanan Eshel 
makes a good case for identifying this Ophrah with a small Iron I site south of 
1.  Your geographical expertise is, as always, greatly appreciated.  I 
withdraw my suggestion that Biblical Ophrah is either modern Afula or Biblical 
Ephrathah.  I believe that on p. 140 of “The Sacred Bridge” (2006), CARTA 
Jerusalem, Anson F. Rainey makes the very point you are making:
“The story of Jotham (Judg 9: 7-21), the surviving son of Gideon, adds to the 
impression that Ophrah must be in the Manassite area of the Samarian Hills 
somewhere southwest of Mount Gerizim (contra Gal 1982a).  Khirbet ‘Awfar, about 
3.7 miles (6 km) southwest of Shechem, has been suggested (Eshel 1982).”
2.  But now we move on to the exciting issues.  
(a)  “Afula” is a really, really old town, going all the way back to the 
Early Bronze Age.  We read at p. 45 of Rainey:
“The transition to Early Bronze III is marked archaeologically by the 
appearance of ‘Khirbet Kerak Ware’….”  Rainey’s map at p. 45 shows “Afula”, 
located about 10 miles east of Megiddo, as being one of the “Sites where Khirbet 
Kerak Ware was found.”
Again at p. 49, “Afula” is shown on the map as being one of the “Early 
Bronze Age sites in ancient Canaan.”  “Afula” is east of Megiddo and north of 
(b)  Moving now to the Middle Bronze Age, “Afula” is still there.  At Rainey’
s map on p. 60, Afula (same location) is shown as being one of the “Middle 
Bronze archaeological sites in the southern Levant.”     
(c)  “Afula” is still there in the Early Iron Age.  On Rainey’s map on 
p.111, “Afula” (same location) is shown as being one of “[t]he most prominent 
Early Iron Age sites.”
(d)  Rainey shows “Afula” as being there in the Middle Bronze Age and in the 
Early Iron Age.  Other sources reference “Afula” as being known in the Late 
Bronze Age of the mid-14th century BCE (being the period between the Middle 
Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age).
3.  Based on the foregoing information, including your correction of my view 
concerning Biblical Ophrah, let me now reformulate my revised assertions 
regarding these key geographical matters as follows.
(a)  “Afula”, located between Bethlehem of Galilee and ayin-dor/En-dor/”
Migdal-eder” in northern Canaan, on the northern edge of the Jezreel Valley, is a 
truly ancient city, long pre-dating the first Hebrews.  “Afula” remained 
prominent into the Early Iron Age, which is the time period when hundreds of 
Hebrew villages suddenly show up in the highlands of Canaan (primarily north of 
Jerusalem).  Though the linguistic match between “Afula” and “Ophrah” is 
tempting, Biblical Ophrah was apparently located much too far south to be historical 
Afula.  Historical “Afula” is about 30 miles north of Shechem, whereas Gideon
’s “Ophrah” may be located 3.7 miles southwest of Shechem.
(b)  Of critical importance to an understanding of the Patriarchal 
narratives, historical “Afula” may be linguistically related to Biblical “Ephrathah”.  
Since historical “Afula” long pre-dates the emergence of the Hebrews, and 
hence the emergence of the Hebrew language and Hebrew spelling, we should not 
expect the spelling of these two names to be identical.  The first letter of 
historical “Afula” is an ayin, whereas the first letter of Biblical “Ephrathah” 
is an aleph.  Both are guttural sounds, so this difference in spelling the 
name of a pre-Hebrew town is not so surprising.  The next letter in both cases 
is peh (P or PH).  “Afula” then has a vav, which is absent in “Ephrathah”, 
but the presence or absence of a vav in alternative spellings of geographical 
place names in the Hebrew Bible is commonplace.  “Afula” then has a lamed, 
whereas “Ephrathah” has a resh.  But in the ancient languages, L and R are often 
interchangeable.  As I noted in my previous post, “Egyptian r and Semitic l 
are interchangeable”.  The endings then differ, but after about 1200 BCE, many 
endings of place names changed.  “Afula” ends with he, whereas “Ephrathah” 
ends with tav-he (in two cases in Genesis;  in the third case, it ends simply 
with tav).
Thus the names “Afula” and “Ephrathah” seem fairly close linguistically.  
When one considers how many centuries went by, it is not surprising that a town 
name that pre-dates the emergence of the Hebrew language by many, many 
centuries would have variations as to how such town name is spelled in Hebrew.
(c)  The geographical location of historical “Afula” is absolutely perfect 
for making sense out of Genesis 35: 16, 19 and Genesis 48: 7, on my theory that 
Biblical “Ephratah” is historical “Afula”.  Jacob, starting out west of 
Bethlehem, is on the road to Afula/Ephratah when Rachel dies at Bethlehem, 10 
miles northwest of Afula/Ephratah.  Jacob then proceeds past Afula/Ephrathah to 
historical ayin-dor/En-dor, which is Biblical “Migdal-eder” (where “migdal” 
means “the fortified town of” and ayin-dor/En-dor/eder are linguistically 
4.  Yigal Levin, what is your own view of the geography cited at Genesis 35: 
16, 19, 21 and Genesis 48: 7?  If JEPD composed or heavily edited this 
material, then the one thing that you and I would surely agree upon is that JEPD, 
being southern Hebrews in the mid-1st millennium BCE, certainly knew the 
geography of southern Canaan like the back of their collective hand.  Would it make 
sense for them to stud their composition with impossible geographical claims 
about southern Canaan?  Certainly that makes no sense, even if the entire 
storyline of the Patriarchal narratives were a myth (not my view).  Why would JEPD 
reference an “Ephrathah” as being either (i) an earlier name for Bethlehem of 
Judea, or (ii) a town located fairly near Bethlehem?  Most of their audience 
would have known that was not so.  And why reference a fictional fortified town, 
called En-dor, between Bethlehem of Judea and Hebron, when most if not all of 
their audience would know that (i) there never was a fortified town between 
Bethlehem of Judea and Hebron, and (ii) there never was a town named “En-dor”, 
or anything like that name, between Bethlehem of Judea and Hebron?  And if 
beloved Matriarch Rachel is being portrayed as dying within eyesight of holy 
Jerusalem, why then not at least mention the beloved name “Jerusalem”?
I believe that you and I may agree that JEPD had an encyclopedic knowledge of 
every ridge and rill of beloved southern Canaan.  Why then would JEPD put in 
a bunch of geographical references in the Patriarchal narratives that (a) make 
no sense at all in southern Canaan, yet (b) make perfect sense, on all 
levels, for northern Canaan in the mid-14th century BCE?  (There’s no Jerusalem in 
northern Canaan.  A single mention of “Jerusalem” in this sequence would rule 
out my northern Canaan hypothesis.  How could JEPD “forget” Jerusalem, if 
JEPD are composing or heavily editing a story about Rachel dying at nearby 
Bethlehem of Judea?)
Based on your publications, I believe that you are one of the leading experts 
in the entire world on the geography of the tribes of Israel.  Accordingly, 
it stands to reason that you probably know more about the geography of Biblical 
Canaan than most other people do, even most scholars in this field.  Thus you 
of all persons are in a perfect position to judge whether the traditional, 
2,500-year-old view is accurate that “Bethlehem” in chapter 35 of Genesis 
refers to Bethlehem of Judea, rather than to Bethlehem of Galilee in northern 
Canaan.  There’s no “Ephrathah” near Bethlehem of Judea, but historical 
Afula/Ephrathah is near Bethlehem of Galilee.  There’s no “Migdal-eder” near Bethlehem 
of Judea either, but the historical fortified town of ayin-dor/En-dor is near 
Bethlehem of Galilee, in northern Canaan.
What is your own explanation for the fact that the traditional, 
2,500-year-old interpretation of the geography of chapter 35 of Genesis, which tries to 
locate most sites in southern Canaan, appears to make no geographical sense, 
whereas viewing these locales in a northern Canaan locale makes perfect sense?
You know more about these geographical issues than virtually any other human 
being on the face of the planet.  Your considered view on this is of critical 
importance.  As I see it, the historicity of the Patriarchal narratives is 
riding on these geographical issues.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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