Israel’s major port city, Ashdod is perhaps most famous for “Givat Yonah” (Jonah’s Hill) which is the traditional site where the sea-faring prophet Jonah, swallowed by the whale, is memorialized with a tomb.

Ashdod city is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, including the Book of Joshua and the First Book of Samuel which reports on the Philistine episode in the 10th century BCE. The Philistines, when taking over the city, added insult to injury by taking the Ark of the Covenant and placing it in the Temple of Dagon, the main deity of the Philistines. The Jews took action and the statue of Dagon was found lying in front of the temple. The Jews paid a price:

“The people of Ashdod were smitten with boils; a plague of mice was sent over the land" (1 Samuel 6:5).

But that is not the end of the story; the Jews came back to take over later. In the meantime, life went on in Ashdod. According to Nehemiah, marriages of Jerusalemites with women of Ashdod were impacted with a language problem and the children did not understand Hebrew, speaking “the language of Ashdod.” Fifty miles was a great distance in those days with no internet, radio or even snail-mail.

The story of Ashdod was told through more books of the Bible, including Isaiah, Zechariah, Chronicles and many others. The city was active and prosperous during the Hellenistic period during which it was called Azotus, until the Hasmonean Revolt. During that rebellion Judah Maccabee arrived at the gates and though he didn’t conquer it, his brother Jonathan did. He took the opportunity to destroy the Temple of Dagon, so aggravating to the Jews. The typical historic ping-pong of ownership continued. Pompey restored its independence and later it came under the sovereignty of Herod and Salome, still later taken again by force by Vespasian.

The Book of Acts refers to Ashdod in an interesting story about Philip the evangelist walking to Azotus after the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. As the story goes, Philip was following the instructions of an angel to head for Gaza from Jerusalem and on the way he met the Ethiopian eunuch, who had been on his way from worshiping in Jerusalem and was heading home. As the man was sitting and reading the Book of Isaiah, Philip asked the Ethiopian if he understood the text, and then explained it to him when the Ethiopian answered in the negative. Philip shared the good news about Jesus and when the Ethiopian rejoiced and asked to be baptized, they headed for “some water,” presumably Azotus/Ashdod and Philip baptized him.

Now a major port in Israel, second only to Haifa, with over 200,000 residents, the Lachish Stream runs through the city and walking along it is a nice stroll. The city has many beaches to enjoy, including the Marina Beach which is separated by gender to accommodate Jewish Orthodox bathers. Other attractions nearby are Beit Guvrin and Tel Lachish.

Ashdod was the most northern point that the Egyptians reached during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 before being turned back.

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