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GAZA (gā'za, Heb. ‘azzâh, strong, Gr. Gaza). One of the five chief Philistine cities and the most southwesterly toward Egypt. Originally a seaport, the town moved to a hill three miles (five km.) inland on the great caravan route between Syria and Egypt. Here it became an important rest stop on the edge of the desert and a popular trading center. Its position and strength (the meaning of its name) made it the key of this line of communications. It is called by its Hebrew name Azzah in the KJV (Deut.2.23; 1Kgs.4.24; Jer.25.20).

Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch on “the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts.8.26). Once Gaza was the seat of a Christian church and a bishop in the midst of Greek culture and temples, but most of its people turned to Islam in a.d. 634. Now, of its twenty thousand inhabitants, only a few hundred are Christians, the rest Muslims.

Modern Ghuzzeh is the metropolis of the Gaza Strip, which is crowded with Arab refugees today. North of Ghuzzeh lies an extensive olive grove whose fruit is used to make soap. The city’s trade in corn is considerable, the corn still being ground by millstones such as Samson was forced to work at in his prison house at Gaza (Judg.16.21). The Tel el Muntar, or “hill of the watchman” (2Kgs.18.8), SE of Gaza, is the hill up which Samson carried the gates of the city (Judg.16.3).——AMR

Excavations at Gaza.


Ancient OT Gaza was located about fifty m. SW of Jerusalem and about three m. inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The town was about twelve m. S of Ashkelon, another important Philistine city, and on the important caravan and military route that extended to the SW and then W through the sands close to the Mediterranean Sea to Pelusium and the Egyp. Delta. Through Gaza, miliitary expeditions were made from Egypt to Palestine, Syria, and the countries of Mesopotamia. It was vital, in any military campaign, for opposing enemies to hold this city as a rest area to or from the desert.

Geographical characteristics.

The OT Gaza lay on and about a hill c. 100 ft. above a fertile plain. It was a natural location for a city because of fifteen fresh water wells that provided for adequate agricultural produce and the physical needs of a large population. It was inevitable that this town should develop as a trade center for caravans and a place where armies could restock their water supplies.

The earliest history of Gaza.

The earliest OT reference (Gen 10:19) goes back to the pre-Abrahamic period in which the territory of the Canaanites is described as extending from Sidon in the N to Gerar and Gaza in SW Pal. Other early inhabitants of Gaza and the southern end of Pal., evidently prior to the time of Moses, were called Avvim (Deut 2:23; cf. vv. 19-23). Later, in Joshua’s day, the Avvim together with the Canaanites were still associated with S Pal., but the Philistines were then in control of Gaza and the surrounding area (Josh 13:3, 4).

Early extra-Biblical references to Gaza.

The Annals of Thutmose III present Gaza as an important town, which Thutmose and his Egyp. army seized and at which he stayed on his first campaign into Pal. involving the battle of Megiddo (1468 b.c. ANET, 235). Compare also the Taanach Letter No. 6, which among others was written to a prince Rewašša by an Egyp. official, Amenophis, who mentions his being in the town of Gaza, Hazati, (W. F. Albright, “A Prince of Taanach in the Fifteenth Century b.c.,” BASOR 94 [1944], 24-27; Albright conjectures that this Egyp. governor, Amenophis, who resided at Gaza may have been the later Egyp. Pharaoh, Amenophis II). A little later in the 15th-14th cent. b.c., during this period of Egyp. domination of Pal. including the Gaza-Ashkelon area, the Tell el-Amarna No. 320, although not mentioning Gaza, refers to nearby Ashkelon in such terms as to reflect on the greater importance of the nearby official Egyp. residence at Gaza (ANET, 490). Another Amarna letter, No. 289, mentions Gaza as well as the whole land as loyal to Egypt, although there was trouble from the advancing ’Apiru (ANET, 489). Very possibly, the word ’Apiru could mean the Hebrews. After the conquest of Pal. under Joshua, Judges 2:20-3:1 indicates there was much land to be subdued. The Egyptians c. 1200 b.c. could speak of still having influence over Gaza and other places S of Canaan (Papyrus Anasti I, of the late Nineteenth Egyp. Dynasty, ANET, 478).

Gaza and Israel.

Later mastery of the city and area by the Philistines is evident when the king of Gath and the other Philistine rulers sent the captured ark back to Israel with a trespass offering of gold (1 Sam 6:17).

In the time of the united monarchy, Solomon most likely had the mastery over even a border area such as Gaza—in the light of 1 Kings 4:24, which states that this king “had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates, from Tipsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates.”

Amos (mid-8th cent. b.c.) pronounced the Lord’s condemnation on Gaza because they had conquered a people and delivered them as slaves to Edom (Amos 1:6, 7).

In the time of Assyrian ascendancy, Tiglath-pilezer III (744-727 b.c.), in connection with his campaigns against Syria and Pal. (733-732), told how he received tribute of gold, silver, antimony, linen garments, etc., from a number of cities, including Gaza and its king Hanno (ANET, 282). Hanno eventually fled to Egypt and returned with the Egyptians to fight against Sargon II (721-705 b.c.) in a battle S of Gaza (c. 721-720). Following defeat he was deported to the city of Ashur (ANET, 283-285). Gaza became Assyrian, but the Philistines were still in the region, for a little later Hezekiah, king of Judah, in rebellion against Assyria, “smote the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory” (2 Kings 18:8). A few years later another Assyrian king, Sennacherib (704-681) made a campaign against the cities of Judah and conquered them (701 b.c., 2 Kings 18:13), and when he threatened Hezekiah and Jerusalem, the Lord overthrew his army (2 Kings 18:17-19:35). In arrogant boasting in his annals, Sennacherib told of shutting up Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage,” and how he took away sections of Judah and gave them to Sillibel, king of Gaza, and to other Philistine rulers (ANET, 288). Sil-Bel, king of Gaza (possibly the same ruler or a successor) with other rulers from the seacoast were forced to furnish building materials for the palace of Esar-haddon (680-669) at Nineveh (ANET, 291), and to Ashurbanipal (668-633); the same king is said to have brought heavy tribute and in submission kissed the Assyrian king’s feet (ANET, 294). With this background in mind, Zephaniah (638-608) prophesied the overthrow of Gaza and the area (Zeph 2:4-7), which came about in stages in the succeeding centuries, as under Alexander Jannaeus (96 b.c.).

Jeremiah (47:1) speaks of Pharaoh conquering Gaza as does also Herodotus (2, 159) as he mentions Pharaoh’s conquest of “the great Syrian city of κάδυτις” (i.e., Gaza); which occurred in connection with Pharaoh Neco’s military expedition in 609 b.c. across Syria to fight the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror of Assyria (Jer 46:2; cf. 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chron 35:20; Jos Antiq. X. v. 1). Jeremiah also prophesied (Jer 25:20) that Nebuchadnezzar would conquer Gaza and all the land of the Philistines, which was fulfilled as witnessed to in the Inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 b.c.); the king of Gaza and others were ordered to carry on official duties in the Babylonian court (ANET, 307, 308).

Gaza in postexilic and intertestamental times.

Despite the conquests already mentioned, Gaza and the Philistines maintained some power and influence, as is indicated by Zechariah’s prophecy against them (9:5, 6). In the time of the Pers. invasion, Polybius (Hist 16, 22a) tells how brave the people of Gaza were. Later, under the Persians, the city with the help of Arab-hired soldiers (Arrian, Anab. 2, 26, 27), resisted a two-months’ siege by Alexander the Great (332 b.c.) before finally falling to him (Diodorus 17, 48; Jos. Ant. XI. viii. 3; Polyb. 16, 22a), after which it became more and more a Gr. city (Josephus calls it πόλις ̔Ελληνίς, Antiq. XVII. xi. 4.; War II. vi. 3). In subsequent years Gaza became the possession at times of Syria and then of Egypt. A few years prior to the Maccabean revolt, Gaza came more permanently under the control of Syria, following the victory of Antiochus the Great, at Panias (198 b.c.; cf. Polyb. Hist. 16, 22a).

In Maccabean times Gaza surendered to Jonathan Maccabeus (1 Macc 11:61, 62). Later after the city had requested help from Ptolemy of Egypt against Alexander Jannaeus and that help failed, Alexander made a one-year seige against Gaza, conquered it, and slaughtered its people (96 b.c.; Jos. Antiq. XIII. 1. 3). In a real sense Alexander made Gaza ἔρημος, G2245, or deserted, a fact so indicated by ancient writers as Jos. Antiq. XIV. v. 3; Strabo 16, 2, 30.

Under Pompey, who conquered Syria c. 63 b.c., Gaza, such as it was, received its freedom (Jos. Antiq. XIV. iv. 4) and a little later, about 57 b.c., was rebuilt under the order of the Rom. general, Gabinius (Jos. Antiq. XIV. v. 3). In 30 b.c. Gaza came under the control of Herod the Great (Jos Antiq. XV. vii. 3; War I. XX. 3), but after his death it reverted to the province of Syria (Jos. Antiq. XVII. xi. 4; War II. vi. 3) as the imperial coins of Gaza, which begin to show up after Herod’s death, demonstrate.

Gaza in NT times and later.

The only NT mention of this city is Acts 8:26 in reference to “‘the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert road.” A problem arises as to how the word ἔρημος, G2245, “desert,” is to be handled: whether to refer it to the feminine word “road,” as the RSV, “This is a desert road,” or, as the TEV, Am. Bible Society, “This road is no longer used”; or to refer to the feminine noun Gaza with the meaning, “deserted” (i.e., “old”) Gaza, as some have done. Strabo (16. 2, 30) had an understanding that Gaza had remained deserted (ἔρημος, G2245) after its destruction by Alexander the Great whom he seems to have confused with Alexander Jannaeus.

Diodorus (19, 80) spoke of an old Gaza. Some think there was a new Gaza built a bit S of the old city as maintained by some ancient geographers (see Schürer, II, 1, 71), and that Josephus’ reference to Gaza as among coast towns (Antiq. XIV. iv. 4) also refers to this new city. The old Gaza no doubt became inhabited again after Alexander Jannaeus’ destruction since it lay on the main caravan road (cf. also Diodor. 19, 80 Loeb. ed., and Arrian, Arab 2, 26, 27), and it and the new Gaza may well have continued together even into the NT period. However, that the old Gaza would then be called ἔρημος, G2245, “desert” in Acts 8:26, in reflection on its condition over a hundred years before does not sound likely. Rather, since the “road” is emphasized in Acts 8:26, it seems better to refer the concept “desert” to it, pointing out that it is the road that leads over to the desert way to Egypt.

In a.d. 66, Gaza was attacked and destroyed by the rebellious Jews (Jos War II. xviii. 1), but evidently only partially, for Gaza coins show up from the years a.d. 68-74 (Schürer, 2, 1, 72). In the 2nd and 3rd centuries a.d., the city prospered as a center of Gr. culture, and the Church only after hard struggles firmly established itself there at about a.d. 400. From a.d. 635 on, except for a brief time during the Crusades, Gaza was in Arab hands, until the late 1960s.

The modern city of Gaza rests on the old site, thus no significant archeological work has been possible. See Philistines.


E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People, sec. div., vol 1 (1891), 68-72; G. A. Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1896), 181-189; J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1955), 529; E. G. Kraeling, Rand-McNally Bible Atlas (1956), 417, 418.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(`azzah, "strong"; Septuagint Gaza; Arabic Ghazzeh):

One of the five chief towns of Philistia and probably the oldest, situated near the coast in lat. 31 degrees 30’ and about 40 miles South of Jaffa. It is on a hill rising 60 to 200 ft. above the plain, with sand dunes between it and the sea, which is about 2 1/2 miles distant. The plain around is fertile and wells abound, and, being on the border of the desert between Syria and Egypt and lying in the track of caravans and armies passing from one to the other, it was in ancient times a place of importance. The earliest notices of it are found in the records of Egypt.

Thothmes III refers to it in the account of his expedition to Syria in 1479 BC, and it occurs again in the records of the expedition of Seti I in 1313 BC (Breasted, History of Egypt, 285, 409).

It occurs also in the early catalogue of cities and tribes inhabiting Canaan in the earliest times (Ge 10:19). Joshua reached it in his conquests but did not take it (Jos 10:41; 11:22).

Judah captured it (Jud 1:18) but did not hold it long, for we find it in the hands of the Philistines in the days of Samson, whose exploits have rendered it noteworthy (16:1-3,11,30). The hill to which he carried off the gate of the city was probably the one now called el-Muntar ("watch-tower"), which lies Southeast of the city and may be referred to in 2Ki 18:8, "from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city," Gaza, with the other chief towns, sent a trespass offering to Yahweh when the ark was returned (1Sa 6:17).

Hezekiah defeated and pursued the Philistines to Gaza, but does not seem to have captured it. It was taken by Sargon in 720 BC, in his war with Egypt, since Khanun, the king of Gaza, joined the Egyptians and was captured at the battle of Raphia (Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, II, 142). It was probably destroyed (see Am 1:7). It was certainly dismantled by Alexander the Great in 332, when it dared to resist him. It was then exceedingly strong, verifying its name, and was most bravely defended, so that it took Alexander two months to reduce it. He put to death all the men and sold the women and children as slaves (Grote, History of Greece, XI, 467 ff). It was restored, however, and we learn that Jonathan forced it to submit to him (Josephus, Ant, XIII, v, 5; 1 Macc 11:62), and Alexander Janneus took it and massacred the inhabitants who escaped the horrors of the siege (Josephus, Ant, XIII, xiii, 3). Pompey restored the freedom of Gaza (ibid., XIV, iv, 4), and Gabinius rebuilt it in 57 BC (ibid., XIV, v, 3).

Gaza is mentioned only once in the New Testament (Ac 8:26), in the account of Philip and the eunuch. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, it became a center of Greek commerce and culture, and pagan influence was strong, while the church rounded there was struggling for existence. Many martyrs there testified to the faith, until finally, under Theodosius, Christianity gained the supremacy (HGHL, 12th edition, 188). It fell into the hands of the Arabs in 634 AD, and became and has remained a Moslem city since the days of Saladin, who recovered it from the Crusaders in 1187, after the battle of Hattin. It is now a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, among whom are a few hundred Christians.

See also AZZAH.