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Elath

ELATH (in modern Israel, Eilat; Heb. אֵילַת, אֵילֹת, אֵיוֹת), ancient harbor town in Transjordan at the northern end of the Red Sea near *Ezion-Geber. Elath is first mentioned in the account of the Israelites' wanderings in the desert during the Exodus (Deut. 2:8). Solomon built a "navy of ships" at Ezion-Geber beside Elath; from there it sailed to Ophir manned by his servants and those of Hiram, king of Tyre (I Kings 9:26; I Chron. 8:17). Later Uzziah (Azariah), king of Judah (785–733 B.C.E.), rebuilt Elath restoring it as the port of Judah on the Red Sea (II Kings 14:22) but after his reign Judahite control of the Negev ceased. In the Hellenistic period it served for a time as a Ptolemaic port called Berenice (Jos., Ant., 8:163) and it is later mentioned as a Nabatean port (re-named Aila) from which an important commercial highway led to Gaza (Strabo, Geography, 16:2, 30; Pliny, Naturalis Historia, 5:12). Aila continued to be a major commercial and military port in Roman and Byzantine times. In the third century the Tenth Legion, together with its headquarters, was transferred there from Jerusalem and it was thereafter a key point in the Byzantine defense system in the south of the country. The Jewish population in the neighborhood of Aila was augmented by Jewish tribes expelled from Arabia by Muhammad during whose time the Muslims gained control of the town, which was called in Arabic *Akaba. A Jewish community continued to exist there until the middle of the tenth century and possibly until the Crusader period. In 1116 Baldwin I, king of Jerusalem, captured the port; the fleet of Reynaud de Chatillon sailed from there to harass Arab maritime trade in the Red Sea. Saladin, who brought the Crusaders' rule to an end in 1170, erected a fortress at Akaba. By the 14th century the town was almost completely deserted and only under Turkish rule was an attempt made to develop it. The ancient site of Elath with remains from the Nabatean, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval periods has been located north of Akaba.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Y. Ben-Zvi, She'ar Yashuv (1937), 97–119; N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan (1940), 86–113; idem, in: AASOR, 15 (1934–35), 46ff.; A. Konikoff, Transjordan (1946), 80–82; The Israel Exploration Society, Elath (Heb., 1963); Z. Vilnay, Guide to Israel (19663); Aharoni, Land, index; Avi-Yonah, Geog, index; Press, Ereẓ, 1 (19512), 16–17. MODERN: Fenton and Steinitz, in: Ariel, 20 (1967), 61–72. Website: www.eilat.muni.il.