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Oxford Encyclopedias of the Bible What is This? Provides accessible, authoritative coverage for all major topics pertaining to the Bible and the study of the Bible.


The site of Jaffa is located on the coast of Israel approximately 60 kilometers northwest of Jerusalem and is today within the southern limits of the city of Tel Aviv. It consists of a mound (Tel Yafo), which was continuously occupied from at least the early second millennium B.C.E. through the early twentieth century, as well as a lower town with almost continuous occupation from the sixth century B.C.E. until today. Its earliest settlement during the Bronze Age was apparently the result of its proximity to a shallow estuary on its northeast and eastern sides, which likely formed the outlet of an early course of the Ayalon River that has since diverted to the north where it connects to the Yarkon River. This estuary served as the principal harbor along this stretch of coast and Jaffa’s ancient name, Yapu, as preserved among Egyptian sources during the Late Bronze Age, likely reflects upon the “fair” quality of its original anchorage. Jaffa’s environs until the late nineteenth century C.E. were dominated by coastal marshes, which largely dictated the locations of settlements nearby.

Because Jaffa lay at the margins of Israel’s territory during the first millennium B.C.E., its primary value to ancient Israel was as a port serving as a nexus between the Mediterranean world and the states of Israel and Judah. In early biblical traditions Jaffa is remembered for its maritime significance, while the New Testament highlights Jaffa as a multicultural center. The archaeological record from Jaffa provides a context for these characterizations.

The Middle and Late Bronze Ages

Between ca. 2000–1800 B.C.E. (early Middle Bronze Age) the site appears to have been culturally Amorite, with traditional components of Amorite culture comparable with remains found at sites along the coast of Canaan. Remains include ceramics from tombs on the northeast but also from settlement within the later fortifications. The earliest architectural remains are, however, dated slightly later (late Middle Bronze Age) and include its earthen fortifications, exposed at the north end of the site, as well as traces of domestic architecture. Burial remains, presumably the locations of cemeteries on the slopes around Jaffa, are also dated to this entire period.

The Amorite settlement persisted until the first half of the fifteenth century B.C.E. However, by ca. 1460 B.C.E. the site became home to an Egyptian garrison in the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty. The garrison’s early presence is evident from remains of a kitchen that was replete with Egyptian bowls, sieves, “flower pots,” pot stands, and jars, which are principally associated with the preparation of beer and bread, staples of the Egyptian diet. The excavators have suggested that the destruction of the earliest Egyptian garrison may shed light on the context of the “Tale of the Capture of Joppa,” a Ramesside piece of literature in which Egyptian forces describe the retaking of Jaffa by means of a ruse.

It was not, however, until the following phase, during the late Eighteenth Dynasty in the fourteenth century B.C.E., that the appearance of a large gate complex reveals the construction of the first Egyptian fortress atop the destruction of the early Egyptian settlement. The gate is of a type attested at Egyptian sites and consisted of two solid rectangular towers approximately 22 meters long and 6 meters wide built atop a stone foundation, which appears to have supported a second story. More than 3 meters of the original height of the orange mudbrick towers were preserved and the gate’s passageway was about 4 meters wide, featuring a drain that ran the length of the gate, between the western and eastern stone thresholds. From the eastern, outer threshold a cobbled road surface descended the slope of the mound. Limited traces of the earliest fortification wall were identified southeast of the gate, and these appear to have employed the lines of the Middle Bronze Age fortifications, notably its earthen rampart. During this period, the Amarna letters reveal the existence of Egyptian granaries in Jaffa that were presumably intended to provision not only the local garrison but likewise to supply troop movements during summer campaigns in Canaan. The grain was likely supplied by agricultural estates such as Aphek just 20 kilometers to Jaffa’s northeast.

At the beginning of the Nineteenth Dynasty the gate was destroyed and rebuilt. However, the structure was restored to exactly the same dimensions. It was to this phase of the gate that Ramesses II added a monumental stone façade inscribed with his titulary in Egyptian hieroglyphs to both sides of the entryway of the gate. The destruction debris associated with this gateway, which is dated to 1135 B.C.E. on the basis of a number of radiocarbon-dated seeds, was nearly 2 meters thick and provides evidence for both the construction of the structure, but also its function during the thirteenth and first half of the twelfth centuries. Collapsed timbers and planks of cedar, olivewood, and oak reveal the way in which the passageway was enclosed with a roof, which also served as the floor of the second story of the structure that can be suggested on the basis of Egyptian parallels. The presence of such cedar beams in Jaffa evokes the biblical traditions of cedars from Lebanon being brought to the “sea by Jaffa” for the construction of both the First (2 Chr 2:16) and Second Temples (Ezra 3:7) in Jerusalem.

Artifacts recovered from the destruction of this phase of the gate reveal its function as not only a defensive structure, but also as a marketplace on the first story and possibly as an administrative center above, functioning in a manner akin to Canaanite and later Israelite gate complexes as referenced in the Hebrew Bible. Along the entirety of the surface of the gate passage were thousands of charred seeds of ten varieties: barley, wheat, olive pits, grape pips, chickpeas, lentils, legumes, broad beans, vetch, and pistachios. Although it is uncertain whether these were stored in baskets or sacks, they were accompanied by numerous simple bowls that suggest how they may have been dispensed. Other remains include gold elements belonging to a necklace, a lead weight, pieces of an ivory box, and cut and uncut pieces of thirty-two deer antlers, all of which suggest their association with a marketplace in the gate, a practice known in Canaanite and later Israelite culture. A large Cypriot store jar stood on one side of the passageway, although its original contents are unclear, while remains of so-called Canaanite store jars and at least one large Egyptian store jar, which were recovered from the destruction debris, indicate their origin on the second story, having fallen into the gate at the time of its destruction. Also fallen from the second story was a necklace consisting of more than eight hundred beads on which was strung an oversized scarab of Amenhotep III.

Within the fortress, in the Lion Temple area, excavations exposed a small rectangular building with two column bases situated along its main axis. This building was dubbed the Lion Temple, although its identification as a temple is equivocal. Aside from fragmentary ceramic remains, a complete simple bowl, a lioness skull, and a scarab of queen Tiy, wife of Amenhotep III, were recovered from the destruction debris on the floor in the southeast corner of the building. Like the Amenhotep III scarabs found in the gateway, the Tiy scarab suggests a possible cult associated with the veneration of this couple at the site, a suggestion strengthened perhaps by the notable absence of inscriptional material associated with any other pharaonic figures. A cultic association for these items and the building are perhaps supported by the use evidence for the lion skull, which was intentionally defleshed and the jaw removed. The lion skull was removed from the lion’s body, as demonstrated by cut marks revealing that it was decapitated. The presence of the skull is therefore significant for its possible cultic associations, but likewise for the evidence it might provide for the presence of lions in the region during this period, as suggested in biblical allusions. This building shared the fate of the gate complex, and thus would confirm the gate’s destruction as part of a site-wide episode connected to resistance in the late twelfth century B.C.E., likely associated with centers such as Gezer in the coastal plain, as suggested by the Merneptah stele. Nearly a dozen arrowheads found throughout the passageway attest to the nature of the assault on Jaffa, and the destruction debris reveals deliberate episodes in the demolition of the gate complex.

Following the destruction of the gate in 1135 B.C.E., the gate was rapidly reconstructed with the identical footprint of the earliest gates. The abundance of ash and debris associated with the destruction appears to have provided the material for gray bricks that were used in the reconstruction, which were of typical Egyptian dimensions. A radiocarbon date of 1125 B.C.E. reveals that the final gate was destroyed only a few years after the previous gate. The poignant nature of the final destruction was made clear by the discovery of one of the two bronze gate hinges, which lay on the edge of threshold holding the ash and charcoal remains of the door, which was evidently in the closed position, with the nails that once fastened the hinge to the wooden door still attached.

Contemporary with the final gate complex was a large mudbrick structure built over the western wall of the Lion Temple of the previous phase, using gray bricks identical in size to those employed in the final gate building. Because the structure’s floors were not encountered and only the eastern half of the structure was exposed, its function remains uncertain. Its nearly 2-meter-thick walls suggest, however, an inner stronghold, perhaps constructed in response to the volatile events in Jaffa and the surrounding region—indeed, Jaffa’s destruction in 1125 B.C.E. is almost certainly tied to Canaanite resistance in the closing days of Egyptian empire. That such events, occurring both in the coastal plain and farther inland, are absent from the biblical narrative is curious and requires further consideration in light of the Exodus narratives which also make no allusions to an Egyptian imperial presence in Canaan.

The Iron Age and Later Periods

Settlement contemporary with the classical periods of biblical history begin in the eleventh century B.C.E. After the abandonment of the Egyptian fortress, an ephemeral phase of Philistine settlement was encountered, consisting of pits with Philistine pottery contemporaneous with eleventh-century remains at Tel Qasile. Only ceramics, but none of the other traditional elements of Philistine material culture are attested at the site. Contexts from the ninth century B.C.E. on are not very well preserved on Tel Yafo, largely as a result of systematic leveling operations for the building of the Persian-period town beginning in the sixth century B.C.E. Ceramics and artifacts represent, however, the entirety of the Iron Age, and thereby reveal continuous occupation during the Iron Age. Remains of a winepress dated to the Iron IIA were exposed on the eastern slopes of the mound. Despite biblical reference to Jaffa’s role in the movement of cedar timber from Lebanon to Jerusalem (2 Chr 2:16), earlier biblical texts make no specific mention of Jaffa in this context (1 Kgs 5:9). Jaffa is also later associated with the book of Jonah, as the port from which Jonah sailed for Tarshish (Jon 1:3). Jonah’s encounter with a “large fish” in this book finds an uncanny parallel in the story of Andromeda in which Perseus saves her from a sea monster, the setting of which is the rocky outcrops off Jaffa’s shore. Eighth-century B.C.E. remains include a stone glacis for the fortifications, which may have served Jaffa during Sennacherib’s siege, as attested on his prism. Despite its coastal location, outside of a few Phoenician-style figurines, Iron Age remains provide few indications of a traditional Phoenician presence at the site, which only appears to have begun in earnest during the fifth century B.C.E. Persian-period remains are dominated by an orthogonally laid out town plan, evidenced by building remains across the site. The upper town’s fortification wall was also identified.

The Hellenistic period, which includes a period of Hasmonean rule (1 Macc 10:76ff; 2 Macc 12), is relatively well known from excavations on the mound and throughout the lower town. Cemeteries to the north and east, which continued to function through the Early Roman period, indicate the limits of the lower town during both the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. Extensive ceramic remains attest to the Roman presence in Jaffa, a touch-point for biblical traditions in the New Testament. Notable are ceramics and Judean stone vessels associated with an elite Jewish household, which are comparable to contemporaneous finds from Jerusalem. In the same area was likely located the house of the Jewish agoranomos or overseer of the market, during the reigns of the Roman emperors Nerva and Trajan. Jaffa is associated with the ministry of the apostle Peter (Acts 9:36—10:16).

Throughout the Byzantine period, Jaffa was a major transit point for pilgrims heading for Jerusalem, although Byzantine Jaffa is best known for its Jewish cemetery at Abu Kabir, which features numerous tomb inscriptions. By the Medieval period, Jaffa itself became the focus of large-scale Christian pilgrimage due to renewed interest in the early Christian figures associated with places throughout the city. Medieval remains of the seventh to fifteenth centuries C.E. include Islamic and Crusader finds both on the mound and the extensive lower town that surrounded the mound on its eastern side. The Ottoman period remains, still visible today, date largely to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when European travelers to the Holy Land revitalized the sleepy Mediterranean port.

Jaffa’s place in biblical tradition is that of a non-Jewish city, where Jews and later Christians were minority elements living in a pagan maritime, commercial center. Stories connected with Jaffa, such as about a sea monster or large fish referenced in classical myth, and among classical authors and biblical prophets, suggest efforts to integrate into Jewish and Christian traditions longstanding traditions associated with the place. Aside from this, Jaffa’s fame centered on the access that its now long-lost harbor provided to Mediterranean goods. Imports of cedar, in particular, reveal Jaffa’s role as the region’s main coastal entrepôt during the early biblical period. The construction of Caesarea Maritima during the reign of Herod the Great, which was likely the result of the increasingly inadequate capacity of Jaffa’s harbor, ultimately undermined Jaffa’s status and importance during the Roman period in the years after the New Testament’s main traditions referencing Jaffa.


  • Allen, James P. “Taking of Joppa.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, edited by D. B. Redford. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. An overview of New Kingdom tale.
  • Ameling, Walter, et al., eds. Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae, vol. 3: South Coast: 2161–2648. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014. Publication of tomb inscriptions from Abu Kebir.
  • Burke, Aaron A. “Early Jaffa: From the Bronze Age to the Persian Period.” In The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1, edited by M. Peilstöcker and A. A. Burke. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2011. Overview of historical and archaeological sources for the Bronze and Iron ages, and Achaemenid Period.
  • Burke, Aaron A., et al. “Excavations of the New Kingdom Egyptian Fortress in Jaffa, 2011–2014: Traces of Resistance to Egyptian Rule in Canaan.” American Journal of Archaeology 121, no. 1 (2017): 85–133. Summary of excavations of New Kingdom Egyptian gate complex.
  • Burke, Aaron A., Katherine S. Burke, and Martin Peilstöcker, eds. The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 2. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project vol. 2; Monumenta Archaeologica. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2017. Reports on Hellenistic, Early Roman, Medieval, and Ottoman remains from Jaffa, and overview of recent research in Jaffa.
  • Burke, Aaron A., and Krystal V. Lords. “Egyptians in Jaffa: A Portrait of Egyptian Presence in Jaffa during the Late Bronze Age.” Near Eastern Archaeology 73, no. 1 (2010): 2–30. Review of Egyptian material culture from Kaplan excavations in Area A.
  • Burke, Aaron A., and Martin Peilstöcker. “Jaffa and the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project.” In Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, vol. 6, edited by C. Smith. New York: Springer, 2014. Overview of aims of research program of recent project.
  • Burke, Aaron A., and Martin Peilstöcker. “Notes and News: The Jaffa Visitors’ Centre, 2008.” Israel Exploration Journal 59, no. 2 (2009): 220–227. Report on the 2008 excavations.
  • Burke, Aaron A., Martin Peilstöcker, and George A. Pierce. “Hellenistic Architecture in Jaffa: The 2009 Excavations of the Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project in the Visitor’s Centre.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 146, no. 1 (2014): 40–55. Report on the 2009 excavations.
  • Fantalkin, Alexander. “A Group of Iron Age Wineries from Ancient Jaffa (Joppa).” Salvage Excavation Reports 2 (2005): 3–26. Report on Iron IIA remains excavated on Jaffa’s slope.
  • Herzog, Zeʾev. “Jaffa.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, edited by E. Stern. Jerusalem: Simon and Schuster, 2008. Overview of 1997 and 1999 excavations by Tel Aviv University.
  • Kaplan, Jacob. “The Archaeology and History of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.” Biblical Archaeologist 35, no. 3 (1972): 66–95. Overview of Jacob Kaplan’s excavations in Jaffa through 1970.
  • Kaplan, Jacob. Two Groups of Pottery of the First Century A.D. from Jaffa and Its Vicinity. Publications of the Museum of Antiquities of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, vol. 1. Tel Aviv: Jaffa Museum of Antiquities, 1964. Discussion of Roman ceramics from Jaffa.
  • Kaplan, Jacob, and Haya Ritter-Kaplan. “Jaffa.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, edited by E. Stern. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1993. Summary of stratigraphy and findings of excavations through 1974.
  • Peilstöcker, Martin. “The History of Archaeological Research at Jaffa, 1948–2009.” In The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1, edited by M. Peilstöcker and A. A. Burke. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2011. Overview of excavation history.
  • Peilstöcker, Martin, and Aaron A. Burke, eds. The History and Archaeology of Jaffa 1. The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project, vol. 1; Monumenta Archaeologica 26. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2011. Overview of the history and archaeology of Jaffa through 2010, and overview of research program, including publication of Egyptian and Roman ceramics.
  • Peilstöcker, Martin, Jürgen Schefzyk, and Aaron A. Burke, eds. Jaffa: Tor zum Heiligen Land. Mainz, Germany: Nünnerich-Asmus, 2013. Exhibition catalog for Bibelhaus Erlebnis Museum in Frankfurt.
  • Sweeney, Deborah. “A Lion-Hunt Scarab and Other Egyptian Objects from the Late Bronze Fortress at Jaffa.” Tel Aviv 30, no. 1 (2003): 54–65. Report on Amenhotep III scarabs from Tel Aviv University excavations.
  • Wapnish, Paula. “Lions.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, edited by E. M. Meyers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Discussion of lioness excavated in Jaffa.
  • Williams, Jeremy, and Aaron A. Burke. “‘You have entered Joppa’: 3D Modeling of Jaffa’s New Kingdom Egyptian Gate.” Near Eastern Archaeology 79, no. 4 (2016): 260–270. Computer visualization of Jaffa’s twelfth-century B.C.E. Egyptian gate complex.

Aaron A. Burke

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