Aphek (1 Samuel 29)

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Illustration: Remains of tabernae (shops) in the Mercantile Quarter of Antipatris, Tel Aphek (the Ottman fort in the background is from the 16th century A.D.)

In 1 Samuel 29:1 the Philistines used Aphek as a place to muster their troops against Israel. Previously they had gathered at this same location just before they had routed the army of Israel (1 Samuel 4).The precise location of Aphek is somewhat problematic because of the numerous places that share this or a very similar name.

Aphek is mentioned eight times in the Old Testament (nine if we include the place called Aphekah in Joshua 15:53), and the scholarly consensus is that there are four distinct locations so designated:

  • Joshua 19:29-30 refers to a town within the tribal allotment of Asher.
  • 1 Kings 20:26, 30 and 2 Kings 13:17 speak of a town in Aram (Syria), north of Israel.
  • Joshua 13:4 speaks of another Aphek that most likely served as the northern border of the land of Canaan.
  • The fourth Aphek was located in the Sharon plain. This may be the Aphek of Joshua 12:18 and it is most likely the Aphek of 1 Samuel 4 and 1 Samuel 29.

Tel Ras el-Ain, northeast of Joppa at the source of the Yarkon River, is assumed to be the modern location for the fourth Aphek. Its relative proximity to Philistinee territory confirms the likelihood that this is the town intended in 1 Samuel 29. This Aphek is attested in Egyptian sources from the fifteenth century B.C. in a topographical listing of place names (possibly of the cities taken in a military campaign or in an itinerary) from Thutmose III, as well as in an account of Amenhotep II’s second military campaign to the region.

In 1 Samuel 28:4 the Philistine army was encamped at Shunem, near Endor, the Valley of Jezreel and Mount Gilboa (the location of Saul’s death). It is most likely that the reference to Aphek in 1 Samuel 29 indicates that the events of this chapter actually preceded those of 28:3-25. Aphek would have been a natural staging for the Philistine push northward to meet the Israelite forces at Jezreel. In addition to being the most logical reconstruction of the Philistine troop movements, such a reading does no violence to the Biblical portrayal of events in 1 Samuel 28-31. The author evidently used a thematic, rather than a strictly chronological, arrangement to structure this account.


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