The New Testament describe many of the deeds of the Apostle Peter in Jaffa: the raising of Tabitha; the house of Simon the Tanner; the vision of the sheet let down from heaven.
It was from here that he journeyed up the coast to Caesaria to tell about Jesus at the request of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, whose household became the first converts from paganism to be welcomed into the Church.
Dorkas - dôr′kas (Δορκάς, the Greek equivalent of Aramaic tabı̄tha, “a gazelle”): The name was borne by a Christian woman of Joppa. She is called a disciple (μαθήτρια: Acts 9:36, the only place in the NT where the feminine form is used). She seems to have had some means and also to have been a leader in the Christian community. Dorcas was beloved for the manner in which she used her position and means, for she “was full of good works, and almsdeeds which she did.” Among her charities was the clothing of the poor with garments she herself made (Acts 9:39), and by following her example, numerous “Dorcas societies” in the Christian church perpetuate her memory. There is a local memorial in the “Tabitha School” in Jaffa devoted to the care and education of poor girls.
Her restoration to life by Peter is recorded. At the time of her death Peter was in Lydda where he had healed Aeneas. Being sent for, he went to Joppa, and, by the exercise of the supernatural powers granted to him, “he presented her alive” to the mourning community. In consequence of this miracle “many believed on the Lord” (Acts 9:42).
S. F. HUNTER
“Dorcas,” ISBE, paragraph 17252.
Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.
Acts 10:23, 32 KJV
Tanner tan′ẽr (βυρσεύς, from βύρσα, “a hide”): The only references to a tanner are in Acts 9:43; 10:6,32. The Jews looked upon tanning as an undesirable occupation and well they might, for at best it was accompanied with unpleasant odors and unattractive sights, if not even ceremonially unclean. We can imagine that Simon the tanner found among the disciples of Jesus a fellowship which had been denied him before. Peter made the way still easier for Simon by choosing his house as his abode while staying in Joppa. Simon’s house was by the seashore, as is true of the tanneries along the Syrian coast today, so that the foul-smelling liquors from the vats can be drawn off with the least nuisance, and so that the salt water may be easily accessible for washing the skins during the tanning process. These tanneries are very unpretentious affairs, usually consisting of one or two small rooms and a courtyard. Within are the vats made either of stone masonry, plastered within and without, or cut out of the solid rock. The sheep or goat skins are smeared on the flesh side with a paste of slaked lime and then folded up and allowed to stand until the hair loosens. The hair and fleshy matter are removed, the skins are plumped in lime, bated in a concoction first of dog dung and afterward in one of fermenting bran, in much the same way as in a modern tannery. The bated skins are tanned in sumach (Arabic summāḳ), which is the common tanning material in Syria and Palestine. After drying, the leather is blackened on one side by rubbing on a solution made by boiling vinegar with old nails or pieces of copper, and the skin is finally given a dressing of olive oil. In the more modern tanneries de′gras is being imported for the currying processes. For dyeing the rams’ skins red (Ex 25 ff) they rub on a solution of ḳermes (similar to cochineal; see DYEING), dry, oil, and polish with a smooth stone.
“Tanner,” ISBE, paragraph 56240.
Nothing could be more graphic and simple than this narration, or more touching than the incident itself. Amid the array of solemn and stately events which are moving before us, it is dropped in, like a flower in the forest. It opens a vista through the larger events of history, and lets in light upon the social sorrows of the early saints, awakening a closer sympathy between our hearts and theirs. We see here enacted among them scenes with which we are familiar, when one who has been noted for good works sickens and dies: the same anxiety felt by all; the same desire for the presence of him who had been their religious counselor; the same company of weeping sisters, and brethren standing by in mournful silence. As each good deed of the departed is recounted by some sobbing voice, and the garments “which she made while she was with us,” to clothe the poor, are held up to view, how the eyes gush! how the heart swells! These are sacred hours. The labors of a whole life of piety are pouring their rich influence, unresisted, into softened hearts. How blessed are the dead who die in the Lord! They rest from their labors, but their works do follow them, still working while they are at rest. When Peter came into the company of weeping disciples, he seems to stand once more beside his master, as once he and all who were with him wept with Mary and Martha over the tomb of Lazarus. But he remembers that his compassionate master is now in heaven. With deep solemnity, he motions the mourners all aside. He is left alone with the dead, and the company without have hushed their sobs into silent suspense. He kneels down and prays. How the heart turns to God beside the bed of death! How fervent our prayers are then! The prayer of faith is heard. The eyes of the dead are opened, and the faith and hope which glowed in them ere they were closed are in them now. She sees the loved apostle, and rises to a sitting posture. He takes her by the hand, raises her to the feet, and calls in her friends. Who can describe the scene, when brothers and sisters in the flesh and in the Lord, wild with conflicting emotions, rushed in to greet the loved one recovered from the dead! And if that is indescribable, what shall we say or think of that scene when all the sainted dead shall rise in glory, and greet each there on the shores of life? May Christ our Savior help us to that day! We have no Peter now, to wake up our sleeping sisters, and give them back to us; but we do not regret it, for we remember that Dorcas had to die again, and we would not wish to weep again, as we have wept over the dying bed, and the fresh sods of the silent grave. We would rather let them sleep on in the arms of Jesus, till both we and they shall rise to die no more.
John W. McGarvey, A Commentary on Acts of Apostles, 7th, Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 1999, paragraph 902.
History of Jaffa in the Maccabean’s period
The men of Joppa, having treacherously drowned some 200 Jews, Judas Maccabeus fell upon the town “and set the haven on fire by night, and burned the boats, and put to the sword those that had fled thither” (2 Macc 12:3 ff). Jonathan took the city, in which Apollonius had placed a garrison (1 Macc 11:47 ff). It was not easy to hold, and some years later it was captured again by Simon, who garrisoned the place, completed the harbor and raised the fortifications (1 Macc 12:36 f; 13:11; 14:5–34). It is recorded as part of Simon’s glory that he took it “for a haven, and made it an entrance for the isles of the sea,” the Jews thus possessing for the first time a seaport through which commerce might be fully developed. It was taken by Pompey and joined to the province of Syria (Ant., XIV, iv, 4; BJ, I, vii, 7). Caesar restored it to the Jews under Hyrcanus (Ant., XIV, x, 6). It was among the cities given by Antony to Cleopatra (XV, iv, 1). Caesar added it to the kingdom of Herod (vii. 3; BJ, I, xx, 3), and at his death it passed to Archelaus (Ant., XVII, xi, 4; BJ, II, vi, 3). At his deposition it was attached to the Roman province. The inhabitants were now zealous Jews, and in the Roman wars it suffered heavily. After a massacre by Cestius Gallus, in which 8,400 of the people perished, it was left desolate. Thus it became a resort of the enemies of Rome, who turned pirates, and preyed upon the shipping in the neighboring waters. The place was promptly captured and destroyed by Vespasian. The people took to their boats, but a terrific storm burst upon them, dashing their frail craft to pieces on the rocks, so that vast numbers perished (BJ, III, ix, 2–4). At a later time it was the seat of a bishopric. During the Crusades it had a checkered history, being taken, now by the Christians, now by the Moslems. It was captured by the French under Kleber in 1799. It was fortified by the English, and afterward extended by the Turks (Baedeker, Palestine, 130).
“Unto them of Zidon also and Tyre they gave carrs, that they should bring cedar trees from Libanus, which should be brought by floats to the haven of Joppa, according as it was commanded them by Cyrus king of the Persians. And he pitched his tents against Joppa: but; they of Joppa shut him out of the city, because Apollonius had a garrison there. Then Jonathan laid siege unto it: whereupon they of the city let him in for fear: and so Jonathan won Joppa. Then Jonathan met the king with great pomp at Joppa, where they saluted one another, and lodged. Simon also went forth, and passed through the country unto Ascalon, and the holds there adjoining, from whence he turned aside to Joppa, and won it. Also he sent Jonathan the son of Absolom, and with him a great power, to Joppa: who casting out them that were therein remained there in it. And as he was honourable in all his acts, so in this, that he took Joppa for an haven, and made an entrance to the isles of the sea, Moreover he fortified Joppa, which lieth upon the sea, and Gazera, that bordereth upon Azotus, where the enemies had dwelt before: but he placed Jews there, and furnished them with all things convenient for the reparation thereof.) Furthermore he sent unto him Athenobius, one of his friends, to commune with him, and say, Ye withhold Joppa and Gazera; with the tower that is in Jerusalem, which are cities of my realm. And whereas thou demandest Joppa and Gazera, albeit they did great harm unto the people in our country, yet will we give thee an hundred talents for them. Hereunto Athenobius answered him not a word; Now when Apollonius the son of Menestheus was sent into Egypt for the coronation of king Ptolemeus Philometor, Antiochus, understanding him not to be well affected to his affairs, provided for his own safety: whereupon he came to Joppa, and from thence to Jerusalem: The men of Joppa also did such an ungodly deed: they prayed the Jews that dwelt among them to go with their wives and children into the boats which they had prepared, as though they had meant them no hurt. And when the town was shut up, he went backward, as if he would return to root out all them of the city of Joppa.”
1 Esdras 5:55; 1 Maccabees 10:75–76; 11:6; 12:33; 13:11; 14:5, 34; 15:28, 35; 2 Maccabees 4:21; 12:3, 7 KJVA
More information about Jaffa
The modern Yafo is built on a rocky mound 116 ft. high, at the edge of the sea. A reef of rocks runs parallel to the shore a short distance out. It may be rounded in calm weather by lighter vessels, and it affords a certain amount of protection. There is a gap in the reef through which the boats pass that meet the steamers calling here. In time of storm the passage is dangerous. On one of these rocks Perseus is said to have rescued the chained Andromeda from the dragon. Yafa is a prosperous town, profiting much by the annual streams of pilgrims who pass through it on their way to visit the holy places in Israel. A good trade is done with Egypt, Syria and Constantinople. Soap, sesame, wheat and oranges are the chief exports. The famous gardens and orange groves of Jaffa form one of the main sights of interest. The Christians and the Moslems have rival traditions as to the site of the house of Simon the tanner. The remains of the house of Tabitha are also pointed out. From Jaffa to Jerusalem the first railway in Israel was built.
“Joppa,” ISBE, paragraph 32960.
This name Dorcas in Greek, was Tabitha in Hebrew or Syriac, as Acts 9:36. Accordingly, some of the manuscripts set it down here Tabetha or Tabeta. Nor can the contest in Josephus be made out but by supposing the reading to have been this: “The son of Tabitha; which, in the language of our country, denotes Dorcas,” [or a doe]. Josephus Notes.
Joppa was the home of Dorcas, a believer woman known for her gracious and generous deeds. At her death the Christians of Joppa called for Simon Peter, who with the command “Tabitha, get up”, restored her to life.
“JOPPA,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, paragraph 9829.