Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

Name of several places in the Bible . The Septuagint transcribes Masphá, Massephá, Massephát; Vulg.: Maspha and Masphath (once Masphe, Masepha, Mespha ); Hebrew: Míçpeh and Míçpah; the latter almost invariably in pause. The word, with many other proper names, is derived from ÇPH=watch, observe, and means "watch- tower" ( speculum, skopía ), which sense it bears twice in the Bible ( Isaiah 21:8 ; 2 Chronicles 20:24 ). Josephus interprets by katopteuó or (Antt. VI, ii, 1). It is thus a natural name for a town in a commanding position (cf. the Crusading Belvoir, and el-M&úshrífeh (Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, II, 513). Like the latter it almost invariably has the article.


HistoryJacob to ratify his compact with Laban, "took a stone and set it up for a title, and he said to his brethren 'Bring hither stones'. And they, gathering stones together, made a heap and they ate upon it (or by it R. V.). And Laban said, 'This heap (gal) shall be awitness (‘ed) between me and thee this day, and therefore the name thereof was called Galaad (gal‘ed) and Míçpah (so R. V. with Hebrew) for he said 'The Lord watch (yeçef ÇPH) between me and thee when we are absent one from another'" (Genesis 31:45 ff. ). Here the Vulgate omits hám-Míçpah , the Septuagint translates ‘e ‘óresis,Targums of Onkelos and Sifre, Sekûthâ, i.e. view. The play on the Hebrew words is not unnatural if we suppose that the spot itself or some neighbouring height was already called Maspha. The name seems to have gradually extended from the height to the whole region (Judges 11:29 ). The monument was probably a cairn or a dolmen. While the latter is suggested by the flat surface on which they ate (verse 46; Josephus, "Ant.", I, xix, 11; Conder, "Heth and Moab," 241), the sepulchral destination of the dolmens and the ambiguity of the Hebrew militate against this view (Schumacher, "Across the Jordan pass.").

Around Jacob's monument Israel assembled to repel Ammon ( Judges 10:17 ). Thither they summoned Jephte, "and Jephte spoke all his words before the Lord at Maspha" ( Judges 11:11 ). By Maspha of Galaad (a region?) he marched against Ammon, and after victory "to Maspha to his house". The Septuagint translates by skopía the rendezvous of Israel, and the place by which Jephte passed over against Ammon. They thus distinguish between the sanctuary and town, and a watch-tower on the height above (cf. Palmer, op. cit., II, 512-513); but in Osee, v, 1, they likewise use the common noun when parallelism manifestly requires the proper name. At Maspha probably Jephte was buried ( Judges 12:7 , and variants in Kittel, and perhaps Josephus, "Antiquities", V, 7:12).


We cannot decide whether the Maspha of Jacob and Jephte is identical with Ramáth hám-Miçpéh ( Joshua 13:26 ), or both with Râmoth Gil‘ed ( 1 Kings 4:13 ), nor even whether Maspha refers to one or many places. In Jephte's history it seems near the borders of Ammon, in that of Judas Maccabæus far to the N.E., and, if we place here the events of Judges, xxi-xxii, near the Western frontier (G. A. Smith, "Hist. Geog. of H. Land", 586). Jacob was coming from Padan Aram and probably approached Galaad by the Hajj route. Turning westward N. of Jabeor he would traverse the valley of Jerash. About four miles from Jerash, S. E. of Mahneh (before Mahanaim?), on a high mountain overhanging the valley, is the village of Sûf in a locality rich in dolmens. Many identify with Maspha this place whose derivation may be identical with and whose name recalls the Sebeés of Josephus, l. c. But Dr. Schumacher discovered N.E. of Jerash Tell Máspha, whose summit dominating all the surrounding heights is strewn with dolmens and stone-hewn altars. The ideal site, exact preservation of the ancient name and the veneration still attaching to the spot (it is still a ma‘bad ) all justify its identification with Maspha.



Maspha was assigned to Benjamin by Josue ( Joshua 18:26 ). Here, according to many, Israel assembled to avenge the outrage on the Levite's wife, and swore not to give their daughters in marriage to the survivors. But as they would scarcely have gathered in the heart of the enemy's country, others place the events of Judges, xx-xxi, at Maspha of Galaad. Note that Jabes Galaad is mentioned in close connection with the camp of Israel. Further, Judges, xx, 3, implies that Maspha was outside the borders of Benjamin. To Maspha Samuel when Judge convoked all Israel, prayed for them there while they defeated the Philistines, and erected a monument to commemorate the victory between Maspha and Sen ( 1 Samuel 7:5-12 ). Here he held some of his chief assizes (Kings, x, 13-16), and his final assembly for the election of Saul (ibid., 17). Two hundred and fifty years later Maspha was fortified by Asa, King of Juda, with the materials left behind at Rama by King Baasa in his hasty march northwards against the Syrians ( 1 Kings 15:22 ; 2 Chronicles 16:6 ). Jerusalem destroyed (586 B. C. )Godolias, Governor of Juda, made Maspha his headquarters ( Jeremiah 12:6 ; 2 Kings 25:23 sq. ) and there the tragic events of Jer., xiii, took place. In the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem the lords of Maspha took an active part ( Nehemiah 3:7, 15, 17 ). Some infer from verse 7 that Maspha was the seat of government (Holscher, "Palästina in der Pers. und Hellen. Zeit", 29); but this is unlikely (Smith, "Jerusalem", II, 354 n.). Judas Machabeus, preparing for war with the Syrians, gathered his men "to Maspha, over against Jerusalem : for in Maspha was a place of prayer heretofore in Israel " ( 1 Maccabees 3:46 ), and transported thither the ritualistic observances.


(a) Many moderns suggest Nebî-Sámwîl, the most striking position around Jerusalem, and identify Maspha with Rama and Ramathaim-Sophim, relying chiefly on the connection with Samuel implied by the modern name. In that case the rendezvous for the Benjaminite war must be sought in Galaad or Ephraim, perhaps near Silo, and the "house of the Lord" ( Jeremiah 12:6 ) cannot refer to Jerusalem.

(b) Guérin (Judée, I, 395-402) placed Maspha at Shâfat, a village on high ground overlooking Jerusalem, but his etymology is suspect, and Shâfat suits neither 1 Kings 15:22 , nor I Mach., iii, 46. The same objections hold for Tell el-Fûl only three miles N. of Jerusalem.

(c) Others suggest Tell en-Násbeh, which commands a narrow defile on the high road two miles S. of el-Bîreh.

(d) Perhaps the best conjecture is el-Bîreh, which has a copious water supply, is sufficiently northerly to permit of a camp there against Benjamin, lies on the road from Silo to Jerusalem, and is near Bethel (cf. Josephus, "Antiq.", V, ii, 10). This identification was expressly made by Surius ("Le Pieux Pílerin", III, ii, 547, Brussels, 1660), and by some copies of the map of Sanuto (1306) (Röhricht, "Zeitsch. des deut. paläst. Vereins," 1898, Map 6). Near the village is a large spring, ‘în Mísbâh, whose name may be a modernization of Maspha. Burchard (1283), indeed, identifies el-Bîreh with Machmas ("Peregrinationes medii ævi quatuor", Leipzig, 1873, p. 56), and similarly others [e.g. Maundrell (1697) in "Pinkerton Voyages", X, 337]; but Machmas was certainly elsewhere, and the identification serves only to show that the homophony of Beroth and Bîreh is not conclusive.


(Ham-Miçpeh, Masepha, Maspha ) is placed in the Sephela, in the second group of towns "in the lot of Juda ", between Delea and Jechtel ( Joshua 15:38 ). Eusebius and Jerome place it in the territory of Eleutheropolis near the road to Elia. William of Tyre mentions a crusading fortress eight miles N. of Ascalon near the frontiers of Palestine and Simeon, called Tell es-Saphi-Blanche Garde-Alba Specula. This is undoubtedly Tell es-Sâfîyeh and is commonly identified with Maspha. Both places served to watch Ascalon. The map of Madaba calls the place Saphitha . As however this can scarcely be other than Sephata (cf. 2 Chronicles 14:10 ; List of Thotmos III in "Mittheil. der Deuteronomy Vorderas. Gesell.", 1907 pl.; "Rev. Bib.", 19-8; 516), the question arises whether Masepha and Sepheta can refer to the same place.


Near Hermon. "The Hevite, who dwelt at the foot of Hermon in the land of Maspha", was amongst the foes on whom Josue fell at Lake Merom and chased to "the great Sidon and the waters of Maserephoth, and the field of Maspha" eastward ( Joshua 11:8 ). Probably the two names here mentioned indicate one place despite the variations of the versions (Heb., Miçpah, Miçpeh; LXX, Massuma, Massóch ; Alex, Massepháth, Massephá ; Vulg., Maspha, Masphe).


Suggestions differ according as "eastward" is referred to Sidon or Merom. Hence west of Hermon either (a) the Merj ‘&úyûn, a fertile plain, the Litâny, actually called el-buqâ‘. If "eastward" refers to Merom (which is more probable) then Maspha may be the Wâdy el-‘ájám, stretching south of Jermon and traversed by the Roman road (Via Maris) from Damascus.

At the western end of the valley is the village of el-B&úqâ‘ty, perhaps an echo of Bíq‘át Miçpeh.


Whither David fled with his parents from Adullam ( 1 Samuel 22:3 sq. ). We have no clue to its identification, save that it was, temporarily, at least, a royal residence.

MASPHA OF GALAAD: For identification with Ramath Bilead and es-Salt, cf.:–S CHWARTZ, Tebuoth ha-Arez, 269, 270 (Jerusalem, 1900); V. R IESS, Biblische Geographie (Freiburg im Br., 1872), 64. Against it cf. D RIVER, Commentary on Deuteronomy (Edinburgh, 1902). For Sûf, etc.:–C ONDER, Heth and Moab (London, 1889), 181; A RMSTRONG, Names and Places in the Old Testament (London, 1887); O LIPHANT, Land of Galaad (London, 1880), 209-18; B UHL, Geographie des Alten Palästina (Freiburg im Br., '96); M ERRILL, East of Jordan, 365-374; S MITH, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 487, 679 (London, 1907); Mittheilungen und Nachrichten des deut. paläst. Vereins, 1897, 66; 1890, 1f, 66.

MASPHA OF BENJAMIN: For the testimony of Eusebius and the Franks cf. H EIDET in V IGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible, s. v. For identification with (a) cf. S CHWARTZ, op. cit., 152, 492; A RMSTRONG, op. cit., 127; R OBINSON, Biblical Researches, II (Boston, 1841), 139-149; Survey of Western Palestine, Memoirs, III, 144; B UHL, op. cit., 16l7; F ISCHER G UTHE, Map of Palestine; (b) S HÂFAT. – V. R IESS, op. cit., p. 64; G ATT in Das heilige Land (Cologne, 1879), 119-126; 15 184-194; S TANLEY, Sinai and Palestine (London, 1871), 228; H AGEN, Index Topographicus (Paris, 1908); DE S AUCY, Voyage autour de la Mer Morte I (Paris, 1883), 112-115; (c) V INCENT, Revue Biblique (1898), 630; (1890), 315-316; (1901), 151; (1902), 458; C ONDER, Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly (1898), 169, 251; R ABOISSON, Les Mizpeh (Paris, 1897); (d) H EIDET in Revue Biblique, 1894, 321-356, 450; 1895, 97; I DEM in Revue d'Orient, 1898, 295-300; La Palestine, Guide historique et pratique (Paris, 1904), 317 sqq.

MASPHA OF JUDA: Survey of Western Palestine, Memoirs, II, 440; R OBINSON, op. cit., II, 31; G UÉRIN, op. cit., II, 92; DE S AULCY, Dictionaire topographique abrégé 220 (Paris, '71); V. R IESS, op. cit., 64; B UHL, op. cit., 196.

LAND OF MASPHA: A RMSTRONG, op. cit., 127; S CHWARTZ, op. cit., 74; V. R IESS, Bible Atlas, 10, `887;B UHL, op. cit., 240; D ILLMANN, Commentarium in Josue.

MASPHA OF MOAB: S CHWARTZ, op. cit., 254. For general reference:–H ASTINGS, Dictionary of the Bible , s. v.; V IGOUROUX, Dictionnaire de la Bible, s. v.; B AEDEKER, Syria and Palestine, 4th ed. (Leipzig, 1906).

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Advent Prayer HD Video
  • Daily Reading for Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 HD Video
  • St. Mechtildis: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, May 31, 2016
  • Does cellphone radiation REALLY cause cancer?
  • Secret Muslim Obama appoints man with terror ties to official position
  • Daily Readings for Tuesday, May 31, 2016
  • 'Let's be clear: these are sacred objects': Catholics side with ...

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Zephaniah 3:14-18,
14 Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult ... Read More

Psalm, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
2 Look, he is the God of my salvation: I shall have faith and not be ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:39-56
39 Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 31st, 2016 Image

St. Mechtildis
May 31: Benedictine abbess and miracle worker. She was ... Read More