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Ezion Geber

EZION GEBER (ē'zĭ-ŏn gē'bêr, Heb. ‘etsyôn gever). A city near Elath on the Gulf of Aqabah. It was the last stopping place of the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings before Kadesh (Num.33.35-Num.33.36). The city’s period of greatest prosperity was in the time of Solomon, who there built a fleet of ships that sailed between Ezion Geber and Ophir, a source of gold (1Kgs.9.26ff.; 2Chr.8.17-2Chr.8.18). Similarly, Jehoshaphat joined with Ahaziah in building ships at Ezion Geber that were designed to sail to Ophir, but the fleet was destroyed before leaving port (2Chr.20.35-2Chr.20.36; 1Kgs.22.48-1Kgs.22.49). The site of Ezion Geber has been located at Tell Kheleifeh, and extensive excavations have been carried on there. The city was located between the hills of Edom on the east and the hills of Palestine on the west, where north winds blow strongly and steadily down the center of the Wadi el-Arabah. The location was chosen to take advantage of these winds, for the city was an industrial center as well as a seaport. The excavation uncovered an extensive industrial complex centered on the smelting and refining of copper (chiefly) and iron. The furnace rooms were so placed that they received the full benefit of the prevailing winds from the north, which were used to furnish the draft for the fires. Nearby mines were worked extensively in Solomon’s day to supply the ore for these smelters. These operations were an important source of Solomon’s wealth.

Recent excavations at Jazirat Farun (Coral Island), seven and one-half miles (twelve and one-half km.) south of Elath with its port and shipyard have caused some to identify that site with Ezion Geber. It is the only natural anchorage in the Gulf. Ezion Geber is located in 1Kgs.9.26 “near Elath in Edom, on the shore of the Red Sea.” The identification with Tell Kheleifeh remains most likely.——BP

EZION-GEBER ĕ’ zĭ ən ge’ bər (עֶצְיֹ֣ן גָּ֑בֶר, LXX Γεσιωνγαβερ; Γασιωνγαβερ; Ασιωνγαβερ). A city located on the northern end of the Gulf of Aqabah, banked on the E by the hills of Edom and on the W by the hills of Pal. The city is two and a half m. W of Aqabah, old Elath. Cyrus Gordon believes the offshore island known as Jezirat Far ’awn (“Pharaoh’s Island”) is the probable site.

The history of the city has been recovered through the archeological excavations of Nelson Glueck after Frank Fritz, a Ger. explorer, discovered an insignificant mound, Tell el-Kheleifeh, which he identified as Ezion-geber in 1934. The mound was about 700 ft. from the gulf (perhaps on the ancient shore-line). In 1938 and subsequent years Glueck excavated the city and confirmed Fritz’s earlier identification. He identified four cities built upon one another. The first was dated in the Solomonic period. Built upon virgin soil, the city indicated a carefully laid out complex suggesting no gradual growth, but rather development at one time according to a preconceived plan. He based the claim for the Solomonic date upon a comparison of the structure of the main gate of Ezion-geber I and that of Stratum IV at Megiddo, dated by P. L. O. Guy as belonging to the Solomonic period, and the one at Lachish, also dated in the tenth cent. b.c. Solomon was the only king in the period to possess the wealth, the power and the peaceful circumstances for such a building project. As for the earlier mention of Ezion-geber (Num 33:35, 36; Deut 2:8), these prob. had reference to a few mud huts eastward of the later city.

Referring to Ezion-geber as the “Pittsburgh of Pal.,” Glueck originally believed the city to be a refinery for the copper and iron which were mined from the near-by mines of the Arabah. There were flues and air ducts in the floor and walls of the first city, and the location of the city was such, he felt, as to derive the maximum benefit of the winds which rushed through the corridor of the Arabah. In 1962 Rothenberg challenged this view on the basis of the failure of the excavations to turn up either the clay crucibles which would have been used in smelting or the slag from the refining process. Besides, the location seems to have been the best for the least number of sandstorms and at the same time have the availability of drinking water. Rothenberg points out that the finds and ground plans indicate that the city was a large storehouse for grain and supplies for caravans and a fortress guarding the southern approaches on both sides of the gulf. Glueck abandoned his earlier ideas about this being a copper refinery. The smelting was done near the mines.

The first city was sacked and burned prob. by Shishak c. 925 b.c. The Bible mentions his campaign into Pal. (1 Kings 14:25, 26; 2 Chron 12:1-9), and a topographical list preserved in the Amon temple at Karnak includes Edomite names, indicating that the strategic location at Ezion-geber would prob. have been included.

The city was rebuilt by Jehoshaphat of Judah (c. 860), who imitated Solomon by building a fleet there. A few years later the Edomites revolted during the reign of Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20-22) and burned it. The third city was rebuilt after Azariah (Uzziah) recovered it from the Edomites (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Chron 26:2), and it was renamed Elath. A seal of Jotham, his successor, was found in the third level (cf. BASOR 163 [1961], pp. 18-22). This level is the best preserved with many walls standing almost at their original height.

When Rezin and Pekah formed the Aramaen-Israelite coalition and invaded Judah, the Edomites regained Elath (Ezion-geber) and drove Ahaz’s troops from the city (2 Kings 16:6). The Bible states, “...and the Edomites came to Elath, where they dwell to this day.” The final phases of the city from the 7th to the 4th cent. b.c. saw the continued flourishing of trade, evidenced by Aram. ostraca and sherds of black-figured Attic ware. The city was destroyed in the 4th cent. and was never rebuilt. The Nabataeans later built a port city at the northern end of the gulf, but it was located at the site of the present day Aqabah.


N. Glueck, BASOR 71 (1938), 3-17; 75 (1939), 8-22; 79 (1940), 2-18; 80 (1940), 3-10; 82 (1941), 3-11; The Other Side of the Jordan (1940), 89-113; B. Rothenberg, PEQ, 94 (1962), 44-56; N. Glueck, BA, 28 (1965), 70-87; C. Gordon, Before Columbus (1971).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’etsyon gebher; Gasion Gaber):

Always mentioned along with Elath ("Eziongaber," Nu 33:35 f the King James Version). When the children of Israel left "the way of the Arabah," having come from the Northwest, they seem to have turned to the Northeast from the neighborhood of `Aqaba, passing up by Wady el-Ithm toward the eastern desert (De 2:8). Elath and Ezion-geber were evidently not far apart. They are named together again in connection with the maritime enterprises of Solomon and Jehoshaphat (1Ki 9:26, etc.). They therefore both lay on the shore of the sea. No trace of Ezion-geber is to be found on the present coast line. It is probable, however, that in ancient times the sea covered a considerable stretch of the mud flats at the South end of Wady el-`Arabah, and the site of Ezion-geber may be sought near the spring `Ain el-Ghudyan, about 15 miles North of the present head of the Gulf of `Aqaba.