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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Joppa

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(Ἰόππη; Josephus, Ἰόπη; Arab. Yâfâ; modern name Jaffa)

Joppa is a maritime town of Palestine, 33 miles S.W. of Jerusalem. Built on an eminence visible far out at sea-whence its name, ‘the conspicuous’-it owes its existence to a ridge of low and partly sunken rocks running out in a N.W. direction from the S. side of the town, and forming a harbour which, though small and insecure, is yet the best on the whole coast of Palestine.

Down to the time of the Maccabees, Joppa was a heathen town, which the Jews sometimes used but never possessed. Jonah’s ship of Joppa was manned by a heathen crew (Jonah 1:5). One of the strongest proofs of the political sagacity of the three famous Maccabaean brothers lay in their resolve to make Judaea a maritime power. Each of them attempted to capture Joppa, and Simon succeeded. On the family memorial at Modin, meant for the eyes of ‘all that sail on the sea,’ he caused carved ships to be represented (1 Maccabees 13:29). The historian, in eulogizing his career, says: ‘And amid all his glory he took Joppa for a haven, and made it an entrance for the isles of the sea’ (14:5). From that time, with but few interruptions, Joppa remained in the possession of the Jews for more than two centuries. When Pompey (66 b.c.) included Judaea in the province of Syria, Joppa was one of the cities which ‘he left in a state of freedom’ (Jos. Ant. xiv. iv. 4); and Julius Caesar decreed ‘that the city of Joppa, which the Jews had originally when they made a league of friendship with the Romans, shall belong to them as it formerly did’ (x. 6).

No city was more completely judaized than this late possession. Joppa became as zealous for the Law, us patriotic, as impatient of Gentile control and culture, as Jerusalem herself. Herod the Great, who did much to hellenize Palestine, left the Pharisaic purity of Joppa untainted. Yet this stronghold of Jewish legalism was the city in which St. Peter received the vision which taught him that Jew and Gentile, as spiritually equal before God, must be impartially welcomed into the Church of Christ (Acts 10:9-16). Nowhere was the contrast between the clean and the unclean-the devoutly scrupulous observers of the Law and the jostling crowd of foreigners-more marked. St. Peter probably never realized so intensely the need of ceremonial purification before his midday meal as when he brought into the tanner’s house the defilement of contact with so many lawless and profane people. To his Jewish instincts such contamination was intolerable. But he experienced a swift and mysterious reaction, which was probably the result of much past brooding as well as of present prayer. While he lingered upon the housetop, waiting the call to eat, he became unconscious of the sights and sounds of the harbour beneath, and fell into a trance, in which he learned how different are God’s thoughts of religious purity from man’s. He became convinced that all manner of meats-and, inferentially, all manner of men-that were commonly counted unclean, were clean in God’s sight. It is as the birthplace of this revolutionary principle, which virtually gave the deathblow to Judaism, that the old town of Joppa has a place in the history of human thought. St. Peter, always impulsive and uncalculating, went straight to pagan Caesarea, and delivered a speech which opened the gates of Christ’s Church to ‘every nation’ (Acts 10:35). Joppa has also a place in the history of Christian beneficence. It is remembered as the home of a gentlewoman who was believed to have been raised from death to life, and whose example has in all ages been an incentive to ‘good works and almsdeeds’ (Acts 9:36-42).

To the ancient Greeks Joppa was known as the place where ‘Andromeda was exposed to the sea-monster’ (Strabo xvi. ii. 28). By primitive fancy the fury of the sea was ascribed to serpents and dragons. Modern writers rationalize the phenomenon. ‘More boats are upset, and more lives are lost in the breakers at the north end of the ledge of rocks that defend the inner harbour, than anywhere else on this coast.’ One cannot ‘look without a shudder at this treacherous port, with its noisy surf tumbling over the rocks, as if on purpose to swallow up unfortunate boats. This is the true monster which has devoured many an Andromeda, for whose deliverance no gallant Perseus was at hand’ (W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, 1864, p. 516).

Jaffa is now famous for its orange gardens and orchards, each of which has an unlimited supply of water. ‘The entire plain seems to cover a river of vast breadth, percolating through the sand en route to the sea’ (W. M. Thomson, loc. cit.).

Literature.-E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii. i. [1885] 79-83; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) , 1897, p. 136f.; H. B. Tristram, Bible Places, 1897, p. 70f.; V. Guérin, Description géographique … de la Palestine: ‘Judée,’ 1869, i. 1f.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Joppa'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/j/joppa.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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