Ascalon, Gaza, Negev and Sinai
127. Raphia - (Rafah)
Town near the Mediterranean coast, 22 mi. (35 km.) S. of Gaza. Rafa is first mentioned in an inscription of the pharaoh Seti I (c. 1300 B.C.E.) as Rph; it also appears in other Egyptian sources, in Papyrus Anastasi I and in the inscription of Shishak. As a border town on the way to Egypt and a point of sharp transition from desert to cultivated land, it is frequently referred to as the site of conflicts between the armies of Egypt and its neighbors. In 721 B.C.E. Sargon of Assyria defeated at Rapihu (Rafa) Sibe of Egypt and Hanno of Gaza; the Assyrians burned the city and deported 9,033 inhabitants. Rafa does not appear in the Bible; the Targums (on Deut. 2,23) identify it with Hazerim. It was the center of important operations in the Hellenistic period during the wars of the Diadochi. Antigonus attacked it in 306 B.C.E. and in 217 B.C.E. Antiochus III of Syria was defeated there by the army of Ptolemy V of Egypt (Polybius 5,82-86). The town was conquered by Alexander Yannai and held by the Hasmoneans until it was rebuilt in the time of Pompey and Gabinius; the latter seems to have done the actual work of restoration for the era of the town dates from 57 B.C.E. Rafa is mentioned in Strabo (16,2, 31), the Itinerarium Antonini, and is depicted on the Madaba Map. It was the seat of worship of Dionysius and Isis (Papyrus Oxyrrhynchus, 1380). A Jewish community settled there in the geonic period; it flourished in the ninth to tenth centuries and again in the 12th, although in the 11th century it suffered a decline and in 1080 the Jews of Rafa had to flee to Ashkelon. A Samaritan community also lived there at this period. Like most cities of southern Erez Israel, ancient Rafa had a landing place on the coast (now Tell Rafah), while the main city was inland.
Michael Avi-Yonah, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Rafa"
Pau Figueras (The Road Linking Palestine and Egypt along the Sinai Coast", in The Madaba Map Centenary, p. 223 - see also the complete article)
The toponym Raphia (now Rafah and Rafiah), the next station in the map, is only preserved by its first letter, as well as by a very small part of a public building in its original graphic representation. This depiction of the city on the map indicates its importance for both the civilian and ecclesiastical administration. Only towards the end of the fourth century and after a real struggle on the part of the Christians, were its pagan temples replaced by Christian churches (Soz. 7, 15). Raphia, whose famous pagan shrines had raised it to the status of shelter-city ("hiera Rafia", as written on some of its coins), was in the sixth century the see of a flourishing bishopric under the jurisdiction of Jerusalem as well as a hospitable road-station for pilgrims. Visitors coming from Egypt would proceed from here to Gaza and its surroundings, attracted by sites of interest such as Hilarion's tomb near Thauatha and the tomb of Peter the Iberian (Rufus, Pet. Ib.). Further north, the pilgrims would find the shrine of St. Victor, the numerous churches of Maiumas, and the monastery of Seridos with the memorials of its holy recluses Barsanuphius and John. Finally, they would arrive at the city of Gaza, "a lovely and renowned city (as recorded by the Piacenza Pilgrim), with noble people distinguished by every kind of liberal accomplishment," and "welcoming to strangers" (Piac. Pil. 33).
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 77)
Raphia was the boundary town between Palestine and Egypt. The mosaicist seems to have associated inland Raphia (Hirbat Bir Rafah, 2,5 km northwest of present Rafah) and Raphia by the sea (Tall Rafah on the sea shore).
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)
Rafah, Rafiah, Rafia
Authors agree in locating ancient Rafia near the boundary of modern Rafah. Three bishops are known: Romanus who was at Ephesus in 431; Epiphanius who took part in the Council of Jerusalem in 518, and Stephen, who was at the Jerusalem synod in 536.
QDAP 10 (1944), pp. 204-05 records two inscriptions found in the place: a Greek one from the Byzantine period and a Latin one. The first, on a marble fragment, begins with a cross and has only a few letters at the beginning of five lines so that it does not make sense. The second, found in a vineyard near the village, has only the last 11 lines.
In his description of Rapha (pp. 207-08), Br. Liévin said there were columns buried in the sand where the ruined cathedral had stood and others some distance away, near a fine well to which the Bedouins take their flocks to water. He distinguishes Tell Rafah from the city which stretched out toward the sea for about a kilometer.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Raphia", 212.
Map Section 9 Place Sources