The Philistines (/ˈfɪlᵻstiːnz/, /ˈfɪlᵻstaɪnz/, /fᵻˈlɪstᵻnz/, or /fᵻˈlɪstiːnz/; Hebrew: פְּלִשְׁתִּים, Plištim) were an ancient people primarily known for their conflict with the Israelites described in the Bible. The primary source about the Philistines is the Hebrew Bible, but they are first attested in reliefs at the Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, where they are called Peleset, accepted as cognate with Hebrew P'léšet. Assyrian sources also refer to Pilišti and Palaštu, also believed to be cognate with P'léšet.
- Torah (Pentateuch)
- Deuteronomistic history
- The Prophets
- Battles between the Israelites and the Philistines
- Egyptian inscriptions
- Syrian archaeology
- Material culture and Aegean archaeology
- Burial practices
The first reference to Philistines in the Hebrew Bible canon is in the Table of Nations, where they are said to descend from Casluhim son of Mizraim (Egypt). However, the Philistines of Genesis who are friendly to Abraham are identified by Rabbinic sources as distinct from the warlike people described in Deuteronomistic history. Deuteronomist sources describe the land of the Philistines as a pentapolis in southwestern Levant comprising the five city-states of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, from Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarqon River in the north. This description portrays them at one period of time as among the Kingdom of Israel's most dangerous enemies. In contrast, the canon of Eastern Christianity, the LXX, uses the term "allophuloi" (Greek: ἀλλόφυλοι) instead of "philistines", which means simply "other nations".
There are several theories about the origins of the Philistines. Several Biblical passages connect the Philistines to other biblical groups such as Caphtorim and the Cherethites and Pelethites, which have both been identified with Crete and which has led to the tradition of an Aegean origin, although this theory has been disputed, with other scholars claiming a Luwian origin in western Asia Minor. In 2016, the discovery of a huge Philistine cemetery, containing more than 150 burials, seems to point toward an Aegean origin of the Philistines. Genetic testing of the human remains will provide further information.
The English word "Philistine" and the modern term Palestine come from Old French Philistin, from Classical Latin Philistinus (found in the writings of Josephus), from Late Greek Philistinoi (Phylistiim in the Septuagint, also found in writings by Philo), from Hebrew Plištim, (e.g. in the Pentateuch: Genesis 21:34, "in the land of [the?] Plištim" בארץ פלשתים; in the MT Neviyim: Judges 14:3; 1 Samuel 17:36; Amos 1:8), "people of Plešt".
The Hebrew term "pelishtim" occurs 286 times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible (of which 152 times in 1 Samuel). It also appears in the Samaritan Pentateuch. In secondary literature the Aramaic Visions of Amram (4Q543-7) further mentions "Philistia". This is datable "prior to Antiochus IV and the Hasmonean revolt", possibly to the term of High Priest of Israel Onias II; Jubilees 46:1-47:1 might have used Amram as a source. In the Greek version of the Bible called Septuagint, the equivalent term phylistiim occurs 12 times, again in the Pentateuch.
Outside of pre-Maccabean Israelite religious literature, evidence for the name and the origins of the Philistines is less abundant and less consistent. In the remainder of the Hebrew Bible, ha-pelishtim is attested at Qumran for 2 Samuel 5:17. In the Septuagint however 269 references instead use the term "allophylos" ("of another tribe").
The Philistines are the subject of research and speculation in biblical archaeology. Since 1846, scholars have connected the Biblical Philistines with the Egyptian "Peleset" inscriptions, all five of which appear from c.1150 BCE to c.900 BCE just as archaeological references to "Kinaḫḫu" or "Ka-na-na" (Canaan) come to an end, and since 1873 comparisons were drawn between them and to 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.
A "Walistina" is mentioned in Luwian texts already variantly spelled Palistina. This implies dialectical variation, a phoneme ("f"?) inadequately described in the script, or both. *Falistina was a kingdom somewhere on the 'Amuq plain, where the Amurru kingdom had held sway before it.
Another theory, proposed by Jacobsohn, is that the name derives from the attested Illyrian locality Palaeste, whose inhabitants would have been called Palaestīnī according to normal grammatical practice.
Allen Jones suggests that the name "Philistine" represents a corruption of the Greek phyle histia ("tribe of the hearth", with the Ionic spelling of "hestia"). He goes on to suggest that the Philistines introduced 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 Nations in Genesis 10 states in Hebrew with regard to the descendants of Mizraim, the biblical progenitor of the Egyptians: "ve-et Patrusim ve-et Kasluhim asher yats'u mi-sham Pelishtim 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 Exodus 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. Abraham's son Isaac deals with the Philistine king similarly, by concluding a treaty with them in chapter 26.
Unlike most other ethnic groups in the Bible, the Philistines are almost always referred to without the definite article in the Torah.
Rabbinic sources state that the Philistines of Genesis were different people from the Philistines of the Deuteronomistic history. This differentiation was also held by the authors of the Septuagint, who translated (rather than transliterated) its base text as "allophuloi" (Greek: ἀλλόφυλοι, "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.
Judges 13:1 tells that the Philistines dominated the Israelites in the times of Samson, who fought and killed over a thousand (e.g. Judges 15). According to 1 Samuel 5-6 they even captured the Ark of the Covenant for a few months.
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 Neo-Assyrian Empire between the 10th century BC and late 7th century BC) with a state of almost perpetual war between the two. The Philistine cities lost their independence to Assyria, and revolts in the following years were all crushed. They were subsequently absorbed into the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Achaemenid Empire, and disappeared as a distinct ethnic group by the late 5th century BC.
Amos in 1:8 sets the Philistines / ἀλλοφύλοι at Ashdod and Ekron. In 9:7 God is quoted asserting that, as he brought Israel from Egypt, he also (in the Hebrew) brought the Philistines from Caphtor. In the Greek this is, instead, bringing the ἀλλόφυλοι from Cappadocia.
Battles between the Israelites and the Philistines
The following is a list of battles alleged in the Bible to have occurred between the Israelites and the Philistines:
According to Joshua 13:3 and 1 Samuel 6:17, the land of the Philistines (or Allophyloi), called Philistia, was a pentapolis in the southwestern Levant comprising 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.
Tell Qasile (modern Tel Aviv), not mentioned in the Bible, was a big port city.
Ekron seems to have represented the northern border of Philistia. The location of Gath is not entirely certain, although the site of Tell es-Safi, not far from Ekron, is currently the most favoured.
The identity of the city of Ziklag, which according to the Bible marked the border between the Philistine and Israelite territory, remains uncertain and highly debated.
Since Edward Hincks and William Osburn Jr. in 1846, biblical scholars have connected the biblical Philistines with the Egyptian "Peleset" inscriptions; 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 conjectured "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 some of the conjectured Sea Peoples. Ramesses claims that, having brought the prisoners to Egypt, he "settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Numerous were their classes, hundreds of thousands strong. 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 Ramesses III (1186–1155 BC). Another was composed in the period immediately following the death of Ramesses 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 Ramesses 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 Ramesses 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 Ramesses 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 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.
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 Ramesses 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 Ramesses 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 new readings of Anatolian hieroglyphic signs proposed by the Hittitologists Elisabeth Rieken and Ilya Yakubovich were conducive to the conclusion that that the country ruled by Taita was called Palistin. This country extended in the 11th-10th centuries BCE from the Amouq Valley in the west to Aleppo in the east down to Mehardeh 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 professor 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.
Material culture and Aegean archaeology
Many scholars have interpreted the ceramic and technological evidence attested by archaeology as being associated with the Philistines advent in the area as strongly suggestive that they formed part of a large scale immigration to southern Canaan, probably from Anatolia and Cyprus, in the 12th century BCE. However, scholars such as London, Brug, Bunimovitz, H. Weippert, and Noort, among others, have noted the "difficulty of associating pots with people", proposing alternative suggestions such as potters following their markets or technology transfer, and emphasize the continuities with the local world in the material remains of the coastal area identified with "Philistines" , rather than the differences emerging from the presence of Cypriote and/or Aegean/ Mycenaean influences. The view is summed up in the idea that 'Kings come and go, but the pots remain', suggesting that the foreign Aegean elements in the Philistine population may have been a minority.
The proposed connection between Mycenaean culture and Philistine culture was further documented 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 storey, 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 Ramesses 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 to 7th centuries BC the distinctiveness of the material culture appears to have been absorbed with that of surrounding peoples.
In July 2016 at the end of a 30-year excavation by the Leon Levy Expedition, a team of archaeologists from Harvard University, Boston College, Wheaton College in Illinois and Troy University in Alabama, the results of their excavation of a Philistine cemetery containing more than 150 burials dating from the 11th to 8th century BCE Tel Ashkelon were announced.
The deceased were buried in oval pits. Four out of the 150 were cremated and some other bodies were deposited in ashlar burial chamber tombs. This burial practices were well known from the Aegean cultural sphere and were diametrically opposite to the Canaanite burials.
These findings may represent the most conclusive evidence that Philistines were not indigenous to Canaan which is indicated by ceramics, architecture, burial customs, and pottery remains with writing – in non-Semitic languages.Lawrence Stager of Harvard university, believes that Philistines came to Canaan, by ships, before the Battle of the Delta circa 1175 BCE. DNA was extracted from the skeletons for archaeogenetic population analysis.
The archaeologists kept the discovery a secret for three years until their dig had completed because they did not want to attract ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters, who have previously staged demonstrations at excavations where human remains have been found, arguing that the remains could be Jewish and that disturbing them would violate a Jewish religious law.
The population of the area associated with Philistines 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. The Canaanite nature of the material culture and toponyms suggest that much of this population was indigenous, such that the migrant element would likely constitute less than half the total, and perhaps much less.
Nothing is known for certain about the language of the Philistines. Pottery fragments from the period of around 1500-1000 BCE have been found bearing inscriptions in non-Semitic languages, including one in a Cypro-Minoan script. The Bible does not mention any language problems between the Israelites and the Philistines, as it does with other groups; up to the Babylonian occupation. Later, Nehemiah 13:23-24 writing under the Achaemenids records that when Judean men intermarried women from Moab, Ammon and Philistine cities, half the offspring of Judean marriages with women from Ashdod could speak only their mother tongue, Ašdôdît, not Judean Hebrew (Yehûdît); although by then this language might have been an Aramaic dialect. There is some limited evidence in favour of the assumption that the Philistines were originally either Indo-European-speakers from Greece 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.
The deities worshipped in the area were Baal, Astarte, and Dagon, whose names or variations thereof, had already appeared in the earlier attested Canaanite pantheon.
Cities excavated in the area attributed to Philistines 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.
There is considerable evidence for a large industry in fermented drink. Finds include breweries, wineries, and retail shops marketing beer and wine. Beer mugs and wine kraters are among the most common pottery finds.