PHILISTINES (fĭ-lĭs'tēnz, Heb. pelishtîm). The name given to the people who inhabited the Philistine plain of Palestine during the greater part of OT times. The five cities of the Philistines were Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (
I. Origins. The origin of the Philistines is not completely known. They are said to have come from Caphtor (
Most authorities connect the coming of the Philistines with certain political and ethnic movements in the eastern Mediterranean area in the late thirteenth and early twelfth centuries b.c. Five groups of sea peoples left their homeland and moved southeastward at this time. They destroyed Ugarit (an ancient city-state in what is now Syria) and sought to invade Egypt, where they were repulsed by Ramses III in a great naval and land battle about 1191. On his monuments Ramses pictures these peoples as Europeans. Their pottery indicated that they came from the Greek islands, particularly Crete. The Philistines were one of these groups, and the Thekels another. After their repulse by the Egyptians, they invaded Canaan, the Philistines settling in what is now called the Philistine Plain, and the Thekels settling farther north, in the Sharon Plain.
What caused these people to leave their Aegean homeland and come to Canaan? There appears to have taken place at this time a great torrent of migration out of Europe, which swept through the Aegean world, Anatolia, and northern Syria, destroying the Hittite Empire and creating a situation of movement and folk wandering that was destined to change the ethnic make-up of the eastern Mediterranean world.
II. Civilization. The Philistines had a unique political organization. Their five city-states were ruled by five “lords of the Philistines” (
It is clear that the Philistines were more wealthy and more advanced in technology than their Hebrew neighbors. According to
While the Philistines seem to have taught the Hebrews technology, the Hebrews and Canaanites influenced their Philistine neighbors in other ways. Soon after migrating to Canaan the Philistines seem to have adopted the Canaanite language and Semitic names. The Philistines worshiped the Semitic gods Dagon (
During the latter part of the reign of Saul, David, the contender for the throne, fled for safety to the Philistines (
Probably David remained a Philistine vassal during the seven and a half years he reigned at Hebron (
After the death of Solomon and the division of the Hebrew kingdom, the Philistines reasserted the independence they had lost to David and Solomon. Their cities appear to have engaged in commerce, for which their location certainly was ideal (
Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal name Philistine tributaries as well as the Judean king Manasseh. The later struggles between Egypt and Assyria were the cause of great suffering to the Philistine cities, and practically close their history as strictly Philistinian. The cities did continue as predominantly non-Jewish centers, becoming Hellenistic cities in the Greek period.
IV. Early Biblical Mention. Before the times of the judges certain Philistines are mentioned in Genesis (
On the other hand, recent studies of the problem suggest another approach. Folk movements are never completed in one generation. It is not impossible that the great Philistine movement that entered Canaan during the judges period may have had a small precursor as early as the patriarchal age. The army of Ramses III, which repulsed the invading Philistines in 1191 b.c., itself contained soldiers who are portrayed on the Egyptian monuments as Philistines. Evidently these had joined the Egyptian army as mercenaries at an earlier date. Further, pottery identified as Philistine has turned up in Palestinian excavations recently in layers earlier than those of the judges period. It also seems that the sea peoples invading Egypt came from land as well as sea, and Ramses III refers to “The Peleset [i.e., Philistines] who are hung up in their towns,” implying that some of these troublesome people had already settled nearby.
It therefore seems possible that some Philistines were settled in Gerar by the time of Isaac. They were not a large hostile group (as later), but a small settlement with which the patriarch had more or less friendly relations.——JBG
PHILISTINES fĭ lĭs’ tĭnz, fĭl’ ə stənz,—stīnz (פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים, meaning uncertain). A warlike people of Aegean origin who occupied a territory in southwestern Pal. known as Philistia. Their period of greatest importance was 1200-1000 b.c. when they were the principal enemy of ancient Israel.
The Heb. for Philistine, פְּלִשְׁתִּי, H7149, is an ethnic adjective derived from the territorial designation Philistia, פְּלֶ֫שֶׁת, H7148. It is from there that the modern name “Palestine” derives. The name is found also in Egyp. records from the eighth year of Ramses III (c. 1188 b.c.) as prst (hieroglyphic using r for 1) and in Assyrian texts as Pilisti and Palastu. Since there is no good Sem. etymology for the word, it may be of Indo-European origin.
Another name given to the Philistines in the OT is “the uncircumcised,” a term of derision (
Philistia, or the land of the Philistines, was a narrow coastal plain in southwestern Pal., extending from Joppa to just S of Gaza. It contained heavy alluvial soil, except for sand dunes along the immediate coast, and was extremely fertile. Since it lacked hills and mountains, in contrast with the rest of the country, land routes naturally passed through here. These virtues combined with coastal cities on the Mediterranean made Philistia one of the richest and most desirable regions in the country.
Five key cities constituted the Philistine pentapolis, but only Ashkelon was located directly on the coast. Therefore, it was the main Philistine harbor. Both Gaza and Ashdod had their own ports, but were slightly removed from the coast because of the sand dunes. The other two cities, Gath and Ekron, were further inland.
The first mention of the Philistines in the Bible comes in the patriarchal narratives. Both Abraham and Isaac had dealings with a king of the Philistines named Abimelech of Gerar. This mention of the Philistines has generally been considered an anachronistic retrojection by a later writer or editor, since it is held that the Philistines did not migrate to Canaan until about 1200 b.c. However, if we were dealing with an anachronism, we would expect that the territory and character of the earlier Philistines would not have been changed. Yet these earlier Philistines lived in the area of Beersheba instead of along the Mediterranean coast; they were ruled by a king instead of five lords; and they were generally peaceful—not the principal enemy of Israel. It is better, therefore, to consider the patriarchal traditions about the Philistines as an accurate account of a historical situation. Admittedly, no specific extra-Biblical evidence can substantiate this conclusion yet. Early Aegean trade and migration to the E may have been responsible for bringing an Aegean colony to the area of Beersheba. The term “Philistine” may then have already been in use in the patriarchal period to describe this Aegean colony.
Ramses III of Egypt claims to have repulsed the Philistines and other Sea People in his eighth year (c. 1188 b.c.). Yet his victory must have been only a partial one, because in the 12th and 11th centuries b.c., Philistine colonies lived in the Nile Delta and in Egypt’s southern frontier in Nubia. Those Philistines who settled in Canaan must have had the approval of Egypt, who controlled Canaan at this time. In fact, they may have been the vassals of Ramses III or been hired by him as mercenaries and placed strategically where they would protect his interests. This would explain the situation at Beth-shan where the Philistines carefully preserved important objects installed by an Egyp. garrison in the temple.
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 Sem. language soon after arriving in Canaan, or they might have already known a Sem. language before they came. Their names are usually Sem. (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 Heb. words may be Philistine loan-words. The word for helmet, kôḇa’ or qôba’, is a foreign word often attributed to the Philistines. The term for lords, seranîm, (sing. seren) can be connected with tyrannos (Eng. “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 (Succot) also have been attributed to the Philistines. These signs resemble the Cypro-Mycenaean script. Both the seals and clay tablets are still imperfectly understood.
Archeological work in Philistia itself has been minimal, but the excavation of Ashdod in the past few years is correcting this. Most of our limited information comes from excavations in adjacent areas into which the Philistines expanded. This has revealed a distinctive type of “Philistine” pottery, the only ware in ancient Pal. that can definitely be ascribed to one people. Three main arguments support the connection of this pottery with the Philistines: its geographical distribution, its stratigraphical position, and a comparative study of its various components. It is a large and homogeneous group of locally made painted ware with the fusion of various ceramic styles. Four different influences can be distinguished: Mycenaean, Cypriote, Egyptian, and local Palestinian. By far the most influential, both in shape and decoration, has been the Mycenaean, esp. Mycenaean III c1b pottery, closely related to Rhodes and Cyprus. But Philistine pottery is not a product of people bringing a homogeneous tradition directly from their home country. Rather, it reflects various cultural influences picked up on the long journey from their Aegean homeland. The chief pottery types are the buff-colored beer jugs with spouted strainers (indicating that the Philistines were heavy drinkers), craters, cups, and stirrup jars with a white slip. Characteristic decorations, painted in red and black, are the geometrical designs (spirals and interlocking circles) and metopes enclosing stylized birds (similar to swans, often with the head turned back).
Since no cemeteries have yet been found at the five major Philistine cities, burial customs are still imperfectly understood. Rectangular chamber tombs from Tel Fara closely resemble Mycenaean tombs. Burials in anthropoid clay coffins are esp. distinctive. These coffins have a lid at the point where the head and shoulders of the body would come. On this lid, the head and hands of the deceased are found in high relief. Sometimes the arms are included, and in other cases a stylized headdress, similar to the “feather crown” of the Philistines shown in the scenes in the temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu near Thebes in Egypt. These reliefs from Medinet Habu depict the Philistines and their manner of waging war. They are clean shaven, wearing a helmet decorated with reeds or feathers similar to the plumed head from Crete. They wear short kilts similar to those from the Aegean. Although not equipped with a bow, they carry a spear, long rapier, and circular shield.
The description of Goliath’s armor indicates that the head of his spear was made of iron (
Today the term “Philistine” is used of an uncultured person. This negative reputation is due, in part, to the fact that the Bible always speaks of the Philistines in derisive terms as the principal enemy of Israel. However, such a reputation is unjustified. We already have seen that the high material culture of the Philistines was far superior to that of Israel. It was really the Philistines who were the main civilizing influence on Pal. Their superior culture and political organization seemed for a long time to assure their dominance over all of Pal. At great odds, Israel waged a long and difficult struggle with them for the Promised Land. During the struggle, however, Israel learned from them some of the lessons of culture which she needed. More important, the external opposition of the Philistines brought the bickering and rival tribes of Israel together and forged them into a nation as nothing else could have done. This was the historic function of the Philistines and though they no longer remain, the magnitude of their impact lives on in the name “Palestine” which they gave to the country in which they lived.
R. A. S. Macalister, The Philistines (1914). Outdated in some respects, but still the only comprehensive work in Eng. The Argonaut reprint of 1965 contains a brief introduction and valuable Bibliography by A. Silverstein; A. R. Burn, Minoans, Philistines, and Greeks (1930); W. A. Huertley, “The Relationship Between Philistine and Mycenaean Pottery,” QDAP 5 (1936), 90-110; A. Furumark, The Chronology of Mycenaean Pottery (1941); W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1949), 110-122; W. F. Albright, “Some Oriental Glosses on the Homeric Problem,” AJA 54 (1950), 162-176; J. B. Pritchard, ANET (2nd ed., 1955), 262, 263, 281-294, 307, 308; C. H. Gordon, “The Role of the Philistines,” Antiquity 30 (1956), 22-26; T. Dothan, “Archaeological Reflections on the Philistine Problem,” Antiquity and Survival 2 (1957), 151-164; G. E. Wright, “Philistine Coffins and Mercenaries,” BA 22 (1959), 54-66; G. A. Wainwright, “Some Early Philistine History,” VT 9 (1959), 73-84; E. C. B. MacLaurin, “Anak/̓Αναξ,” VT 15 (1965), 468-474; H. Kassis, “Gath and the Structure of the Philistine Society,” JBL 84 (1965), 259-271; G. E. Wright, “Fresh Evidence for the Philistine Story,” BA 29 (1966), 70-86; J. Waldbaum, “Philistine Tombs at Tell Fara and their Aegean Prototypes,” AJA 70 (1966), 331-340; H. Tadmor, “Philistia under Assyrian Rule,” BA 29 (1966), 86-102; T. Dothan, The Philistines and Their Material Culture (in Heb.) (1967); The Philistines and Other Sea Peoples, The Israel Museum Catalogue no. 68 (Winter, 1970), See esp. the Bibliography, pp. 18-20; CAH (3rd ed., 1970ff.). K. Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (1970), 221-239.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
fi-lis’-tinz, fil’-is-tinz, fil’-is-tinz (pelishtim; Phulistieim, allophuloi):
I. OLD TESTAMENT NOTICES
1. Race and Origin
3. Individual Philistines Mentioned
4. Title of Ruler and Circumcision
5. History in theto Death of Saul
6. History Continued to Time of Ahaz
7. Later Notices
II. MONUMENTAL NOTICES
1. Palestinian Excavations
2. Egyptian Monuments
3. Assyrian Texts
III. THE CRETAN THEORY
1. Cherethim and Kretes
2. Caphtor and Keft
IV. DAVID’s GUARDS
1. The "Cherethi" and the "Pelethi" Not Mercenaries
2. Meaning of These Terms
3. Native Hebrews
I. Old Testament Notices.
1. Race and Origin:
The Philistines were an uncircumcised people inhabiting the shore plain between Gezer and Gaza in Southwestern Palestine (see Philistia). The name Palestine itself (Hebrew pelesheth) refers to their country. The word means "migrants," and they came from another country. They are noticed 286 times in the Old Testament, and their country 8 times. The question of their race and origin is of great importance as affecting the genuine character and reliability of the Bible notices. In
According to the Old Testament and monuments alike, the Philistines were a Semitic people, and they worshipped two Babylonian gods, Dagon (
3. Individual Philistines Mentioned:
4. Title of Ruler and Circumcision:
Besides these personal names, and those of the cities of Philistia which are all Semitic, we have the title given to Philistine lords, ceren, which Septuagint renders "satrap" and "ruler," and which probably comes from a Semitic root meaning "to command." It constantly applies to the rulers of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron, the 5 chief cities of Philistia. The fact that the Philistines were uncircumcised does not prove that they were not a Semitic people. Herodotus (ii.104) says that the Phoenicians acknowledged that they took this custom from the Egyptians, and the Arabs according to this passage were still uncircumcised, nor is it known that this was a custom of the Babylonians and Assyrians. The Septuagint translators of the Pentateuch always render the name Phulistieim, and this also is found in 8 passages of Joshua and Judges, but in the later books the name is translated as meaning "strangers" throughout, because they were not the first inhabitants of Philistia.
5. History in the Old Testament until Death of Saul:
6. History Continued to Time of Ahaz:
7. Later Notices:
In this age the "lords" of the 5 cities of Philistia are called "kings," both in the Bible and on Assyrian monuments. Isaiah (2:6) speaks of Philistine superstitions, Ezekiel (25:15,16) connects them with the Cherethim on the seacoast. They still held Gath in the time of Amos (6:2), and Gaza, Ashdod and Ekron in that of Zephaniah (2:5), who again mentions the Cherethim with Philistines, as inhabitants of Canaan or the "lowlands." The last notice (
Their further history is embraced in that of the various cities to which reference can be made under the articles pertaining to them.
II. Monumental Notices.
1. Palestinian Excavations:
These are of great importance, because they confirm the Old Testament statements from a time at least as early as that of Moses, and down to 670 BC. Recent excavations at Gezer show the early presence of two races at this Philistine city, one being Semitic, the other probably Egyptian Scarabs as old as the XIIth Dynasty were found, and in the 15th century BC Gezer was held by Amenophis III. At Lachish also seals of this king and his queen have been found, with a cuneiform letter to Zimridi, who was ruler of the city under the same Pharaoh. At Gaza a temple was built by Amenophis II. The names of places in Philistia noticed yet earlier by Thothmes III are all Semitic, including Joppa, Saphir, Gerar, Gezer, etc. In the Tell el-Amarna Letters we have also (about 1480 BC) letters from chiefs subject to Amenophis III at Joppa, Ashkelon, Gezer, Lachish and Keilah which show us a Semitic population, not only by the language of these letters, but also by the names of the writers. In the case of Ashkelon especially the Semitic rulers are found to have worshipped Dagon; and, though the name "Philistine" does not occur, the race was clearly the same found by the Assyrians in 800 BC in the land of Palastan beside the Great Sea. These names include Yamir-Dagdn ("Dagon sees"), Dagantakala ("Dagon is a protection") and Yadaya (the "grateful") at Ashkelon; Bua ("asked for"), son of the woman Gulata, at Joppa; Yabnilu ("God made"), at Lachish, with Zimridi--a name found also in Sabean Arabic; while, at Gezer, Yapa’a represents the Biblical Japhia (
2. Egyptian Monuments:
When therefore scholars speak of the Philistines as being non-Semitic--and probably Aryan--invaders of the country, arriving about 1200 BC, they appear not only to contradict the Bible, but also to contradict the monumental evidence of the earlier existence of Semitic Dagon- worshippers at Ashkelon. In this later age Rameses III was attacked, in Egypt, by certain northern tribes who came by sea, and also by land, wasting first the country of the Hittites and Amorites. Among them were the Danau, who were probably Greek Danai. They were exterminated in the Delta, and in the subsequent advance of Rameses III to the Euphrates. On a colored picture they are represented as fair people; and two of the tribes were called Purstau and Takarri, whom Chabas supposed to be Pelasgi (since "l" and "r" are not distinguished in Egyptian) and Teucrians. These two tribes wear the same peculiar headdress. Brugsch supposed the former to be Philistines (Geog., I, 10), but afterward called them Purosata (Hist Egypt, II, 148). The inscriptions accompanying the picture on the temple walls say that they came from the north, and "their home was in the land of the Purstau, the Takarri," etc. There is thus no reason at all to suppose that they were Philistines, nor did they ever settle in Philistia.
3. Assyrian Texts:
The Assyrian texts agree with those already mentioned in making the inhabitants of Philistia Semitic. Rimmon-nirari, about 800 BC, was the first Assyrian conqueror in Palastau ("by the great sea"). In 734 and 727 BC, Tiglath-pileser attacked the Pilisti, and mentions a king of Ashkelon named Mitinti ("my gift"), and his son Rukufti whose name resembles that of the Kenite called Rechab in the Old Testament. The name of the king of Gaza was Chanun, or "merciful." In 711 BC Sargon took Ashdod, and speaks of its king Azuri, whose name recalls the Amorite Aziru, and of Achimiti ("a brother is sent"), and the usurper Yamanu ("stedfast"), who fled before him. Sennacherib, in 702 BC, gives the names of cities in Philistia (including Eltekeh and Beneberak near Joppa) which are Semitic. He notices Sidqa (Zadok) of Ashkelon, and also Sarludari ("the Lord be praised"), son of Rukubti in the same city, with Mitinti of Ashdod, and Padii ("redeeming") of Ekron, while Cil-b’el ("Baal is a protection") was king of Gaza. In 679 BC Esarhaddon speaks of Silli-b’el ("Baal is my protection") of Gaza, with Mitinti of Ashkelon, Ika-samsu ("the sun-god is manifest") of Ekron, and Abi-milki of Ashdod, who bore the ancient Philistine name Abimelech. In 670 BC, when Assur-bani-pal set up many tributary kings in Egypt, we find again the name Sarludari applied to a ruler of Pelusium, who may have been a Philistine. It is thus abundantly clear that the monumental notices all agree with the Old Testament as to the names and nationality of the Philistines, and as to their worship of Baal and Dagon; the conjecture that they were Aryan foreigners, arriving in 1200 BC, is not based on any statement of the monuments, but merely rests on a guess which Brugsch subsequently abandoned. It resembles many other supposed discrepancies between Biblical and contemporary records due to the mistakes of modern commentators.
III. The Cretan Theory.
1. Cherethim and Kretes:
This strange theory, which is apparently of Byzantine origin, would make the Philistines come from Crete. It still finds supporters, though it does not rest on any Biblical or monumental evidence. The Cherethim (
Yet, many theories are founded on this old idea about the Cherethites. Some suppose that Tacitus confused the Jews with the Philistines as having come from Crete; but what he actually says (History v.11) is that "the Jews ran away from Crete," and "the inhabitants are named Idaci (from Mount Ida), which, with a barbarous augment, becomes the name of the Judaei." This absurd derivation shows at least that Tacitus did not mean the Philistines. Stephen of Byzantium said that the god Marna at Gaza was like the Cretan Jove. Probably he had seen the huge statue of a seated Jove found near Gaza, and now at Constantinople, but this is late Greek work, and the name Marna ("our lord") is Semitic. Stephen also thought that Minois--the port of Gaza--was named from the Cretan Minos, but it is an Arabic word Mineh, for "harbor," still applying to the same place.
2. Caphtor and Keft:
No critical student is likely to prefer these later speculations to our present monumental information, even without reference to the contradiction of the Bible. Yet these blunders have given rise to the supposition that Caphtor is to be identified with a region known to the Egyptians as Keft, with inhabitants called Kefau. The latter are represented in a tomb of the XVIIIth Dynasty near Thebes. They are youths of brown color, with long black hair, and the same type is found in a Cypriote figure. They are connected with islanders of the "green sea," who may have lived in Arvad or in Cyprus; but there is no evidence in any written statement that they were Cretans, though a figure at Knossos in Crete somewhat resembles them. There are many indications that this figure--painted on the wall of the later palace--is not older than about 500 BC, and the Sidonians had colonies in Crete, where also pottery is found just like that marked by a Phoenician inscription in Cyprus. The Kefau youths bring vases as presents, and these--in all their details--are exactly the same as those represented in another picture of the time of Thothrues III, the bearers in this case being Harri from North Syria, represented with black beards and Semitic features. Moreover, on the bilingual inscription called the Decree of Canopus (238 BC), the Keft region is said to be "Phoenicia," and the Greek translator naturally knew what was meant by his Egyptian colleague. Keft in fact is a Semitic word for "palm," occurring in Hebrew (
IV. David’s Guards.
1. The "Cherethi" and the "Pelethi" Not Mercenaries:
2. Meaning of These Terms:
3. Native Hebrews:
These considerations seem to make it evident that David’s guards were native Hebrews, who had been with him as exiles and outlaws at Adullam and Gath, and that the Cherethi or "destroyer" only accidentally had a title like that of the Philistine tribe of "destroyers" or Cherethim, who were not Cretans, it would seem, any more than the "stabbers" were Carians.
The general result of our inquiry is, that all monumental notices of the Philistines agree with the Old Testament statements, which make them to be a Semitic people who had already migrated to Philistia by the time of Abraham, while the supposed discrepancies are caused by the mistakes made by a commentator of the 18th century, and by archaeologists of later times.
Paton, Early History of Syria and Palestine; Smith, HGHL; Budge, History of Egypt; Breasted, History of Egypt; Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies; Herodotus with most histories of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria for the period from the 13th century BC to the time of Alexander.