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The Hebrew term "pelistim" occurs 286 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew bible (of which 152 times in 1 Samuel), whereas in the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible, the equivalent term phylistiim occurs only 12 times, with the remaining 269 references instead using the term "allophylos" ("of another tribe"). According to Joshua 13:3 and 1 Samuel 6:17, the land of the Philistines (or Allophyloi), called Philistia, was a Pentapolis in south-western Levant comprised the five city-states of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, from Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarqon River in the north, but with no fixed border to the east. The Bible portrays them at one period of time as among the Kingdom of Israel's most dangerous enemies. Biblical scholars have connected the Philistines to other biblical groups such as Caphtorim and the Cherethites and Pelethites, which have both been identified with Crete, and leading to the tradition of an Aegean origin, although this theory has been disputed.
Outside of the Bible, the evidence for and origins of the Philistines are not clear and is the subject of considerable research and speculation in biblical archaeology. Since 1822, scholars have connected the Biblical Philistines with the Egyptian "Peleset" inscriptions, all five of which appear from c.1150 BCE just as archaeological references to "Kinaḫḫu" or "Ka-na-na" (Canaan) come to an end, and since 1873 they have both been connected with the Aegean "Pelasgians". While the evidence for these connections is etymological and has been disputed, this identification is held by the majority of egyptologists and biblical archaeologists. Archaeological research to date has been unable to corroborate a mass settlement of Philistines during the Ramesses III era.
The etymology of the word into English is from Old French Philistin, from Classical Latin Philistinus, found in the writings of Josephus, from Late Greek Philistinoi (Phylistiim in the Septuagint) found in the writings by Philo, from Hebrew Plištim, (e.g. 1 Samuel 17:36; 2 Samuel 1:20; Judges 14:3; Amos 1:8), "people of Plešt" ("Philistia"); cf. Akkadian Palastu, Egyptian Parusata.
Biblical scholars often trace the word to the Semitic root p-l-š (Hebrew: פלש) which means "to divide," or "invader" The name of the Philistines in their own language is not known. However, the Bible also relates them as the people of Caphtor (Hebrew: כפתור, e.g., Jeremiah 47:4). "Caphtor" is not of Hebrew or Semitic origin, which supports the possibility that this word is similar to the name they called themselves.
Another theory, proposed by Jacobsohn and supported by others, is that the name derives from the attested Illyrian locality Palaeste, whose inhabitants would have been called Palaestīnī according to normal grammatical practice.
Another historian suggests that the name Philistine is a corruption of the Greek "phyle histia" ("tribe of the hearth", with the Ionic spelling of "hestia"). He goes on to suggest that they were responsible for introducing the fixed hearth to the Levant. This suggestion was raised before archaeological evidence for the use of the hearths was documented at Philistine sites.
The table of the Sons of Noah in Genesis 10 states in Hebrew with regard to the descendants of Mizraim, the biblical progenitor of the Egyptians: "ve'et Petrushim ve'et Keslukhim asherre yats'u misham Plishtim ve'et Kaftorim." Literally, it says that those whom Mizraim begat included "the Pathrusim, Casluhim (out of whom came the Philistines), and the Caphtorim." There is some debate among interpreters as to whether this verse was originally intended to signify that the Philistines themselves were the offspring of the Casluhim or the Caphtorim. While the Casluhim or the Caphtorim origin is widely followed by biblical scholars, other scholars such as Friedrich Schwally, Bernhard Stade, and Cornelis Tiele argued for a Semitic origin.
The Torah does not record the Philistines as one of the nations to be displaced from Canaan. In Genesis 15:18-21 the Philistines are absent from the ten nations Abraham's descendants will displace as well as being absent from the list of nations Moses tells the people they will conquer (Deut 7:1, 20:17). God also directed the Israelites away from the Philistines upon their exit from Egypt according to Exodus 13:17. In Genesis 21:22-27, Abraham agrees to a covenant of kindness with Abimelech, the Philistine king, and his descendants, and Abraham's son Isaac deals with the Philistine king similarly in chapter 26.
Rabbinic sources state that the Philistines of Genesis were different peoples from the Philistines of the Deuteronomistic history. This differentiation was also held by the authors of the Septuagint, who translated (rather than transliterated) the term as "allophuloi" (Αλλόφυλοι, "other nations") instead of "philistines" throughout the Books of Judges and Samuel. Throughout the Deuteronomistic history, Philistines are almost always referred to without the definite article, except on 11 occasions. On the basis of the LXX's regular translation into "allophyloi", Robert Drews states that the term "Philistines" means simply "non-Israelites of the Promised Land" when used in the context of Samson, Saul and David.
The Philistines are said to have dominated the Israelites in the times of Samson and Eli, and even to have captured the Ark of the Covenant for a few years. Also, Samson killed many Philistines and had many skirmishes with them.
A few biblical texts, such as the Ark Narrative and stories reflecting the importance of Gath, seem to portray Late Iron I and Early Iron II memories. They are mentioned more than 250 times, the majority in the Deuteronomistic history (the series of books from Joshua to 2 Kings), and are depicted as among the arch-enemies of the Israelites, a serious and recurring threat before being subdued by David.
The Bible paints the Philistines as the main enemy of the Israelites (prior to the rise of the Assyrian Empire between the 10th century BC and late 7th century BC) with a state of almost perpetual war between the two peoples. The Philistine cities lost their independence to Assyria, and revolts in following years were all crushed. They were subsequently absorbed into the Babylonian and Persian empires, and disappeared as a distinct ethnic group by the late 5th century BC.
The Philistine pentapolis were ruled by seranim (סְרָנִים, "lords"), though to what extent they had a sense of a "nation" is not clear without literary sources.
The following is a list of battles purported in the Bible between Israel and the Philistines:
Since 1822, scholars have connected the biblical Philistines with the Egyptian "Peleset" inscriptions; Jean-François Champollion proposed the identification at a time when practically nobody else had knowledge of reading hieroglypics. And since 1873, both have been connected with the Aegean "Pelasgians". The evidence for these connections is etymological and has been disputed.
Inscriptions written by the Philistines have not yet been found or conclusively identified.
Based on the Peleset inscriptions, it has been suggested that the Casluhite Philistines formed part of the "Sea Peoples" who repeatedly attacked Egypt during the later Nineteenth Dynasty. Though they were eventually repulsed by Ramesses III, he finally resettled them, according to the theory, to rebuild the coastal towns in Canaan. Papyrus Harris I details the achievements of the reign of Ramesses III. In the brief description of the outcome of the battles in Year 8 is the description of the fate of the Sea Peoples. Ramesses tells us that, having brought the imprisoned Sea Peoples to Egypt, he "settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries each year." Some scholars suggest it is likely that these "strongholds" were fortified towns in southern Canaan, which would eventually become the five cities (the Pentapolis) of the Philistines. Israel Finkelstein has suggested that there may be a period of 25–50 years after the sacking of these cities and their reoccupation by the Philistines. It is quite possible that for the initial period of time, the Philistines were housed in Egypt, only subsequently late in the troubled end of the reign of Ramesses III would they have been allowed to settle Philistia.
The "Peleset" appear in four different texts from the time of the New Kingdom. Two of these, the inscriptions at Medinet Habu and the Rhetorical Stela at Deir al-Medinah, are dated to the time of the reign of Ramses III (1186–1155 BC). Another was composed in the period immediately following the death of Ramses III (Papyrus Harris I). The fourth, the Onomasticon of Amenope, is dated to some time between the end of the 12th or early 11th century BC.
The inscriptions at Medinet Habu consist of images depicting a coalition of Sea Peoples, among them the Peleset, who are said in the accompanying text to have been defeated by Ramses III during his Year 8 campaign. In about 1175 BC, Egypt was threatened with a massive land and sea invasion by the "Sea Peoples," a coalition of foreign enemies which included the Tjeker, the Shekelesh, the Deyen, the Weshesh, the Teresh, the Sherden, and the PRST. They were comprehensively defeated by Ramses III, who fought them in "Djahy" (the eastern Mediterranean coast) and at "the mouths of the rivers" (the Nile delta), recording his victories in a series of inscriptions in his mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. Scholars have been unable to conclusively determine which images match what peoples described in the reliefs depicting two major battle scenes. A separate relief on one of the bases of the Osirid pillars with an accompanying hieroglyphic text clearly identifying the person depicted as a captive Peleset chief is of a bearded man without headdress. This has led to the interpretation that Ramses III defeated the Sea Peoples including Philistines and settled their captives in fortresses in southern Canaan; another related theory suggests that Philistines invaded and settled the coastal plain for themselves.
The Rhetorical Stela are less discussed, but are noteworthy in that they mention the Peleset together with a people called the Teresh, who sailed "in the midst of the sea". The Teresh are thought to have originated from the Anatolian coast and their association with the Peleset in this inscription is seen as providing some information on the possible origin and identity of the Philistines.
The Harris Papyrus which was found in a tomb at Medinet Habu also recalls Ramses III's battles with the Sea Peoples, declaring that the Peleset were "reduced to ashes." The Papyrus Harris I, records how the defeated foe were brought in captivity to Egypt and settled in fortresses. The Harris papyrus can be interpreted in two ways: either the captives were settled in Egypt and the rest of the Philistines/Sea Peoples carved out a territory for themselves in Canaan, or else it was Ramses himself who settled the Sea Peoples (mainly Philistines) in Canaan as mercenaries. Egyptian strongholds in Canaan are also mentioned, including a temple dedicated to Amun, which some scholars place in Gaza; however, the lack of detail indicating the precise location of these strongholds means that it is unknown what impact these had, if any, on Philistine settlement along the coast.
The only mention in an Egyptian source of the Peleset in conjunction with any of the five cities that are said in the Bible to have made up the Philistine pentapolis comes in the Onomasticon of Amenope. The sequence in question has been translated as: "Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Assyria, Shubaru [...] Sherden, Tjekker, Peleset, Khurma [...]" Scholars have advanced the possibility that the other Sea Peoples mentioned were connected to these cities in some way as well.
In 2003, a statue of a king named Taita bearing inscriptions in Luwian was discovered during excavations conducted by German archeologist Kay Kohlmeyer in the Citadel of Aleppo, . The king describes himself as the king of Palistin, and recent archaeology indicates that Palistin extended from the Amouq Valley in the west to Aleppo in the east down to Mhardeh and Shaizar in the south. Due to the similarity between Palistin and Philistines, Hittitologist John David Hawkins (who translated the Aleppo inscriptions) hypothesizes a connection between the Syro-Hittite Palistin and the Philistines, as do Archaeologists Benjamin Sass and Kay Kohlmeyer.
However, the relation between Palistin and the Philistines is much debated. Israeli prof. Itamar Singer notes that there is nothing (besides the name) in the recently discovered archeology that indicates an Aegean origin to Palistin; most of the discoveries at the Palistin capital Tell Tayinat indicate a Neo-Hittite state, including the names of the kings of Palistin. Singer proposes (based on archeological finds) that a branch of the Philistines settled in Tell Tayinat and were replaced or assimilated by a new Luwian population who took the Palistin name.
The connection between Mycenaean culture and Philistine culture was made clearer by finds at the excavation of Ashdod, Ekron, Ashkelon, and more recently Gath, four of the five Philistine cities in Canaan. The fifth city is Gaza. Especially notable is the early Philistine pottery, a locally made version of the Aegean Mycenaean Late Helladic IIIC pottery, which is decorated in shades of brown and black. This later developed into the distinctive Philistine pottery of the Iron Age I, with black and red decorations on white slip known as Philistine Bichrome ware. Also of particular interest is a large, well-constructed building covering 240 square metres (2,600 sq ft), discovered at Ekron. Its walls are broad, designed to support a second story, and its wide, elaborate entrance leads to a large hall, partly covered with a roof supported on a row of columns. In the floor of the hall is a circular hearth paved with pebbles, as is typical in Mycenaean megaron hall buildings; other unusual architectural features are paved benches and podiums. Among the finds are three small bronze wheels with eight spokes. Such wheels are known to have been used for portable cultic stands in the Aegean region during this period, and it is therefore assumed that this building served cultic functions. Further evidence concerns an inscription in Ekron to PYGN or PYTN, which some have suggested refers to "Potnia", the title given to an ancient Mycenaean goddess. Excavations in Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath reveal dog and pig bones which show signs of having been butchered, implying that these animals were part of the residents' diet. Among other findings there are wineries where fermented wine was produced, as well as loom weights resembling those of Mycenaean sites in Greece.
Material culture evidence, primarily pottery styles, indicates that the Philistines originally settled in a few sites in the south, such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron. It was not until several decades later, about 1150 BC, that they expanded into surrounding areas such as the Yarkon region to the north (the area of modern Jaffa, where there were Philistine farmsteads at Tel Gerisa and Aphek, and a larger settlement at Tel Qasile). Most scholars therefore believe that the settlement of the Philistines took place in two stages. In the first, dated to the reign of Ramses III, they were limited to the coastal plain, the region of the Five Cities; in the second, dated to the collapse of Egyptian hegemony in southern Canaan, their influence spread inland beyond the coast. During the 10th–7th centuries BC the distinctiveness of the material culture appears to have been absorbed with that of surrounding peoples.
It has been theorized that the latter Philistines originated among the "Sea Peoples." Modern archaeology has also suggested early cultural links with the Mycenaean world in Greece. Though the Philistines adopted local Canaanite culture and language before leaving any written texts (and later adopted the Aramaic language), an Indo-European origin has been suggested for a handful of known Philistine words that survived as loanwords in Hebrew.
Their population is estimated to have been around 25,000 in the 12th century BC, rising to a peak of 30,000 in the 11th century BC, of which the Aegean element was likely less than half the total, certainly not more than that.
Reliefs and inscriptions found in the temple of Ramses lll in Egypt give us insight into the Philistines' appearance and technology. Their soldiers were quite tall and clean shaven. They wore breastplates and short kilts, and their superior weapons included chariots drawn by two horses. They carried small shields and fought with straight swords and spears.
Nothing is known for certain about the language of the Philistines. It is thought to be "probably Semitic," although such conclusion is based on limited data. The Bible does not mention any language problems between the Israelites and the Philistines, as it does with other groups.
There is some limited evidence in favour of the assumption that the Philistines were originally Indo-European-speakers either from Greece and/or Luwian speakers from the coast of Asia Minor, on the basis of some Philistine-related words found in the Bible not appearing to be related to other Semitic languages. Such theory suggests that the Semitic elements in the language were borrowed from their neighbours in the region. For example, the Philistine word for captain, "seren", may be related to the Greek word tyrannos (thought by linguists to have been borrowed by the Greeks from an Anatolian language, such as Luwian or Lydian). Although most Philistine names are semitic (such as Ahimelech, Mitinti, Hanun, and Dagon) some of the Philistine names, such as Goliath, Achish, and Phicol, appear to be of non-Semitic origin, and Indo-European etymologies have been suggested. Recently, an inscription dating to the late 10th/early 9th centuries BC with two names, very similar to one of the suggested etymologies of the popular Philistine name Goliath (Lydian Alyattes, or perhaps Greek Kalliades) was found in the excavations at Gath.
Philistine culture became almost fully integrated with that of Canaan and the Canaanites. The deities they worshipped were Baal, Astarte, and Dagon, whose names or variations thereof appear in the Canaanite pantheon as well.
Philistine cities give evidence of careful town planning, including industrial zones. The olive industry of Ekron alone includes about 200 olive oil installations. Engineers estimate that the city's production may have been more than 1,000 tons, 30 percent of Israel's present-day production.
The Philistines were also renowned for both their production and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Numerous finds have exposed a well-managed spirits industry, from breweries and wineries to retail outlets that advertised beer, wine, and strong drink. Among the most numerous artifacts unearthed from Philistine ruins are beer mugs and wine craters (large drinking bowls). The story of Samson's wedding feast alludes to the Philistine practice of engaging in week-long drinking parties, as the Hebrew word mishkeh, translated as "strong drink" in Judges 14:10, indicates a "drinking feast."
Rabbinic sources insist that the Philistines of Judges and Samuel were different people altogether from the Philistines of Genesis. (Midrash Tehillim on Psalm 60 (Braude: vol. 1, 513); the issue here is precisely whether Israel should have been obliged, later, to keep the Genesis treaty.) This parallels a shift in the Septuagint's translation of Hebrew pelistim. Before Judges, it uses the neutral transliteration phulistiim, but beginning with Judges it switches to the pejorative allophuloi. [To be precise, Codex Alexandrinus starts using the new translation at the beginning of Judges and uses it invariably thereafter, Vaticanus likewise switches at the beginning of Judges, but reverts to phulistiim on six occasions later in Judges, the last of which is 14:2.]
Little is known of the Philistine language or script. There is never any indication in the Bible of a language problem between the Israelites and Philistines. The Philistines must have adopted the local Semitic language soon after arriving in Canaan, or they might have already known a Semitic language before they came. Their names are usually Semitic (e.g., Ahimelek, Mitinti, Hanun, and the god Dagon). But two Philistine names may have come from the Asianic area: Achish has been compared with Anchises, and Goliath with Alyattes. A few Hebrew words may be Philistine loanwords. The word for helmet (koba H3916 or qoba H7746) is a foreign word often attributed to the Philistines. The term for "lords," already mentioned (seren), can possibly be connected with tyrannos ("tyrant"), a pre-Greek or Asianic word. Some have connected three seals discovered in the excavations at Ashdod with the Philistines. The signs resemble the Cypro-Minoan script. Three inscribed clay tablets from Deir Alla (SUCCOTH) also have been attributed to the Philistines. These signs resemble the Cypro-Mycenaean script. Both the seals and clay tablets are still imperfectly understood.