1 Sam 4:1 Some years later, in c.1024BC, the Philistines launch a major attack on Israel. The Israelites set up camp at Ebenezer (see 1 Samuel 7:12) and the Philistines at Aphek (see 1 on Map 53).
Map 53 The Ark of the Covenant is captured
Aphek was an ancient city located on the edge of the Mediterranean coastal plain and the Shephelah – the foothills of the Judaean hills. It was a key staging post on the coastal trading route (the Via Maris) between the ancient civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia (see 1 on Map 53).
During the Israelite’s invasion of Canaan, beginning in c.1406BC, the king of Aphek was defeated by Joshua’s forces (see Joshua 12:18). But the Israelites were unable to hold onto Aphek or any of the cities of the coastal plain, because of the superiority of the iron chariots deployed by their enemies on this flat land.
Shortly after, Aphek became the northern boundary of Philistia, the confederation of cities controlled by the Philistines – ‘sea peoples’ who sailed across from Crete, Cyprus and the Aegean to colonise these fertile coastal plains (see the feature on The Philistines). During the time of the ‘Judges’, the Israelites and Philistines frequently clashed, with the Philistines often becoming dominant and demanding subservience from the Israelites.
In c.1024BC, the Philistines launched a major attack on the Israelites from their most northerly outpost at Aphek. The ensuing Battle of Ebernezer was a disaster for the Israelites, with the Philistines capturing the Ark of the Covenant and taking it as booty to their stronghold at Ashdod (see 1 Samuel 4:1-11).
Thirteen years later, in c.1011BC, the Philistines gathered at Aphek once again, before moving north to defeat Saul and Jonathan at the Battle of Mt Gilboa (see 1 Samuel 29:1 & 31:1-3).
In the 1st century BC, King Herod the Great changed the name of the city to Antipatris, to commemorate his father Antipater. The city then lay on the main route from Jersualem to Caesarea (the Roman capital of Judaea), and Herod endowed it as a centre of Greek and Roman culture. Paul stayed here overnight when being escorted under armed guard from Jerusalem to Caesarea in 57AD (see Acts 23:31). The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 363AD.
Visitors to the site of Aphek (on the eastern side of the modern city of Petach Tikva) can observe excavated remains of the Canaanite city, part of a street built by Herod the Great, and the ruins of an Ottoman Turkish fort built on the site of the Crusader castle of Mirabel in 1573AD. Archaeological artefacts from Aphek are on display at the Yad Labanim Museum in Petach Tikva.
Ottoman Fortress on the site of Aphek (Oren Rozen)
1 Sam 4:2 The Israelites suffer a heavy setback at the hands of the Philistines (see the feature on The Philistines).
1 Sam 4:3-9 The Ark of the Covenant (the portable gold-covered wooden chest containing the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) is brought from Shiloh to the battlefield near Ebenezer in the expectation that the presence of God will save the Israelites from their enemies (see 2 on Map 53 and the feature on The Ark of the Covenant).
1 Sam 4:10-22 However, the Philistines defeat the Israelites. Eli’s sons – Hophni and Phinehas – are killed, and the Ark is captured. On hearing the disastrous news, Eli collapses and dies.