[b-hebrew] Afula/Ephrathah

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Mar 14 17:46:48 EDT 2008

Yigal Levin:
You wrote:  “You are correct, Jim, that there are remains [from Afula] from 
most periods all the way back to the Early Bronze Age represented at the site.  
However, as far as I remember, the Late Bronze Age, which you insist is the 
time of the 
 Patriarchs, is NOT represented.”
You raise a good point.  But doesn’t that neatly explain the otherwise 
peculiar wording of Genesis 35: 19 and Genesis 48: 7?
Consider the following analysis.
In the Late Bronze Age, the two thriving towns within eyesight of Afula were 
Shunem and Yapu.  We know that, because each of Shunem and Yapu are in the 
Amarna Letters, whereas formerly prominent Afula is conspicuously missing from 
the Amarna Letters..  “Sunama” at Amarna Letters EA 250: 43;  365: 12 is 
Biblical “Shunem” (for example, Joshua 19: 18).  “Yapu” at Amarna Letters EA 365: 
26 is Yafia/Jafia;  this town is never mentioned in the Bible.
Based on archaeology and the Amarna Letters, the following appears to be the 
historical situation.  Prior to the Late Bronze Age, Afula had been the most 
prominent town in this locale.  The name “Afula”, which is reminiscent of the 
Biblical name “Ephrathah”, would still have been remembered by some 
old-timers.  Now, in the Late Bronze Age, old Afula was in eclipse, and perhaps even 
temporarily abandoned, while the modern towns in the neighborhood were Shunem 
and Yapu.
The author of the Patriarchal narratives chooses to refer to this area by the 
old name, that is, the name of the town that formerly, but no longer, 
dominated this area:  Afula/Ephrathah.
Precedent for this is the fact that the author of the Patriarchal narratives 
often mentions old names of geographical sites.  The most prominent is Ai 
(spelled “Hai” in the Patriarchal narratives).  Ai apparently had not been 
occupied for many centuries by the time of the Late Bronze Age.  Ai had been a 
thriving, walled city at the end of the Early Bronze Age, but there are no 
archaeological finds there from the Middle or Late Bronze Age.  Yet there still may 
have been a remembrance of this long-abandoned town, that lay so close to still 
thriving (though also ancient) Bethel.  Note that “Ai” in Hebrew means “ruins”
, so the Patriarchal narratives are accurately reporting that the ruins of 
ancient Ai were located just east of still thriving (though ancient) Bethel.
Given the penchant of the author of the Patriarchal narratives for 
remembering old names, chapter 35 of Genesis might well refer to Afula/Ephrathah, even 
though such town was no longer prominent, using the ancient name of the town 
that was formerly the most prominent town in this area.
Note that both in chapter 35 and chapter 48 of Genesis, the author feels the 
need to explain to the audience where “Ephrathah” was, apparently because the 
author was using an old name that most of his audience might well have 
forgotten.  So the author explains that the place where Rachel actually died was at 
modern Bethlehem of Galilee, which is near to where Jacob had been heading to 
at the time, namely to the locale which in days of old had been dominated by 
Ephrathah.  The text seems to assume that many people in the audience will not 
remember the name “Ephrathah”.  That implies that Ephrathah was no longer the 
dominant town in this area, though it had formerly been so.
“And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath -- [that is, at] 
Beth-lehem [of Galilee].”   Genesis 35: 19
“‘And as for me, when I came from Paddan, Rachel died unto me in the land of 
Canaan in the way, when there was still some way to come unto Ephrath;  and I 
buried her there in the way to Ephrath -- [that is, at] Beth-lehem [of 
Galilee].'”   Genesis 48: 7    
Note that the text of the Patriarchal narratives never states that 
Ephrathah/Afula is a thriving town in the Patriarchal Age, which I take to be the Late 
Bronze Age.  If Ephrathah/Afula had been a thriving, well-known town in that 
era, the wording of Genesis 35: 19 and Genesis 48: 7 would sound very odd.
Note also that if Ephrathah/Afula was now abandoned, but not so long ago had 
been the dominant town in this area (which are the historical facts that we 
can deduce from archaeology and the Amarna Letters), then the wording of these 
two verses, as is, makes perfect sense.
I agree with your archaeological analysis.
In your opinion, am I misreading the logical implications of the particular 
Hebrew wording used at Genesis 35: 19 and Genesis 48: 7?
On the b-Hebrew list, we focus on the precise meaning of Hebrew words and 
phrases.  To me, the precise, odd wording of these two Bible verses is suggesting 
that Ephrathah/Afula had formerly been the dominant town in this area, but 
much of the audience might well have forgotten that fact and that old name by 
the time we get to the Patriarchal Age, and the composition of the Patriarchal 
narratives, in the Late Bronze Age.
Am I misreading the logical implications of the text here?  Am I 
misinterpreting what the Hebrew text is saying?  This text seems stunningly historically 
accurate to me.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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