Se'phar (Heb. Sephar', ספִר, a numbering; Sept. Σαφηρά v.r. Σωφηρά), "a mountain of the east," a line drawn from which to Mesha formed the boundary of the Joktanitic tribes (Ge 10:30). The name may remind us of Saphar, which the ancients mention as a chief place of South Arabia (Pliny, H.N. 6, 23-26). The map of Berghaus exhibits on the southwest point of Arabia a mountain called Sabber, which, perhaps, supplies the spot we seek (see Burckhardt, Arabia, p. 236). If this be the case, and Mesha be (as usually supposed) the Mesene of the ancients, the line between them would intersect Arabia from northeast to southwest. That Sephar is called "a mountain of the east" is to be understood with reference to popular language, according to which Arabia is described as the '"east country." See Baumgarten, Theolog. Commentar zum A.T. 1, 152; Bochart, Phaleg. 2, 20. — Kitto. The immigration of the Joktanites was probably from west to east, SEE ARABIA; SEE MESHA, and they occupied the southwestern portion of the peninsula. The undoubted identifications of Arabian places and tribes with their Joktanitic originals are included within these limits, and point to Sephar as the eastern boundary. There appears to be little doubt that the ancient seaport town called Dhafari or Zafari, and Dhafar or Zafar (now Jofar, i.e. ez-Zofar), without the inflexional termination, represents the Biblical site or district: thus the etymology is sufficiently near, and the situation exactly agrees with the requirements of the case. Accordingly, it has been generally accepted as the Sephar of Genesis.
But the etymological fitness of this site opens out another question, inasmuch as there are no less than four places bearing the same name, besides several others bearing names that are merely variations from the same root. The frequent recurrence of these variations is curious; but we need only here concern ourselves with the four first named places, and of these two only are important to the subject of this article. They are of twofold importance, as bearing on the site of Sephar, and as being closely connected with the ancient history of the Joktanitic kingdom of Southern Arabia, the kingdom founded by the tribes sprung from the sons of Joktan. The following extracts will put in a clear light what the best Arabian writers themselves say on the subject. The first is from the most important of the Arabic lexicons:
"Dhafari is a town of the Yemen; one says, 'He who enters Dhafari learns the Himiyeritic.'... Es-Saghani says, 'In the Yemen are four places, every one of which is called Dhafari; two cities and two fortresses. The two cities are Dhafari-l-Hakl, near San'a, two days' journey from it on the south; and the Tubbaas used to abide there, and it is said that it is San'a [itself]. In relation to it is called the onyx of Dhafari. (Ibn-Es-Sikkit says that the onyx of Dhafari is so called in relation to Dhafari-Asad, a city in the Yemen.) Another is in the Yemen, near Mirbat, in the extremity of the Yemen, and is known by the name of Dhafari-s-Sahib [that is, of the seacoast], and in relation to it is called the Kust-Dhafari [either costus or aloes wood], that is, the wood with which one fumigates, because it is brought thither from India, and from it to [the rest of] the Yemen.' And it Yakut meant, for he said, 'Dhafari .. is a city in the extremity of the Yemen, near to Esh-Shihr.' As to the two fortresses, one of them is a fortress on the south of San'a, two days' journey from it, in the country of [the tribe of] Benu-Murad, and it is called Dhafari-l-Wadiyeyn [that is, of the Two Valleys]. It is also called Dhafari-Zeyd: and another is on the north thereof, also two days' journey from it, in the country of Hemdan, and is called Dhafari-dh- Dahir" (Tajel-'Arus, MS. s.v.). Yakut, in his homonymous dictionary (El-Mushtarak, s.v.), says: "Dhafari is a celebrated city in the extremity of the country of the Yemen, between, Omau and Mirbat, on the shore of the sea of India: I have been informed of this by one who has seen it prosperous, abounding in good things. It is near Esh-Shihr. Dhafari-Zeyd is a fortress in the Yemen in the territory of Habb; and Dhafari is a city near to San'a, and in relation to it is called the Dhafari onyx; in it was the abode of the kings of Himyer, and of it was said, He who enters Dhafari learns the Himyeritic, and it is said that Sau'a itself is Dhafari." Lastly, in the geographical dictionary called the Marasid, which is ascribed to Yakut, we read, s.v.:
"Dhafari: two cities in the Yemen, one of them near to San'a, in relation to which is called the Dhafari onyx: in it was the dwelling of the kings of Himyer; and it is said that Dhafari is the city of San'a itself. And Dhafari of this day is a city on the shore of the sea of India; between it and Mirbat are five parasangs of the territories of Esh-Shihr, [and it is] near to Suhar, and Mirbat is the other anchorage besides Dhafari. Frankincense is only found on the mountain of Dhafari of Esh-Shihr." These extracts show that the city of Dhafari near San'a was very little known to the writers, and that little only by tradition. It was even supposed to be the same as, or another name for, San'a, and its site had evidently fallen into oblivion at their day. But the seaport of this name was a celebrated city, still flourishing, and identified on the authority of an eyewitness. M. Fresnel has endeavored to prove that this city, and not the western one, was the Himyeritic capital; and certainly his opinion appears to be borne out by most of the facts that have been brought to light. Niebuhr, however, mentions the ruins of Dhafari near Yerim, which would be those of the western city (Descr. p. 206). While Dhafari is often mentioned as the capital in the history of the Himyeritic kingdom (Caussin, Essai, 1, passim), it was also in the later times of the kingdom the seat of a Christian Church (Philostorgius, Hist. Eccles. 3, 4). Abulfeda has fallen into an absurd error in his Geography, noticed by M. Fresnel (IVe Lettre, p. 317). He endeavors to prove that the two Zafaris were only one, by supposing that the inland town, which he places only twenty-four leagues from San'a, was originally on the sea coast.
But, leaving this curious point, it remains to give what is known respecting Dhafari the seaport, or, as it will be more convenient to call it, after the usual pronunciation, Zafar. All the evidence is clearly in favor of this site being that of the Sephar of the Bible, and the identification has accordingly been generally accepted by critics. More accurately, it appears to preserve the name mentioned in Ge 10:30, and to be in the district anciently so named. It is situated on the coast, in the province of Hadramawt, and near to the district which adjoins that province on the east, called Esh- Shihr (or as M. Fresnel says it is pronounced in the modern Himyeritic, Shher). Wellsted says of it, "Dofar is situated beneath a lofty mountain" (2, 453). In the Marasid it is said, as we have seen, that frankincense (in the author's time) was found only in the "mountain of Dhafari;" and Niebuhr (Descr. p. 248) says that it exports the best frankincense. M. Fresnel gives almost all that is known of the present state of this old site in his Lettres sur I'Hist. des Arabes avant l'Islamisme (Ve Lettre, Journ. Asiat. 3d serie, tom. 5). Zafar, he tells us, pronounced by the modern inhabitants "Isfor," is now the name of a series of villages situated some of them on the shore, and some close to the shore, of the Indian Ocean, between Mirbat and Ras- Sajir, extending a distance of two days' journey, or seventeen or eighteen hours, from east to west. Proceeding in this direction, those near the shore are named Takah, Ed-Dahariz, El-Belid, El-Hafeh, Salahah, and Awkad. The first four are on the seashore, and the last two at a small distance from it. El-Belid, otherwise called Harkam, is, in M. Fresnel's opinion, the ancient Zafar. It is in ruins, but ruins that attest its former prosperity. The inhabitants were celebrated for their hospitality. There are now only three or four inhabited houses in El-Belid. It is on a small peninsula lying between the ocean and a bay, and the port is on the land side of the town. In the present day, during nearly the whole of the year, at least at low tide, the bay is a lake and the peninsula an isthmus; but the lake is of sweet water. In the rainy season, which is in the spring, it is a gulf of sweet water at low tide, and of salt water at high tide. The classical writers, as above noted, mention "Sapphar metropolis" (Σαπφάρα μητρόπολις) or Saphar (in Anon. Peripl. p. 274), in long. 88°, lat. 14° 30', according to Ptolemy, the capital of the Sappharitae (Σαπφαρῖται), placed by him (6, 6, 25) near the Homeritae; but their accounts are obscure, and probably from hearsay. In later times, as we have already said, it was the seat of a Christian Church — one of three which were founded A.D. 343, by permission of the reigning Tubbaa, in Dhafari (written Tapharon, Τάφαρον, by Philostorgius, Hist. Eccles. 3, 4), in 'Aden, and on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Theophilus, who was sent with an embassy by order of the emperor Constantine to effect this purpose, was the first bishop (Caussin, 1, 111 sq.). In the reign of Abrahah (A.D. 537-570) St. Gregentius was bishop of these churches, having been sent by the patriarch of Alexandria (see the authorities cited by Caussin, 1, 142-145).