Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary

By John J. Rousseau; Rami Arav | Go to book overview



According to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus withdrew to a town named Ephraim before returning to Jerusalem for his last Passover.

Scripture Reference

John 11:54.

General Information

Ephraim was the name of Joseph’s younger son and the name of the tribal territory west of the Jordan River, north of Jerusalem. The origin of the name is uncertain. The traditional explanation that it derives from the Hebrew prh, “to be fruitful, fertile,” is based on Genesis 41:52 and Hosea 13:15 and may not be the only explanation. Another explanation is the derivation from eper, in the sense of “region.”

Ephraim is also the name of an important town near Baal Hazor. At Baal Hazor, Absalom kept his sheepshearers and assassinated his half-brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13:23). It is commonly identified with Jebel el-Asur, the highest peak north of Jerusalem (1,016 m).

A few scholars identify Ephraim with the town where Jesus retreated after raising Lazarus from the dead at Bethany when he incurred the wrath of Caiaphas, the chief priests, and Pharisees in Jerusalem (John 11:45–54).

Despite the significant difference in the initial vowels, the village of Ephraim sometimes is equated with Ophra (Josh. 18:23). Eusebius identified it with the cities of Mount Ephron (Josh. 15.9) and placed it 20 miles north of Jerusalem and 5 miles east of Beth El. Most scholars today identify Ephraim with modern Tayibeh, 15 miles north of Jerusalem.

Indeed, perhaps all biblical towns named Ophra should be identified with modern villages named Tayibeh. The most common explanation for the unusual shift from Ophra to Tayibeh was because Ifrit means “demon” in Arabic, and the Arabs changed it to Tayibeh, meaning “favor, goodness.” However, Taba means “gazelle” in Aramaic, which is the same meaning as Ophra in Hebrew. It is more plausible that the name Ophra was translated into Aramaic. Other toponyms similarly were translated into Aramaic and Greek (Migdal into Magdala, Hippos into Susita).

From 1 Maccabees 11:34 we learn that King Demetrius confirmed the boundaries of northern Judea and included the regions of Aphairema and two others taken from Samaria in its territory. On his way to Jerusalem, Vespasian took Bethel and Ephraim and left garrisons in them (Josephus, War 4, 9.9/551).

Archaeological Information

No archaeological excavations have been carried out at Tayibeh. Albright distinguished between Ephraim-Aphairema and Ophra-Ephron. He suggested identifying the latter pair with Tayibeh and the former pair with Ain Samieh, 3 miles northeast of Tayibeh and closer to the Jordan valley. He proposed that Jesus needed a warm place in February to winter with his disciples. Ain Samieh is warmer and had numerous caves that would have been ideal for him; it would have been preferable to Tayibeh, where the temperature is often colder than in Jerusalem.

Implications for Jesus Research

Although the site has not been exactly located nor excavated, the city by the name of Ephraim probably existed in the first century C.E. near the Samaritan border. The author of the Fourth Gospel either knew the geography of Palestine in Jesus’ time or had good sources.

Jesus’ decision to retreat near the Samaritan border would have been a logical one in a time of danger (John 8:59; 10:31; 11:8). The possibility of escaping in Samaria at a moment’s notice offered more security than taking refuge in Perea, east of the Jordan, a territory under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas (see SAMARIA, SAMARITANS).


Albright, W. F. “Ophrah and Ephraim.” Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 4 (1922–23): 125–33.

Mazar, B. “The Early Israelite Settlement in the Hill Country.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 241 (1981): 75–85.

Thompson, H. O. “Ephraim.” ABD 2:556.


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Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Map of Palestine Key v
  • Title Page ix
  • Contents xi
  • Foreword a Down-to-Earth Jesus xiii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • List of Abbreviations xx
  • List of Figures xxi
  • List of Tables xxiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Aenon and Salim 7
  • Agriculture, Cereals 8
  • Antonia, Pavement (Gabbatha, Lithostrotos) 12
  • Bethabara/Beth Araba/Bethany 14
  • Bethany 15
  • Bethlehem 16
  • Bethphage 18
  • Bethsaida 19
  • Boats 25
  • Caesarea Maritima 30
  • Caesarea Philippi (Banias) 33
  • Camps, Siege Banks 35
  • Cana 38
  • Capernaum (Capharnaum) [Hebrew, Kfar Nahum] 39
  • Cave of Letters 47
  • Chorazin 52
  • Coins and Money 55
  • Coins as Historical Documents 61
  • Construction, Cities 68
  • Crucifixion 74
  • Dead Sea Scrolls 78
  • Decapolis 85
  • Ephraim 87
  • Exorcism 88
  • Gadara, Kursi 97
  • Galilean Caves 99
  • Gamla, Gamala 100
  • Garden Tomb 104
  • Gennesareth (Hebrew, Ginosar) 109
  • Gethsemane 110
  • Golgotha, Traditional Site 112
  • Gospel of Thomas 118
  • Hebron 123
  • Herodium 124
  • Hippos/Susita 127
  • House 128
  • Jacob’s Well 131
  • Jericho 132
  • Jerusalem, Caiaphas’s House 136
  • Jerusalem, Caiaphas’s Tomb 139
  • Jerusalem, City of David, Ophel 142
  • Jerusalem, Gehenna, Akeldama 145
  • Jerusalem, Herodian 146
  • Jerusalem, Herod’s Palace 151
  • Jerusalem, Kidron 152
  • Jerusalem, Pool of Bethesda 155
  • Jerusalem, Streets and Stairs 161
  • Jerusalem, Tombs 164
  • Jerusalem, Upper City 169
  • Jerusalem, Upper Room 173
  • Jerusalem, Walls and Gates 175
  • Jerusalem, Water System 180
  • Jordan River, Fords 183
  • Judean Caves 185
  • Machaerus (Hebrew, Makhwar) 187
  • Magdala (Hebrew, Migdal; Aramaic, Migdal Nunya; Greek, Taricheae) 189
  • Magic, Miracles 190
  • Masada 195
  • Medicine, Physicians 199
  • Moses’ Seat 203
  • Mount Gerizim 206
  • Mount Hermon 208
  • Mount of Olives 210
  • Mount Tabor 212
  • Nain (Hebrew Naim) 213
  • Nazareth 214
  • Ointments, Perfumes 216
  • Olive Oil Industry 220
  • Pantera’s Tombstone 223
  • Pontius Pilate’s Stone 225
  • Pottery and Glass 227
  • Qumran 233
  • Ritual Baths (Miqvaoth) 236
  • Samaria, Samaritans 240
  • Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret) 245
  • Sepphoris (Hebrew, Zippori) 248
  • Shepherding 251
  • Slaves and Servants 253
  • Sodom and Gomorrah 257
  • Son of Man 259
  • Stone, Stoning 263
  • Sychar-Shechem 267
  • Synagogues 268
  • Tannery, Leather 273
  • Tax and Tax Collectors 275
  • Temple, History, Description 279
  • Temple, Royal Stoa 288
  • Temple, Sacrificial System 291
  • Temple, Service and Ritual 296
  • Temple, Solomon’s Portico 303
  • Temple, Stairs and Gates 304
  • Temple, Treasury 309
  • Temple, Trumpeting Place 311
  • Temple, Warning Signs 312
  • Textiles, Dyeing 313
  • Tiberias (Hebrew, Tveria) 316
  • Traditional Healing 318
  • Tunic without Seam, Dice 324
  • Tyre and Sidon 326
  • Viticulture 328
  • Weapons 332
  • Weights and Measures 336
  • Wood, Furniture 339
  • Tables 343
  • Historical Synopsis 357
  • Glossary 361
  • General Bibliography 365
  • Index of Scriptures Cited 369
  • Index of Early Jewish Writings Cited 379
  • Index of Ancient Writers Cited 382
  • Index of Names, Places, and Subjects 385


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