Sarepta (modern Sarafand, Lebanon) was a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast between Sidon and Tyre. The low tell on the seashore was excavated by James B. Pritchard over five years (1969–74). Most of the objects by which we characterise Phoenician culture are those that have been recovered scattered among Phoenician colonies and trading posts; such carefully-excavated colonial sites are in Spain, Sicily, Sardinia and Tunisia. The sites of many Phoenician cities, like Sidon and Tyre, by contrast, are still occupied, unavailable to archaeology except in highly restricted chance sites, usually much disturbed. Sarepta is the exception, the one Phoenician city in the heartland of the culture that has been unearthed and thoroughly studied. Pritchard rewrote his professional reports for a wider public in Recovering Sarepta, A Phoenician City, (Princeton University Press) 1978.
The climax of the Sarepta discoveries at Sarafand is the cult shrine of "Tanit/Astart", who is identified in the site by an inscribed votive ivory plaque, the first identification of Tanit in her homeland. The site revealed figurines, further carved ivories, amulets and a cultic mask.
Sarepta is mentioned for the first time in the voyage of an Egyptian in the fourteenth century BCE (Chabas, Voyage d'un Egyptien, 1866, pp 20, 161, 163). Obadiah says it was the northern boundary of Canaan (Obadiah 1:20). Originally Sidonian, the town passed to the Tyrians after the invasion of Shalmaneser IV, 722 BCE. It fell to Sennacherib in 701.
The first Books of Kings (17:8-24) describes the city as being subject to Sidon in the time of Ahab, and says that the prophet Elijah, after leaving the brook Cherith, multiplied the meal and oil of the widow of Zarephath (Sarepta) and raised her son from the dead there. Zarephath (zar´ḗ-fath; צרפת, cārephath; Σάρεπτα, Sárepta) in Hebrew became the eponym for any smelter or forge, or metalworking shop. In the 1st century AD, the Roman Sarepta, a port about a kilometer to the south is mentioned by Josephus, in Jewish Antiquities (Book VIII, xiii:2) and by Pliny, in Natural History (Book V, 17).
Sarepta as a Christian city was mentioned in the Itinerarium Burdigalense; the Onomasticon of Eusebius and in Jerome; by Theodosius and Pseudo-Antoninus who, in the sixth century call it a small town, but very Christian. It contained at that time a church dedicated to St. Elias (Elijah). The Notitia episcopatuum, a list of bishoprics made in Antioch in the 6th century, speaks of Sarepta as a suffragan see of Tyre; none of its bishops are known.
After the Islamization of the area, in 1185, the Greek monk Phocas, making a gazetteer of the Holy Land (De locis sanctis, 7), found the town almost in its ancient condition; a century later, according to Burchard of Mount Sion, it was in ruins and contained only seven or eight houses. Even after the Crusaders' kingdoms had collapsed, the Roman Catholic Church continued to appoint purely titular bishops of Sarepta. Some are mentioned after 1346.
The site of the ancient town is marked by the ruins on the shore to the south of the modern village, about eight miles to the south of Sidon, which extend along the shore for a mile or more. They are in two distinct groups, one on a headland to the west of a fountain called ‛Ain el-Ḳantara, which is not far from the shore. Here was the ancient harbor which still affords shelter for small craft. The other group of ruins is to the south, and consists of columns, sarcophagi, and marble slabs, indicating a city of considerable importance. The modern village of Sarafand was built some time after the twelfth century, since at the time of the Crusades the town was still on the shore.
Pritchard's excavations revealed many artifacts of daily life in the ancient Phoenician city of Sarepta: pottery workshops and kilns, artifacts of daily use and religious figurines, numerous inscriptions that included some in Ugaritic. Pillar worship is traceable from an 8th century shrine of Tanit-Ashtart, and a seal with the city's name made the identification secure. His article, "Sarepta in history and tradition" in Understanding the Sacred Texts (1972) displays the background research that informed all his meticulous work. In his book Recovering Sarepta, an Ancient Phoenician City (1978) he made the discovery comprehensible to the average reader in lucid prose.
The local Bronze Age-Iron Age stratigraphy was established in detail; absolute dating depends in part on correlations with Cypriote and Aegean stratigraphy.
Other uses of the name
A strain of the West Nile Virus is called 'Sarafend'. Although the origins of the strain name are unknown, it is possible that the virus strain was first isolated in this area.
- ↑ Civil war in Lebanon put an end to the excavations. The final reports on the excavations, under the editorship of Pritchard and William P. Anderson, began appearing in 1988.
- ↑ Identification of the site is secured by inscriptions that include a stamp-seal with the name of Sarepta.
- ↑ Designated Area I, it was excavated in 1969-70.
- ↑ Geyer, Intinera hierosolymitana, Vienna, 1898, 18, 147, 150
- ↑ Burchard, Descriptio Terrae sanctae, II, 9
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Sarepta
- Pritchard, James B. Recovering Sarepta, a Phoenician City (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 1978.