International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
o'-fel (ha-`ophel (2 Chronicles 27:3; 2 Chronicles 33:14 Nehemiah 3:26; Nehemiah 11:21; and without article, Isaiah 32:14 and Micah 4:8; also 2 Kings 5:24)):
1. Meaning of Name:
There has been considerable divergence of opinion with regard to the meaning of this name. Thus, in all the references given above with the article, the Revised Version (British and American) has simply "Ophel," but the King James Version adds in margin "the tower"; in Isaiah 32:14, "the hill" with margin "Ophel," but the King James Version "the forts," margin "clifts"; Micah 4:8, "the hill," margin "Hebrew: Ophel," but the King James Version "the stronghold"; 2 Kings 5:24, "the hill," margin "Hebrew: Ophel," but the King James Version "the tower," margin "secret place." It is true that the other occurrences of the word in 1 Samuel 5:9, 12; 1 Samuel 6:5, where it is translated "tumors," and Habakkuk 2:4, where a verbal form is translated "puffed up," seem to imply that one meaning assigned to the root may be that of "swelling." Recently Dr. Burney (PEF, January, 1911) has produced strong arguments in favor of Ophel, when used as the name of a locality, meaning "fortress."
2. Three Ophels:
Three places are known to have received this name:
(1) A certain place on the east hill of Jerusalem, South of the temple; to this all the passages quoted above-except one-refer.
(2) The "Ophel," translated "hill," situated apparently in Samaria (compare 2 Kings 5:3), where Gehazi took his ill-gotten presents from the hands of the servants of Naaman the Syrian. The translation "tower" would suit the sense at least as well. It was some point probably in the wall of Samaria, perhaps the citadel itself.
(3) The third reference is not Biblical, but on the Moabite Stone, an inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, contemporary with Omri. He says: "I built Q-R-CH-H (? Karhah), the wall of ye`arim, and the wall of `Ophel and I built its gates and I built its towers."
In comparing the references to (1) and (3), it is evident that if Ophel means a "hill," it certainly was a fortified hill, and it seems highly probable that it meant some "artificial swelling in a fortification, e.g. a bulging or rounded keep or enceinte" (Burney, loc. cit.). Isaiah 32:14 reads, "The palace shall be forsaken; the populous city shall be deserted; the hill (Ophel) and the watch-tower shall be for dens for ever." Here we have palace, city and watch-tower, all the handiwork of the builder. Does it not seem probable that the Ophel belongs to the same category?
3. The Ophel of Jerusalem:
The situation of the Ophel of Jerusalem is very definitely described. It was clearly, from the references (Nehemiah 3:26, 27 2 Chronicles 27:3; 2 Chronicles 33:14), on the east hill South of the temple. Josephus states (Josephus, Jewish Wars, V, iv, 2) that the eastern wall of the city ran from Siloam "and reaches as far as a certain place which they called Ophlas when it was joined to the eastern cloister of the temple." In BJ, V, vi, 1, it states that "John held the temple and the parts thereto adjoining, for a great way, as also `Ophla,' and the Valley called the `Valley of the Cedron.' " It is noticeable that this is not identical with the "Acra" and "Lower City" which was held by Simon. There is not the slightest ground for applying the name Ophel, as has been so commonly done, to the whole southeastern hill. In the days of Josephus, it was a part of the hill immediately South of the temple walls, but the Old Testament references suit a locality nearer the middle of the southeastern hill. In the article ZION (which see) it is pointed out that that name does not occur (except in reference to the Jebusite city) in the works of the Chronicler, but that "the Ophel," which occurs almost alone in these works, is apparently used for it. Micah 4:8 margin seems to confirm this view: "O tower of the flock, the Ophel of the daughter of Zion." Here the "tower of the flock" may well refer to the shepherd David's stronghold, and the second name appears to be a synonym for the same place.
Ophel then was probably the fortified site which in earlier days had been known as "Zion" or "the City of David." King Jotham "built much" "on the wall of Ophel" (2 Chronicles 27:3). King Manasseh "built an outer wall to the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance at the fish gate; and he compassed Ophel about with it, and raised it up to a very great height" (2 Chronicles 33:14). It was clearly a fortified place of great importance, and its situation must have been so near that of the ancient "Zion" that scarcely any other theory is possible except that it occupied the site of that ancient fortress.
E. W. G. Masterman