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Revealing The Hellenistic Origins Of Jaffa, The Holiest Port

Revealing The Hellenistic Origins Of Jaffa, The Holiest Port

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Jaffa, or Yafo in Hebrew, is a city port and southern suburb of Tel Aviv, located on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. As one of the oldest ports in the world, the Bible says Jaffa was founded by Japheth, one of the sons of Noah, after the Great Flood. It was from Jaffa that Jonah set sail on his voyage before being swallowed by the whale, and it was to Jaffa that Solomon imported cedars from Lebanon to build his Temple in Jerusalem. However, Jaffa was also the setting for the ancient Greek myth of Andromeda and Perseus. Now, archaeologists excavating in Israel are putting hard evidence around the city's Greek roots.

Ancient Greek Colonists In The Levant

Over the last decade archaeologists have managed five new digs in and around the ancient port, and the results were detailed in full by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in last month’s edition of the journal Atiqot (Antiquities). The range of multicultural historical artifacts and buildings date back several thousands of years and connect the city with its ancient Greek origins. Yoav Arbel, the IAA archaeologist who led four of five new digs, told Haaretz that the city experienced at least three periods of major expansion: “in Hellenistic times, then a protracted phase spanning the Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods, and finally under the Ottomans in the 19th century.”

A Byzantine wine press and a grave marker bearing a Byzantine cross. (Yuval Arbel, Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Amir Gorzalczany)

A Byzantine wine press and a grave marker bearing a Byzantine cross. (Yuval Arbel, Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Amir Gorzalczany)

This claim, that Jaffa was “a thriving Hellenistic expansion,” is supported by loads of new discoveries made at the five dig sites at construction and public work projects. Evidence suggests the port city of Jaffa was fortified before 2000 BC. Arbel notes that in these early days, the area to the east of the mound, which would later become the lower city, was greatly non-residential and mainly used for burials. The city was later developed under various Phoenician and Persian conquerors.

A jar in which a baby had been buried, lying inside a jug, in a Middle Bronze Age II funerary context. (Yuval Arbel, Israel Antiquities)

A jar in which a baby had been buried, lying inside a jug, in a Middle Bronze Age II funerary context. (Yuval Arbel, Israel Antiquities)

Jaffa, An Ancient City With Multicultural Foundations

The archaeologists found remains of many scattered dwellings and farms dating from the early Hellenistic period, between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, at which time it expanded into its fertile eastern lowlands. At one of these farm sites the researchers excavated jar handles which been imported from all over the ancient Greek world, which Dr. Segni says testifies “to a wealthy owner and the international nature of the city.”

Dr. Leah Di Segni, a Hebrew University Greek inscriptions scholar, explains in a paper that among the scores of major archaeological finds at Jaffa, “burial sites, residential complexes, farms and assorted artifacts dating from prehistory to today” were all discovered. Each of these new finds presents unique insights into everyday life at one of the oldest continuously-inhabited ports in the world, and they each express different levels of interaction between the ancient cultures who lived here.

Ancient Greek Wisdom From The Other Side

A piece of ancient Greek wisdom was discovered enshrined in a mosaic reading: ΕΥΨΥΧΙΤԜ ΣΑΝΠΑΝΤΕΣ ΟΙԜΔΕΤΑΥΤΑ (Εὐψυχ(ε)ίτω- σαν πάντες οἱ ὧδε· ταῦτα). This statement loosely translates to “Be of good courage, all who are buried here. This is it!” – or, in other words according to Dr. Segni, “that’s life!” Di Segni explains that the expression “εὐψύχει” was a blessing to the deceased and a sort of farewell from the life of the living, “acknowledging that death is the common destiny of all.”

Greek mosaic from the Byzantine cemetery in Jaffa. (Dr. Leah Di Segni)

Greek mosaic from the Byzantine cemetery in Jaffa. (Dr. Leah Di Segni)

After a decline in status for several centuries, the city boomed again after the 5th century BC during Byzantine times. This can be seen in numerous finds, including a wine press and a grave marker bearing a Byzantine cross. In Byzantine times the city reached what Dr. Arbel described as “its greatest pre-modern extent and in the 11th century.” Evidence also affirms that during the 13th century Crusades the port was a strategic center for European treasure hunters (sorry, Crusaders) and at that time it was heavily fortified with a European style moat. Thereafter, the port was abandoned for several centuries until the Early Islamic period, when in 636 AD it was conquered by Arabs.

Arabic inscription on fragments of a jug that contained headache medicine. (Dr. Ayelet Dayan)

Arabic inscription on fragments of a jug that contained headache medicine. (Dr. Ayelet Dayan)

Top Image: Recent archaeological finds at Jaffa in Israel. Source: Dr. Ayelet Dayan, Dr. Leah Di Segni, Yuval Arbel, Israel Antiquities Authority and Dr. Amir Gorzalczany

By Ashley Cowie



Hi All,

That's funny I couldn't figure out what Jaffa was even though I've read the Bible my whole life with Jonah being my favorite Story from The Bible. It was great learning Japheth Noah's 3rd Son founded Jaffa. So it finally registered Jaffa is Joppa.

I'll address three subjects brought up in this article.

First, subject Japheth the Father of Everyone in Europe, all Family Clans, language's, The Greeks and the Romans, Kingdoms an Monarchs, but I've often wondered how did Japheth get into Europe to begin with?

I know that Japheth would have migrated too Europe but, how?

I know the answer to when Japheth moves there that's the easiest one; Japheth move would have occurred after, Noah's death 10th generation from Adam; He was buried in The Mountain Passes legend says Noah might have had the bones of Adam on The Ark.

Since everything transpired after, The Great Flood the land was changed an there may have still been pockets of Water left over from The Flood. I don't think he was able to just go into present day Europe. So what was the mode of transportation used?

So I'm thinking an I could be wrong about this is that Japheth and his family probably trekked through some Mountain Pass into present day Europe where Japheth's Ancestors continue to reside in Europe to this day.

In fact Japheth's great-grandson Javan went off an explored the mass land winding up in Tarshish where He found some Hot Springs there Tarshish by the way is Spain, the Port Jonah was attempting to flee too later in The Bible because God requested he preach warnings to Nineveh change or else, and why Jonah went to Jaffa/Joppa instead.

So It turns out while Japheth founded Jaffa, Javan's ancestors settled Tarshish (don't know what name Portugal went by in the Bible), Greece an Cypress, and finally Italy.

So Japheth is the first subject I've addressed.

Second subject I wish to discuss is The Perseus saga how many Oral Stories about Perseus now written down are there?

The reason why I ask is because the article discusses Perseus and Andromeda Saga and the story happened in Jaffa but, I read Bulfinches Mythology anthology Book as well Edith Hamilton's Mythology, A World History of The Myths in Greece and Rome.

That Perseus Saga happened in Ethiopia where Andromeda was concern in fact I read The World of Myths an The author addressed in its Forward and Introduction about The Ancient Greeks curious love affair with Ethiopia.

It's a big leap from Ethiopia to Jaffa that Japheth founded.

So how many different versions of Perseus Saga is there?

So my I guess my third subject I'm curious about is Israel and Greece it's know surprise too me that there's a connection with Greece and Israel from the view point of The Bible; they are cousin's biologically with Israel their fore-father is Shem and Abraham where the word Semetic originate.

Japheth and Shem were brother's there's a story that's told about Noah's 3 Son's in The Lesser Genesis Bible Book (people crack me up), right before he dies Noah summons Shem, Ham, an Japheth where He Divides the Continents up for his sons.

Ham gets Africa (still a source of debate), Japheth gets Europe, Shem gets Asia Minor not certain when the branch of Ashkenazi Jews emerges on the changing scene curiously Shem and Japheth ancestors share India Japheths branch in the family lineage Indus-Aryan.

It would be a matter of time for the Semites to occassionally run into their Aryan cousins wait Greece is Aryan? Yeah that's how Japheths bloodline is identified their all Aryan.

Since people for the most part debate The Bible's relevance to poignant moments in people history I recognize not everyone would agree about this assessment.

Every Passover Easter Holiday I always watch The Movie The Ten Commandments with Charleton Heston, I remembered the robe Moses wore when exiled in the Desert of Midian where the Midianites dwelled.

That robe Heston wore in Ten Commandments was the colors of Israel it identified them as a Nation; so what of the Flags of Europe could they not identified the Ancestral Clans and Tribes of Europe?

I realize it appears I'm going off script I'm attempting to share a series of examples but, if the examples don't make sense then I apologize for the confusion.

My favorite puzzles are connect the dots, Mazes, and Word Search right now, I'm utilizing Connect the Dots.

It's also challenging but, I don't believe it's by happen stance the Flags of the various Nations in Europe mark what country they hail from. I do think the flags identified Japheths Ancestors much like Israel colors Identify them as a specific Nation as a whole.

As an example, Britian, Belgium, France, Netherlands, Russia, Serbia, Croatia, these countries their Flags are Red, White, and Blue two of the Flags has a Coat of Arms that might symbolize a few of Japheths children as what kind of professions they may have maintained in Europe.

As for Greece's flag it's blue and white, while similar flags are blue and yellow I maybe off but, I think that Greece's flag might Gog & Magog identification, I know I said Javan claimed Tarshish if memory serves me correct Spain's flag is quite similar too Germany's flag accept for the black strip.

So perhaps Tarshish Root's and the Greeks Root's is most likely Javan's bloodline?

Oh and something I felt was so intriguing about 2 of Europe's flags Ireland and Italy.

At first the Flags first two colors are green and white but a slight change of colors the flag in Italy has a red stripe while Ireland's have Orange color maybe the flag idea is a long shot.

I do think it's possible too trace how far back those countries flag colors go in History because one of the Flags has got to be traced back to Japheth somehow an with it The Greeks Root's.

I guess I went back to the Subject of Japheth I just get so excited discussing the possible symbol of Europe's flags. I was attempting to link Greece up with Israel due to their biological cousin status strictly from an Biblical Point of view.

Well that's all I have to share for now so it's time for me too go now so until next time Everyone, Goodbye!

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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