Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
51. Gophna - (Jifna)
Town in N. Judea that is first mentioned in the Second Temple period. The Talmud refers to it as Bet Gufnin, a name derived from the Hebrew root gefen ("vine"). Gofnah replaced Timnah as the center of a toparchy in the time of Herod and continued to occupy this position in later times (Jos., Wars, 1:45; 3:55; Pliny, Historia Naturalis, 5:15, 30). In the middle of the first century B.C.E., the inhabitants of Gofnah were sold into slavery by the Roman general Cassius for failure to pay taxes, but they were freed shortly afterward by Antonius. The city was part of the area under the command of Hananiah b. Johanan in 66 C.E. during the Jewish War. Vespasian occupied it in 68 C.E., established a garrison there, and concentrated the priests and other important persons who had surrendered to him in the city (Jos., Wars, 6:115). Gofnah is also mentioned in the Talmud as a city of priests (Ber. 44a; TJ, Ta'an. 4:8, 69a). In the Middle Ages it continued to exist as Gafeniyyah. It is marked as a road station on the Peutinger Map; Eusebius places it 15 miles (24 km.) north of Jerusalem on the road to Neapolis (Onom. 168:16). Remains found there include a Jewish tomb with inscribed ossuaries, one of which mentions a Judah, son of Eleazar (in Aramaic); a Greek inscription, Salome daughter of Iakeimos, in a burial cave; a Roman villa; and a Byzantine church.
On the site of historical Gofnah there is now the Arab village of Jifna, which in 1967 had 655 inhabitants, of which 538 were Christians and the rest Muslims. Its Greek Orthodox church stands on Byzantine foundations.
Michael Avi-Yonah/Efraim Orni, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Gofnah"
P. O'Callaghan (Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, ad v. "Madaba", col. 654)
Gophna. Lettres blanches au nord-ouest de Béthel. Cette ville est signalée par Eusèbe (Onom., p. 168,15 sq.): pharagks botryos (Num., XIII,24 sq.)...etis legetai einai he Gophna zeteitai de ei alethes ho logos, d'où on voit qu'il en ignorait la localisation. Le mot ampelos, qui revient dans ce même texte, avait conduit certains auteurs à identifier ce site avec nahal Eshcol, ce qui ne peut guère se soutenir; la référence d'Eusèbe aux explorateurs de Num., XIII,24 sq. n'est pas plus vraisemblable. Quant à la leçon 'Ophni qu'avait proposée Neubauer (op. cit., p. 157) d'après Jos., XVIII,24, on ne sait pas encore à quoi elle peut correspondre; en tout cas, on ne doit pas l'identifler avec la Gophna des Talmuds. Le village de Gifna, qui se trouve sur la route de Naplouse à 15 milles (22 km) de Jérusalem, correspond bien aux indications d'Eusèbe et de la carte de Madaba. Il était important aux temps des Maccabées (Josèphe, Bell. jud., I,I,5), et il a abrité les réfugiés de la guerre de Titus (ibid., II,XX,4; VI,II,2). On voit encore en ce lieu quelques restes d'architecture byzantine et les ruines d'une église (cf. F.-M. Abel, Geogr., II, p. 339, 401).
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 52)
This village is identical with Jifna (coord. 170-152), 6 km north of al-Bira. Jifna is situated north, not southeast of ar-Ram [Rama, no. 53] and al-Jib [Gabaon, no. 52]; it is displaced on the map.
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
Travelling from Jerusalem to Nazareth, shortly after Ramalla, one can see the picturesque village of Jifna, lying on the southern slope of a hill. The village boasts of having been a battlefield in the first Jewish war against Rome in 66-70, when its name was Gophna. At that time it was the headquartes of one of the twelve toparchies of Judea.
The Inhabitants. The villagers are kind and receive us without diffidence. We learn that the whole village is Christian and counts one thousand inhabitants, but only half of them live there. It is understandable: the agricultural land is limited and one has to emigrate to earn one's living. A glance at the old statistics shows that because of this situation the village population has remained more or less stationary: 300 inhabitants in 1857, 400 in 1876 and 1896, 422 in 1917. Admittedly the oldest list, made in 1838 and given by the Greeks to initial Williams (The Holy City I, 401), counts 2000 persons, but it is clear that the printer added a zero by mistake, as it appears also by the fact that according to the same list, Jerusalem had no mora that 600 Orthodox Christians. A still more palpable proof is given by Robinson, who visited Jifna in that very year and described it carefully (Bibl. Arch. III, 78-80). He says that he found only 42 taxable men, that is, about 200 souls. He also heard that in the revolt four years before, in 1834, 26 men were deported to Egypt and never returned. The two village priests followed them to give spiritual assistance, and thus the village was almost abandoned from the religious point of view.
While things were in such a state, a Christian called Kalil Yasmin spoke to the peasants of the Latin clergy who in 1848 had re-established the patriarchate. Spiritual assistance was sought from them and in 1856 Don Cardito of Naples began visiting Jifna from time to time to say Mass, and later settled there permanently, overcoming the difficulties raised by opponents. In 1859 a new church was built close to the old one that lay in ruins- in Gothic style, from a project made by Don Giuseppe Corero; and it was dedicated to St. Joseph. On a visit to the church Don Attieh showed Father Claudio Baratto, director of our printing press, the Via Crucis in which every station recalls one of the sanctuaries of Jerusalem. It was published by Bertarelli in the last century.
The settlement of the Latins could not but arouse the Greek Orthodox community that once had known no competition in the village. The Greeks built a new church, not on the ruins of the old one, but at the foot of the hill to the south, outside the village. An entrance built at that time bears the inscription in Greek: 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Sabaoth,' and the date 1858. The main entrance of the church bears the date 1860. In order to reach the church, the Greeks built a bridge on the little wadi which ran alongside the road and placed a commemorative inscription in Greek and Arabic (H.H. Kitchener, PEF 1878, 64).
The Legends. Legends flourished also in Jifna. Don G. Villanis collected two, which were published in 1878 in the Florentine magazine La Terra Santa (II, 99-100). At that time, a big oak sttood two hundreds meters from the Latin church, and folks would say that the Holy Family had rested in its shadow on the way back from Jerusalem, when Jesus had remained in the Temple. This legent owed its origin to the closeness of the Jerusalem-Nazareth road.
The mountain that stands opposite Jifna to the south is called Jebel ed-Dick, 'Mount of the rooster,' and a story is told about this name. In Christ's time there lived in Jifna a Jew who had been visiting Jerusalem during the Passion. Now, seeing Christ risen from the dead, he converted and on his return home told his wife what had happened. She replied that she would not believe it, unless the rooster she had just killed and half-plucked would come back to life. Instantly the rooster flew away toward the mountain. These legends circulated among the people, as is attested by the fact that this one had already been recorded by Brother Liévin de Hamme in his Guide -ndicateure (Venice 1870, 457. Moreover, the legend was read in some monasteries on Holy Thursday together with other biblical readings (initial Chaine, Catalogue Abbadie, 55).
The Antiquities. Since the settlement is ancient, and also supplied with a spring sufficient for sustaining village life, it must possess ancient remains. These became known as they gradually came to light. First a villa (F.M. Abel, RB 32 , l l -114), then an oil press (M. Avi-Yonah, QDAP 2 , 178, no.165), then burial chambers with up to six ossuaries, which led us to surmise the presence of Juwish Christians (L. Vincent, RB 22 , 103-106). Two Roman sarcophagi are also mentioned-one, reused as a lintel of a door near the Greek church, is decorated with three Medusa heads separated by garland ribbons and erotes; the other, now broken, had garland ribbons, and a wreath on the tympanum (Avi-Yonah, QDAP 13 ,162). A fragment of the latter was brought into the Latin rectory by Don A. Attieh.
In the middle of the village, to the west, there is the castle, represented by remains of massive walls with an entrance to the east, now occupied by houses. Robinson considered it a Crusader construction and others followed his dating; but as a matter of fact, the masonry shows no traits characteristic of that period. Two disks once belonging to the castle, now built intoa drystone wall nearby, display the Arab style of the post-Crusader period, perhaps of the 18th century, which fits in well with the dressing of the stones.
As in other Palestinian villages, the old houses often have lintels with designs that are noteworthy models of indigenous craftsmanship. Two of them, near the asphalt road, are decorated with rosettes, palm-branches, crosses of various types, and so on. They bear the dates 1818 and 1861. Another house, east of the old church, has many stones in secondary use, with palms, rosettes and crosses, and other various architectural elements of the ancient church.
The Ancient Church. All the visitors to Jifna mentioned the ancient church which is the most interesting feature of the village. The first description is found in Robinson's Biblical Archaeology (III). He saw columns lying on the ground and a crude altar at the foot of a large walnut tree, within an enclosure, where the Greek priest came every now and then to say Mass. The church had been in ruins and buried for centuries. The explorer saw also a monolithic baptismal font, this too half-buried. The village sheikh told him that the church had been dedicated to St. George.
In 1863 Guérin (Judée, III, 28-29) observed the apse and two columns in front of it; and in 1878, the authors of the SWP (II, 249, 323) noticed four pillars and the monolithic font now placed in front of the new Grek church, where it remained to this day. In 1933 A. Schneider (Oriens Christianus 30 ,158-159) reproduced the plan of the apse, the only visible element. As we have been able to determine in several visits to Jifna, some capitals are kept in the Latin rectory and in front of the Greek church; hence it can be inferred that the church had three naves and was of some importance.
Architectural element from the Byzantine church
This was what was known up to the summer of 1970 when, out of fear of cholera, the area was cleared and partially excavated. Thus the general lines stood out clearly, although still incomplete, which tempted to draw a plan. The church is encased in an embankment enclosed by a wall, in which grow some tall pines. Some were cut down on the occasion of new works. Thus, only the internal space of the church is known, and undoubtedly this was restructured in a later period because there is a noticeable difference between the masonry of the apse and that of the side walls. The apse is built of ashlars about 33cm high; the side walls, on the other hand, is made of many different stones, some of them in secondary use. One can see cornices and bases utilized as building material, for example, near the little room to the north and on the right side of the southern entrance. In this later stage, seemingly in the Middle Ages, the church had only one nave and its roof was supported by four pillars and two columns near the apse. It had a small room to the north, which was connected through a window with a tomb cut in the rock to the north. This little room, once roofed with a vault, is coated with plaster, and the plaster is hardened by the addition of potsherds which seem Byzantine. Like in the church, here too the walls retain traces of decoration, and near the niche there seems to be an inscription, Probably this room served as a baptistry. The entrance, 135 cm wide, was in the south, and was surmounted by a lintel (164 x 67 cm) decorated with a cross inscribed in a circle.
Judging by the columns scattered here and there, it can be maintained that the primitive church had three naves and, if we reckon its width from the north wall of the northern chamber, which is cut in the rock, we can infer that the inner measures of the building were 13 x 10.50 m, although nowadays the outside walls are not clearly marked. Morever, taking into account the regular length of intercolumnations, we can conclude that each row consisted of six columns. The capitals are of various types: one has acanthus leaves and, in the medallions of the abacus, crosses and rosettes; another has scrolls in Ionian style; others, like those that can be seen atop the columns, have two rows of unsculptured leaves. The quaterfoiled baptismal font measures 153 cm on the outside and projects 73cm above the floor. It is the well-known type of fonts in use in the sixth century. In the north wall is a small niche (127 cm high and 30 cm wide) which serves today for the liturgy. It was built as the same time as the church with dressed stones; its purpose, however, it is not clear. The first-stage pavement was in mosaic and the later one of stone slabs. Since the area is not quite clean, a satisfactory study of the floor is impossible; one only sees pieces of mosaic here and there.
According to the Talmud, priestly families lived in Gophna; but in the sixth century the village must have been Christian and wealthy enough to be able to build at least one church, with three naves of well-cut stones and beautiful capitals and cornices. The now empty tomb on the north side could have been that of some benefactor or a person of note. It seems likely that the church fell into disrepair during the early times of Moslem rule in Palestine, and that the unfavorable conditions did not allow Christians to rebuild it. Perhaps it was partially rebuilt with old materials during the Crusader period. There is a possible trace of the presence of Christians at this time in a document dated 1182 which bears the signature of one Raymond of Jafenia (Röhricht, Regesta, No. 613). A similar reconstruction had taken place in the nearby villages of Abud and et-Tayyibe.
Having again fallen into ruin, the church continued to be a place of worship under the name of el-Khader right up to our own day. Like Tayyibe, Jifna is among the few villages which have remained Christian thoroughout the centuries. In 1927 among the village's 550 inhabitants 325 were Latins.
A Second Ancient Church? The guidebook of Palestine published by the Assunmptionists in 1904 (p. 327) mentions a church with mosaic floor that was discovered by the Greeks south of the village. In i938 Father Abel speaks of 'two ruined churches (GP II, 339), and variuos guidebooks of the Holy Land agree with him. Even the official schedule of the monuments of Palestine, published by R. Hamilton, director of the Department of Antiquities of the British mandate (Suppl. no. 21 of the Palestine Gazette no. 1375) lists two ruins of churches. In order to satisfy ourselves, we decided to visit again the Greek church, and the priest, Abuna Andreas Rafidi, a native of the village, kindly showed us everything. There is not the faintest trace of an ancient church. However, we were told that in December 1970, while a grave was being dug in the cemetery, there appeared a colourful mosaic floor featuring two amphoras with the usual patterns, and a pomegranate tree. Is it possible that once there was more to be seen? Have we pointers enough to maintain that the pavement belonged to a church? Was it only a cemetery chapel? Only an excavation can answer these questions. In any case, there is no doubt that the font belonged to the church of St. george, and so I believe the capitals and cornices.
The Spring. The village has survived for centuries thanks to the spring near the main road on its north side. The water sometimes runs low and according to popular belief this is the work of a djinniye, or female spirit. Dr. T. Canaan, in his study of the spirits that would inhabit the Palestinian springs, writes about this village:'In Jifna the priest has to go on such an occasions to the dry spring to repeat prayers and burn incense, and thus reconcile the djinniye or force her to let the water flow' (JPOS 1 , 161). The Jifna spirits had the form of a bride.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Gophna", 137.
Map Section 5 Place Sources