(jahp' puh) Place name meaning “beautiful.” Situated on the Mediterranean coast, Joppa is located some thirty-five miles northwest of Jerusalem. Excavations have revealed that the city dates back at least to 1650 B.C. Originally Joppa was situated on a rocky hill just over 100 feet high, a hill that just slightly beyond the coastline to form a small cape. To the north stretches the Plain of Sharon, to the south the Plain of Philistia.
The Old Testament name for Joppa was Japho (or Jaffe or Yafo), the name the Israeli nation has chosen as the modern designation for the city. The Phoenician form of the term comes from the name Jafe, the daughter of Aeolus, god of the winds.
Joppa is the only natural harbor on the Mediterranean between ancient Ptolemais and Egypt, and its facilities in biblical days were far less than outstanding. Reefs forming a roughly semicircular breakwater approximately 300 feet off-shore made entrance from the south impossible. Entrance from the north was shallow and treacherous, but small vessels could navigate it.
The earliest historical reference to Joppa is found in inscriptions on the walls of the Temple of Karnak at Thebes (Luxor). Thutmose III, who ruled Egypt from 1490 to 1436 B.C., boasted of his conquest of the cities of Palestine; Joppa is one of those named. The Amarna Letters mention Joppa twice, with observations about the beauty of her gardens and the skill of her workmen in leather, wood, and metal.
When Canaan was conquered, the tribe of Dan received Joppa; but it never came firmly into Hebrew hands. The Philistines took the city, but David recaptured it. Solomon developed it into the major port serving Jerusalem. To Joppa rafts of cedar logs were floated to be transported to Jerusalem for Solomon's splendid Temple (2 Chronicles 2:16).
Phoenicia gained control of Joppa by the time of Jonah. As the prophet fled from God's call, he caught a ship at Joppa for his well-remembered voyage toward Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). In 701 B.C. Sennacherib occupied the city; then, in turn, the Babylonians and the Persians. As it had been in Solomon's day, Joppa became the port that received cedar logs from Lebanon, now for the rebuilding of the Temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel.
In 164 B.C. more than 200 Jewish citizens of Joppa were treacherously drowned by angry non-Jews. In retaliation Judas Maccabeus raided the city, burned the harbor installations, torching the anchored ships as well (2 Maccabees 12:3-9). Joppa's history is linked with several notable names during the years of Roman control. Pompey conquered it in 63 B.C., joining it to the province of Syria. Antony later gave the city to Cleopatra of Egypt. Augustus Caesar added it to the kingdom of Herod the Great.
The New Testament records that Joppa was the home of Dorcas, a Christian woman known for her gracious and generous deeds. At her death the Christians of Joppa called for Simon Peter, who with the command “Tabitha, arise,” restored her to life (Acts 9:36-41).
Simon Peter remained in Joppa at the home of Simon the Tanner. At noon, while Simon Peter waited for a meal to be prepared, he prayed on the flat roof of the tanner's house. In a trance Peter saw what seemed to be “a great sheet knit at the four corners” lowered before him and learned that the Gentile world was a fit audience for the gospel (Acts 10:9-16).
Joppa is now annexed to the modern city of Tel Aviv, forming a part of the southern section of the largest city of Israel. Industrial, shipping, and residential complexes have been developed on this ancient site.