Biblical Significance of Joppa (Jaffa)

Marie-Claire De Villiers
By Marie-Claire De Villiers
Edited by Joel Taylor

Published February 28, 2022.

St Peter's Church with a blue sea in the background

Joppa is mentioned in both the old and the new testament and is one of the oldest cities in the world. Boasting an incredibly strategic location at several crossroads for Israel and an excellent port, it was also a vital city in ancient history. Today, the precious events recounted in the Bible are still celebrated here, along with a new vibrancy.

Where Is Joppa?

Set roughly 30 miles south of Caesarea and 40 miles northwest of Jerusalem, Jaffa is also encompassed by the city of Tel Aviv. Jutting out over the Mediterranean and forming a small harbor, the city was an important port for hundreds of years.

Biblical Events That Involve Joppa

Jonah and the Whale

God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh (in Syria) to spread His word to the Jewish people. Jonah didn't like this idea, as he felt the Jewish people were undeserving. So he made his way towards the port of Joppa instead—so that he could flee in the opposite direction towards the distant city of Tarshish (now part of Spain). This is where the famous whale comes in. After being thrown overboard, Jonah was swallowed by the mighty creature and then deposited on the coast nearer to Niniveh.

But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. —Jonah 1:3

The Distance Between Joppa and Nineveh

The distance from Joppa to Niniveh as the crow flies is 550 miles. Instead of taking this journey, Jonah was planning to travel roughly 2500 miles to Tarshish—he was really trying to escape God's order!

Simon the Tanner and Apostle Peter’s Vision

Peter the apostle stayed in the house of Simon the Tanner, “by the sea” (Acts 10:6), and while taking a break on the rooftop, he had a vision of animals being lowered from the sky with a sheet, and clear instruction from God:

Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. —Acts10:9-18

This was part of the message that he must evangelize Jewish people.

And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles —Acts 10:45

Tabitha or Dorcas in Joppa in the Bible

Tabitha (known as Dorcas in Greek) was a disciple who had a powerful impact with her good work in the name of the Lord (learn more about her in Acts 9:36-43). She was brought back to life by Peter in Simon's house.

The City Opposite the Hebrew Tribe of Dan

Joppa was located opposite the territory given to the Hebrew Tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:46) as a border. The Tribe of Dan, one of the ancient Israeli "12 tribes", eventually became the Jewish people.

King David and King Solomon Conquered Jaffa

It also played an important role for King David and King Solomon (his son). The port brought in the cedars from Tyre needed to build the First Temple.

What Is Joppa Like Today?

Joppa is now called "Jaffa" (also "Japho," "Yafo in Hebrew," and "Yafa" in Arabic) and is a diverse city home to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. For Christians, the exquisite Franciscan Roman-Catholic basilica St. Peter’s Church, dating from the 17th century, is a must-see, along with the special places mentioned in the Bible (such as Simon the Tanner's House), which can be seen as part of guided tours.

Often nicknamed "Tel Aviv's coolest neighborhood," the area captivates visitors with its mix of old and new and is now a major cultural and economic center. Besides the atmospheric port itself (perfect for boat tours, sundowners, or a lazy breakfast while you watch the catch being brought in), a wealth of attractions provide days of exploring. Make sure to spend an afternoon in the gorgeous HaPisgah Gardens, which features a wishing bridge providing some spectacular views over the city. Soak in some of the local cultures and practice your haggling skills at the bustling market (where you'll find anything and everything), or take a culinary journey through the ever-growing number of cafés, bars, and restaurants. Art and music lovers can look forward to an impressive plethora of galleries, venues, and live performance events.