Back in the BCE, people in the city of Jaffa used to have “visions” a lot. That’s not really surprising, since opium use started in the Middle East. But two of the town’s better hallucinations accurately predicted the explosive popularity of Christ-based religions and ocean-going watercraft. One revelation forever changed the world, spreading peace and joy to all mankind, and the other gave us Christmas.
The city of Jaffa could’ve easily been unremarkable.
The area now known as the city of Jaffa began as a normal, undeveloped plot of coastal real estate. Over time, the Ancient Egyptians and Canaanites both moved in to avail themselves of its defensible hilltop, easy beach access, and ocean views.
Jaffa was built on a 130-foot-high ridge, which provided a great panorama of the entire coastline. That feature gave the area strategic importance to early military leaders (and profit potential to more recent real estate developers).
Eventually, someone living in the area saw greater potential in that big pile of littoral landfill than just being a Bronze Age army outpost.
Some unsung civil servant had a vision—one could say, a divine inspiration—to remake the area into one of the world’s first seaports. It was a radical idea at the time that undoubtedly confounded his fellow citizens, and for one reason in particular.
The boat had only just recently been invented.
Early man long-suspected that bodies of water offered a faster and easier mode of transportation than overland did. In fact, floating logs, rafts, and the like have existed for 800,000+ years. But, the world’s oldest boat only dates from 8200-7600 BCE.
Incredibly, archaeological evidence of human habitation still exists in Jaffa from as far back as 7500 BCE (mostly because ancient humans were filthy pigs who never cleaned up after themselves).
So boats had only been around for a couple of hundred years before the area transformed itself into a seaport. Jaffa’s prescient founders correctly identified the burgeoning new market for buoyant, water-going contrivances, and they were quick to embrace it.
As a result, Jaffa became an important seaport along the Fertile Crescent trade routes for millennia. Without this safe-haven, ancient seafarers would’ve been at the mercy of ill-winds, sea monsters, and the scourge of scurvy (see also, Jaffa Oranges).
What makes a good seaport today?
A number of factors go into the decision: Is there an attractive market in the catchment area with sufficient customer volumes? Does terminal equipment have sufficient capacity (both berths and gantry cranes), trained personnel, maintenance and repair equipment, as well as expansion opportunities? Or, to put it another way, is there room for a water-view restaurant and bar where we can charge $18 for a draft beer?
Jaffa used to be a lot more famous than it is today.
The city of Jaffa—in what is now Israel—is perhaps best known as the seaside setting for many ancient myths, biblical stories, and other tall tales. For example, it was allegedly where Jonah, of “Jonah and The Whale” fame, boarded a ship to skip out on Yahweh’s command to preach repentance to the evil Ninevites.
Of course, as He was omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, Yahweh wasn’t fooled by this gambit at all. However, instead of just teleporting Jonah to Nineveh (well within His powers, you’d think), He had Jonah ingested by a leviathan because…you know, “mysterious ways,” I guess.
There aren’t many whales or hippos in the Mediterranean Sea.
During his digestive journey from the whale’s esophagus to its rumen, Jonah had time to reconsider his decision. And, after three days inside the whale’s dark body and having “seen the light”—at least, metaphorically—Jonah agreed to God’s demand.
Jonah was then vomited out on dry land, presumably brain-dead from the lack of oxygen inside the whale, and hideously disfigured from its stomach acid.
Nonetheless, Jonah went forth and informed the “wicked” Ninevites that their city would be destroyed if they didn’t turn away from sin.
Incredibly, they believed this mentally impaired, bile-soaked messenger, and repented. Yet that level of trust kinda makes me wonder exactly how wicked the Ninevites could’ve really been.
I mean, what truly wicked person stops doing evil just because some seaweed-covered lunatic verbally chastises them? Hell, if words of reproach were really an effective route of reform, I’d throw on some kelp and go yell at corporate CEOs all day long.
Wait, what’s this place called again?
The city of Jaffa is alternatively known as Yafo, Yafa, Japho, and Joppa, depending on your ethnicity and/or epoch. For the purpose of simplicity and SEO, however, I’m just going to call it the city of Jaffa. Everybody cool with that? Yes? Cool? Okay, cool.
The Greeks hung out in the city of Jaffa, too.
In addition to the Bible’s whale of a tale, Jaffa was also the set location for “Andromeda and Perseus,” a classical Greek myth about the dangers of vanity, pride, and carnivorous sea-monsters. This timeless story was a precursor to many tales, even modern “Reality TV” shows, with their superficiality, gossip, and backstabbing.
The ancient myth even included some light BDSM when the story’s Nubian King chained his hot daughter, Andromeda, to a rock out at sea—naked. The erotic scene was, unsurprisingly, a popular subject for male artists to paint, and for husbands to defend as “art” to their wives.
Even Napoleón spent some time here.
The famous Frenchman, Napoleón Bonaparte, also “stopped by” the city of Jaffa in 1799. After bravely retreating from an epic beat-down in Syria, Napoleón sacked the city. Soon, however, an outbreak of bubonic plague decimated his army.
When he was informed that fifty of his troops in Jaffa had contracted the plague, Napoleón allegedly ordered fatal doses of opium for them. Afterward, he strolled back to his ship, and did a “peace out” on the whole area.
Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, and I’ll understand if you don’t agree with me, but I think Napoleón might’ve been kinduva a dick. #mytwocents
The city of Jaffa is most famous for making Christianity go viral.
Jaffa’s true historical significance, however, came from making Christianity into a global phenomenon. According to biblical legend, Saint Peter had a highly fortuitous, vision of convenience in Jaffa where Yahweh spoke directly to him, saying:
“Petey! Yo, PEEEEETER—or is it Simon…? Whatever. Anywhoo, dude, I just decided that freakin’ gentiles can receive the Holy Spirit now, too! Yeah, even Gentiles! Go ye big or go ye home, amiright? Damn diddley! Now go forth and gather my sacred PR scribes to spread the word, bro!”
Peter regaled this convenient story to a bunch of his friends, and for some incredible reason, they believed him. Without even once asking him if he was high.
Now, that might’ve been the biggest miracle to ever happen in Jaffa.
Still, with circumcision finally off the proverbial operating table, Christianity exploded in popularity among the masses, and especially among foreskin-fans, pork-eaters, and hemophiliacs.
The more things change in the city of Jaffa, the more things stay the same.
These days, the city of Jaffa isn’t playing host to as many hallucinogenic visions, Greek damsels, or French plague victims. Instead, it’s known as Old Jaffa, a popular Tel Aviv neighborhood with numerous restaurants, theaters, museums, and clubs.
And, while the city of Jaffa certainly looks a lot different today than back when Saint Peter staggered around its streets, I’m fairly confident that you can still buy opiates here if you want them.