Long ago King Solomon sent three craftsmen on a journey to apprehend and return three criminals for trial. Their mission took them to the seacoast near Joppa where they found a wayfaring man. The wayfaring man told the craftsmen he had seen the men they sought. He said the ne'er-do-wells had gone toward the hill country of Judea. The craftsmen took that news to the King, who sent them to complete their mission. Soon they found themselves on the brow of a hill near Mt. Moriah. There, they discovered a grave and heard the voices of the men they sought. The craftsmen captured the three men and returned them to King Solomon. The fugitives admitted to a murder and King Solomon had them executed.
In other words, the craftsmen's journey took them from the Temple 1 to Joppa, back to the Temple, to the Judean hill country, to a place near Mt. Moriah, then back to the Temple — all on foot. Did they go on a wild goose chase to Judea before finding the fugitives near Mt. Moriah? Was the information from the wayfaring man wrong... or did the craftsmen ignore what he told them? A closer look at their journey reveals what really happened.
Joppa is not to be found on present-day maps. Today, its name is Jaffa, or Yafo. It is the oldest section of Tel-Aviv, located approximately 40 miles northwest of the likely site of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. There is, in fact, a seacoast nearby. The Mediterranean Sea shore is about 200 yards away from the traditional town border. 2
The three ruffians and the craftsmen in pursuit would have had a relatively easy journey 3 from the Temple to Joppa. The elevation at Jerusalem, where the quest began, is about 2,600 feet, while Joppa is near sea-level. In other words, it's almost all downhill. The craftsmen, however, on their return trip to report to Solomon, would have had an arduous climb.
After completing the 80-mile round trip to Joppa, at King Solomon's command, the three craftsmen set out again. A look at the second part of their expedition requires a review of some history and geography, with a little tradition thrown in.
There are conflicting reports as to whether archaeologists have found conclusive evidence of the location of Solomon's Temple. However, tradition and the Bible itself place it in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount, likely at the same location where we find the Dome of the Rock today — the same place where Solomon's father David built an altar to the Lord (2 Samuel 24:18); and also the place where God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:2-8, et. al.). This place is also known as Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1).
On their second quest, the craftsmen ultimately came to "the brow of a hill near Mt. Moriah," and found a grave. There, they apprehended the fugitives. In other words, the ruffians were making their way back toward the Temple. 4 While almost certainly not "returning to the scene of the crime," it is likely they were beating a path to the safety and multitude of hiding places the foothills offered. They had, in fact, returned to the grave site of the man they had killed and buried earlier. The geography of the area confirms the closest hills (and fastest route) lie on a direct line between Joppa and the Temple.
So, if the outlaws were within a few miles of the Temple, what of the wayfaring man who said they were heading for the hill country of Judea?
Judea (also known as Judah) is a moving target — historically a region whose boundaries have remained fluid. Today it generally refers to the southern part of Israel or, by some accounts, a specific part of the West Bank region. In Solomon's time, however, the area called Judea was nearly congruent with the boundaries of Israel today, minus the southern region seacoast. That area, Philistia, included what today is the Gaza Strip. Its northern boundary was just beyond the outskirts of Joppa. In other words Joppa was in Philistia and the remainder of the region to the east, including Mt. Moriah was in Judea.
The hill country extends the entire length of present-day Israel. It includes the foothills of Mt. Moriah. In other words, when the craftsmen were at the brow of a hill near Mt. Moriah, they were in an area that was at once in Judea, in the hill country and near the mountain.
There was no wild goose chase; and the information from the wayfaring man was correct. When the craftsmen apprehended the outlaws they were in fact in the hill country of Judea and at the brow of a hill near Mt. Moriah.
The author thanks Carolyn Harrison and RWB Doug Reece for their contributions to this article.
1 The Temple, we are told, was nearly completed. Solomon may or may not have had his office there, depending on its level of completion; however, he was indeed at or very near the Temple as evidenced by his frequent meetings with the Grand Master.
2 Joppa did, however have access to a harbor.
3 Relatively easy, that is, if any 40-mile journey on foot on a dusty gravel road can be easy.
4 Depending on one's definition of the word "near." The foothills abruptly begin about 20 miles from the summit of Mount Moriah, so the fugitives would have to be no more than that distance from the Temple. On foot, however, 20 miles isn't exactly "near," and they may have been much closer.
Map: WordSearch, QuickVerse 10