Sarepta (modern Sarafand, Lebanon) was a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast between Sidon and Tyre. It was excavated by James B. Pritchard over five years (1969–74). Generally speaking, most of the Phoenician objects that have been recovered were scattered among Phoenician colonies and trading posts; carefully-excavated colonial sites are in Spain, Sicily, Sardinia and Tunisia. The sites of many Phoenician cities, like Sidon and Tyre, are still occupied, unavailable to archaeology except in highly restricted chance sites, usually much disturbed. Sarepta is the exception, the one Phoenician city in the heartland of the culture that has been unearthed and thoroughly studied. Pritchard rewrote his professional reports for a wider public in Recovering Sarepta, A Phoenician City (1976).
Sarepta is mentioned for the first time in the voyage of an Egyptian in the 14th century BC (Chabas, Voyage d'un Egyptien, 1866, pp 20, 161, 163). Obadiah says it was the northern boundary of Canaan (Obadiah 1:20). Originally Sidonian, the town passed to the Tyrians after the invasian of Shalmaneser IV, 722 BC. It fell to Sennacherib in 701 BC.
We learn from 1 Kings 17:8-24 that the city was subject to Sidon in the time of Ahab, and that the prophet Elijah, after leaving the brook Cherith, multiplied the meal and oil of the widow of Zarephath (Sarepta) and raised her son from the dead. Zarephath (zarŽḗ-fath; צרפת, cārephath; Σάρεπτα, Sárepta) in Hebrew became the eponym for any smelter or forge, or metalworking shop. In the 1st century AD, Sarepta is mentioned by Josephus, in Jewish Antiquities (Book VIII, xiii:2) and by Pliny, in Natural History (Book V, 17).
Sarepta as a Christian city was mentioned in the Itinerarium Burdigalense; the Onomasticon of Eusebius and in St. Jerome; by Theodosius and Pseudo-Antoninus who, in the 6th century call it a small town, but very Christian (Geyer, Intinera hierosolymitana, Vienna, 1898, 18, 147, 150). It contained at that time a church dedicated to St. Elias (Elijah). The Notitia episcopatuum a list of bishoprics made in Antioch in the 6th century, speaks of Sarepta as a suffragan see of Tyre; none of its bishops are known.
After the Islamization of the area, in 1185, the Greek monk Phocas, making a gazetteer of the Holy Land (De locis sanctis, 7), found the town almost in its ancient condition; a century later, according to Burchard, it was in ruins and contained only seven or eight houses (Descriptio Terrae sanctae, II, 9). Even after the Crusaders' kingdoms had collapsed, the Roman Catholic church continued to appoint purely titualar bishops of Sarepta. Some are mentioned after 1346.
The site of the ancient town is marked by the ruins on the shore to the south of the modern village, about 8 miles to the South of Sidon, which extend along the shore for a mile or more. They are in two distinct groups, one on a headland to the west of a fountain called ‛Ain el-Ḳantara, which is not far from the shore. Here was the ancient harbor which still affords shelter for small craft. The other group of ruins is to the south, and consists of columns, sarcophagi, and marble slabs, indicating a city of considerable importance. The modern village of Sarafand was built some time after the 12th century, since at the time of the Crusades the town was still on the shore.
Pritchard's excavations revealed many artifacts of daily life in the ancient Phoenician city of Sarepta: pottery workshops and kilns, artifacts of daily use and religious figurines, numerous inscriptions that included some in Ugaritic. Pillar worship is traceable from an 8th century shrine of Tanit-Ashtart, and a seal with the city's name made the identification secure. His article, "Sarepta in history and tradition" in Understanding the Sacred Texts (1972) displays the background research that informed all his meticulous work. In his book Recovering Sarepta, an Ancient Phoenician City (1978) he made the discovery comprehensible to the average reader in lucid prose.
- Sarepta, Louisiana in the US.