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The ruins of Pella, one of the cities of the Decapolis.  In the foreground a 6th-century A.D. church.

PELLA pĕl’ ə. A city of the Decapolis in Trans-Jordan.

Pella is not mentioned in the Bible, but it was an important city both before and after the Bible was written. The earliest mention of the city is in Egyp. Execration Texts of the 19th cent. b.c. under the name Pihilum. The name occurs in the Amarna Letters of the 15th cent. b.c. and in the records of other Egypt. pharaohs from the 15th to the 13th centuries b.c. Pihilum was not unoccupied during OT times, for Iron II artifacts were brought to light in the soundings in 1958 of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

The city of Pella is located on the Wadi Jurm E of the Jordan River c. eight m. SE of Bethshan. When Alexander the Great conquered the Holy Land about 332 b.c., Gr. colonists resettled the uninhabited site. The name Pahel, as it was then called, reminded them of the birthplace of Alexander and the capital of Macedonia, so they gave it the Gr. name of Pella. For a time it was named Berenice after a Ptolemaic queen. The Ptolemies, the Seleucids, and the Macabees controlled it, but finally it became part of the Rom. empire under Pompey (Jos. Antiq. XIII. xv. 4; XIV. iv. 4).

The city earned a name in church history in a.d. 66 when Pella became a refuge for Christians who were fleeing Jerusalem because the Rom. army was coming to quiet a Jewish revolution. Pella continued as a strong Christian city after that and hosted many monasteries throughout the prosperous Byzantine period. The Persians invaded it in the 7th cent., and later the Muslims. From then on, it slowly declined and finally died. In the 19th cent., it came to life again, and today it has a population of about 300. The modern name is Tabaqat Fahil, which obviously is an evolution of the earlier name Pihilum or Pahel. In 1967 the College of Wooster in Ohio began excavating the site.


R. Smith, AASOR Newsletter #9 (1967, 1968).

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