The Philistines, by R.A.S. Macalister, , at sacred-texts.com
The country of the Philistines is definitely limited, in Joshua xiii. 2, between the Shīḫōr or 'River of Egypt', the present Wady el-Arīsh, on the Egyptian frontier, which joins the sea at Rhinocolura—and 'the borders of Ekron northward, which is counted to the Canaanites'. Westward it was bounded by the Mediterranean Sea: eastward by the foothills of the Judean mountains. From Deuteronomy ii. 23 we learn that this territory had previously been in the possession of a tribe called ‘Avvim, of whom we know nothing but the name: from the passage in Joshua just quoted it would appear that a remnant of these aborigines still remained crowded down to the south. They may possibly have been of the same stock as the neolithic pre-Semitic people whose remains were found at Gezer. No doubt, as in the majority of cases of the kind, they survived as a substratum of the population in the rest of their ancient territory as well, engaged in the hard manual labour to which the wily Gibeonites were condemned.
We also learn from Joshua (xi. 21) that there was a Rephaite or 'Anakim' remnant left in some of the chief cities of the Philistine territory, which must have been of considerable importance, to judge from the stories of giant champions analysed on a previous page. How far the alliance of these formidable aborigines (which probably represent a pre-Canaanite immigration, later than the insignificant ‘Avvim) enabled the southern Philistines to hold their ground so much longer than the northern Zakkala is an interesting question the answer to which, however, could be nothing more than speculative.
Though no ancient authority definitely states it, there can hardly be any doubt that the repulse of the great attack on Egypt, in the days of Ramessu III, was the event which led to the permanent settlement of the Cretan tribes on the coastland. It is possible, indeed, that they already occupied the country as a military base for their operations against Egypt: the description, in the Medinet Habu temple, of the advance of the invaders through the lands of the
[paragraph continues] Hittites and North Syrians makes this at least not improbable. However the exact details of chronology work out, we cannot dissociate the invasion of Egypt from the contemporaneous settlement by foreigners on the sea-coast.
Israel was already, as we learn from the stela of Merneptah, established in the promised land; and the Hebrew tribes had already been reinforced by the contingent of Egyptian serfs (possibly the enslaved descendants of the Bedawin invaders known to history as the Hyksos) and Kenites, whose traditions became the received version of Hebrew origines. The tribe of Dan, situated on the seacoast, was driven inland, and forced to establish itself elsewhere: but as we have seen, the whole length of the shore was occupied by the intruders, even north of Joppa. Wen-Amon has chronicled for us the settlement of Zakkala at Dor: that Sisera belonged to this tribe is also highly probable: and the remarkable developments displayed by the Phoenicians which distinguished them from all other Semites—developments to be noted in the following chapter—make it no longer possible to doubt that a very large Philistine or Zakkala element entered into the composition of that people.
In the earlier part of the history, as we have already indicated, the empire of the Philistines was widely spread over the country. As is well known, the name Palestine is merely a corruption of Philistia; and when Zephaniah or one of his editors calls Canaan 'the land of the Philistines' (ii. 4) he is expressing little more than what was at one time a fact. Their domination over the Hebrews is insisted on in both Judges and Samuel: the early kings of the Hebrews are elected with the specific purpose of freeing the people frown the foreign yoke: a governor is established in a town close to Jerusalem: even at Beth-Shan, at the inner end of the plain Esdraelon, which once swarmed with the chariots of Sisera, the Philistines were able to fix Saul's body as a trophy: and the course of the history shows that they were there established in sufficient strength and with sufficient permanence to make the recovery of the trophy difficult.
The name of Beth-Dagon, the house of their chief god, is found among the towns enumerated to the northern coast-dwellers of the tribe of Asher (Joshua xix. 27); and there was a similarly named and better known town in the land of the southern Philistines; but these names, as we shall see in the following chapter, are older than the Philistine settlement. 'The stronghold above Jericho called Dagon
(mentioned in Josephus, Ant. xiii. 8. 1, Wars, i. 2. 3) is no doubt the same as Dok (now ‘Ain ed-Dūk) where Simon was murdered (1 Macc. xvi. 15): probably the form of the name in Josephus is
an error. There is a modern Beit Dejan near Nablus, which marks a third place of the same name, not recorded in history.
The Northern tribe of the foreigners must have become early absorbed by their Semitic neighbours. The Southern people, however, seated on their rich coast-plain and established in their powerful metropolitan cities, were longer able to maintain their ethnic independence. The wars of David drove them back on the coast, and reduced them to a subordinate position; and, as the names of the kings recorded in the Assyrian records show, they rapidly became semitized as time went on. As we have seen in the last chapter, however, their national traditions fought a long fight against absorption and oblivion. The pride of the Philistines—their persistent refusal to submit to Hebrew prejudices, such as the tabu against eating flesh with the blood and forbidden meats—was as offensive to Deutero-Zechariah (ix. 7) as is the pride of the Irish or Welsh nationalist to the average Englishman. Though in the later history we hear so little about them, they must still have been troublesome neighbours; otherwise there would not be such a constant chain of prophetic denunciations. Amos first, then Isaiah, Zephaniah, Joel, and the later prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah all pronounce woes upon them. One of Ezekiel's strongest denunciations of the corruptions of his own people well expresses the national hatred—even the daughters of the Philistines are ashamed at contemplating them (Ezek. xvi. 27). The son of Sirach says that 'his heart abhorreth them that sit upon the mountains of Samaria, and them that dwelt among the Philistines' (Ecclus. l. 26). Except for the naturalized Philistines in David's entourage, there is but one lull in the storm of war between the two nations throughout the Old Testament. This is in the charming poem, Psalm lxxxvii, written apparently under some one of the later kings. The psalmist pictures Yahweh enthroned upon His best-loved seat, the holy mountains of Zion, and reading, as it were, a census-roll of His people. This one was born in Egypt or Babylon—that one in Philistia or Tyre—yet all own Zion as their common Mother. The psalm is a miniature edition of the Book of Jonah: the poet's large-hearted universalism looks forward to an abolition of national jealousies.
Their cities all existed from pre-Philistine days. They are all, except the Beth-Dagons, mentioned in the Tell el-Amarna correspondence, and were then already communities of importance: how much farther back their history may go it is impossible to tell. Like the Hebrews, who appear to have added only one city—Samaria—to those which they inherited in the Promised Land, the Philistines
were not city builders. Indeed we hardly would expect this of the 'Peoples of the Sea'. Ziklag, somewhere in the south of the Philistine territory, but not yet identified satisfactorily, may have been a new foundation: this, however, rests merely upon the vague circumstance that it has been impossible to find a satisfactory Semitic etymology for the name, which conceivably echoes the name of the Zakkala. If so, we understand better how the southern sept of the Philistines comes to be specifically called 'Cherethites'. or 'Cretans'. On the other hand, we elsewhere find the Zakkala in the north.
The five metropolitan cities of the Philistines were Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath, Ashdod, and Ekron. The first-mentioned is the only one of the five that still retains anything of its former importance. It is a modern, well-watered, and populous town, standing on the ancient site, and in the form Ghuzzeh retaining the ancient name. It is prominent in the Samson epic. We have already noticed the revolt of its leader, Hanunu, against the king of Assyria—a revolt that led to the battle of Raphia (710 B.C.), the first struggle between Egypt and Assyria. From Amos i. 6 we learn that Gaza was the centre of a slave-trade, which added bitterness to the relations between the Philistines and their Israelite neighbours. In 332 B.C. the city was besieged for two months by Alexander the Great. Its later history but slightly concerns us, though we may mention its total destruction by Alexander Jannaeus. It recovered even from this catastrophe, and we find it in the second and third centuries A. D. as the centre of worship of a deity peculiar to itself, called Marna, the ritual of whose service recalls in some respects that of the rites of Dagon. This cult, indeed, was probably the last relic of the Philistines, apart from the vague modern traditions to which we have already referred.
The city was surrounded by a wall, and watch-towers were erected at a distance from it, to give warning as early as possible of the approach of an enemy (2 Kings xviii. 8). 1 A neighbouring harbour town, called Μαιουμᾶ Γάζης, was of considerable importance and for a time was the site of a bishopric.
Ashkelon was the only city of the five that stood on the seacoast, though other maritime cities, such as Joppa, were (at least from time to time) also in Philistine hands. Its harbour, though inadequate for modern use, was sufficient for the small ships of antiquity. Samson visited Ashkelon to seize the wager he was obliged to pay after his riddle had been solved. 2 It is, however, from
much later times—Maccabean, early Arab, and Crusader—that the chief historical importance of the city dates. These lie outside our present scope. We need not do more than mention the etymological speculations of Stephanus of Byzantium, who tells us that this city was founded by Askalos, brother of Tantalos and son of Hymenaios; and the statement of Benjamin of Tudela that Ezra re-founded Ashkelon under the name Benebrah. 1
Gath, reasonably identified with the enormous mound known as Tell eṣ-Ṣāfi at the embouchure of the Valley of Elah, had a different history from the rest. It seems in the time of the greatest extension of the Philistine power to have been the principal city of the five: at least the application to its ruler Achish of the title melek, 'king' (rather than the technical term ṣeren, applied normally to the 'lords' of the Philistines), if not a mere inadvertence, suggests that at least he was primus inter pares. He has, however, to bow to the wishes of his colleagues in the matter of David's alliance with him. In David's lament over Saul and Jonathan, Gath and Ashkelon are the two prominent cities specially mentioned; and (probably through the influence of that popular lay) 'tell it not in Gath' became a current catchword, which we meet once again in Micah i. 10. It is not infrequently used as such among ourselves; but in Hebrew it has a further aid to popularity in an alliteration, as though one should say 'gad not in Gath'.
But as we have already noticed, the name drops out from all references to the Philistines in the later literature: the Pentapolis becomes a Tetrapolis, and the hegemony passes over to Ashdod, which in time becomes the last typical Philistine city. This cannot be explained, however, by a total destruction of the city of Gath. For the excavations carried on by the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1900 at Tell eṣ-Ṣāfi showed that the site had been continuously occupied from very early times to the days of a modern village, whose houses and extensive graveyards seal up the secrets of the greater part of this important mound from the curiosity of the explorer. The true explanation is, that from the time of its conquest by Uzziah, Gath was reckoned a city of Judah by the Hebrew prophets. In the gradual shrinking of the Philistine border it would be one of the first to fall into Hebrew hands.
A destruction of Gath—probably the sacking by Uzziah—was still
fresh in memory when Amos prophesied, and was used by hint as an illustration to enforce his denunciation of Samaria (vi. 2); in his first chapter we already find Gath omitted from the list of Philistine cities; and the reference immediately afterwards to 'the remnant of the Philistines' (i. 8) suggests that that people had shortly before suffered loss. In iii. 9 the words 'publish in the palaces at Ashdod' may possibly be an adaptation of the proverbial catchword already mentioned, modified to suit the altered circumstances. It likewise is assonantal in Hebrew.
Sargon, it is true, shortly after Uzziah's time, calls the city 'Gath of the Ashdodites' (if this be the correct translation of the phrase); but no doubt it was a matter of indifference in the eyes of the great king which of two trumpery communities claimed the possession of a town, so long as he himself had a satisfying share of the plunder.
It is unfortunate that the city had such a commonplace name. Its meaning, 'winepress,' was applicable to many sites, and it was evidently used for snore places than one. This makes the reconstruction of the history of Gath rather difficult. Thus, the Gath fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chron. xi. 8) can hardly be the Philistine city of that name; and certain other places such as Gath-hepher, Gath-rimmon, and Moresheth-gath, must be carefully distinguished therefrom. The same word appears in the Gethsemane of the New Testament.
Ashdod, the city to which the ark was first taken, is now represented by an insignificant village, whose only object of interest is the ruin of a large Saracenic khan: but ruins of more important buildings seem to have been seen here by seventeenth-century travellers. 1 Yet it must have been a city of special importance in the Pentapolis. Like Gaza, it had its 'palaces' (Amos iii. 9). As we have seen, Ashdod longest preserved the Philistine national tradition. 'The speech of Ashdod' lasted down to the time of Nehemiah. The temple of Dagon stood there till destroyed by the Maccabees (1 Macc. x. 83, 84). But the 'altars and gods' of the city, destroyed by Judas a few years before (1 Macc. v. 68), were perhaps objects rather of Hellenic cult, which at this date was well established in Western Palestine.
The great siege of Ashdod by Psammeticus, already referred to, is unknown to us except from Herodotus. It seems almost incredibly protracted, and probably there is something wrong with Herodotus’ figures. Jeremiah's references to the remnant of Ashdod (xxv. 20) and Zephaniah's emphasis on a siege which shall drive out Ashdod at
the noonday (ii. 4)—i.e. which shall last half a day only—are plausibly supposed to imply allusion to this event. A small inlet in the neighbouring coastline served Ashdod for a harbour: it is now called Mīnet el-Ḳal‘ah, 'the harbour of the fortress': a tradition of some fortification of the harbour is thus preserved, as well as the Greek name λίμνη which has been transformed into the Arabic El-Mīneh; the initial λ having been mistaken for the Arabic article.
Ekron, since the time of Robinson, has always been equated to the village of ‘Akir, now the site of a flourishing Jewish colony, whose red roofs are conspicuous on the seaward side of the Jerusalem railway soon after leaving Ramleh. But there are no remains of any ancient occupation here commensurate with the importance of the place. 'There are a few local traditions in ‘Akir, but they are quite vague. Bauer (Mittheilungen d. deutsch. Pal. Vereins, 1899, p. 43) describes a visit he paid to the old mosque, the one stone building in the fellah village, erected on its highest point. There is a forecourt and portico with two rows of pillars. The thresholds are of marble. An old sheikh told him that the mosque was as old as the time of Abraham; but many such tales are told in Palestine of comparatively modern buildings. Ekron, if the place of the ancient oracle of Baal-zebub were really at ‘Akir, has vanished utterly, leaving scarcely a potsherd behind. This is not what usually happens to ancient Palestine cities. With some hesitation I venture on the following suggestions.
To me there seems to be a confusion between two places of the same name. In Joshua xiii. 1–3, where the land not possessed by Joshua is detailed, we find mention made of the region of the Philistines and of the little southern tribe of the Geshurites, to 'the border of Ekron-Ṣaphōnah, which is counted to the Canaanites', and also the five lords of the Philistines, among which by contrast are enumerated the Ekronites. This expression 'Ekron-Ṣaphōnah' is correctly translated 'Ekron northward' in the English Bible; but it can also mean 'Northern Ekron', which to me seems here to give a more intelligible sense.
Again, in Joshua xv. 11 we find the border of the territory of Judah as running 'unto the side of Ekron-Ṣaphōnah'; an expression which I take to mean that this city, though adjoining the territory of Judah, was actually beyond its border. If so, it would be in the tribe of Dan; and in Joshua xix. 43 we actually find an Ekron enumerated among the Danite towns. Here, as there is no ambiguity, the qualifying adjective 'Northern' is omitted. The Southern Ekron
would then belong to the tribe of Judah, in the theoretical scheme elaborated in the book of Joshua; and we find it duly mentioned, between Mareshah and Ashdod.
Again, the story of the rout after the battle of Ephes-Daminim (1 Sam. xvii. 52–54) is suggestive. The pursuit went 'by the way to the two gates, to Gath and to Ekron'. ‘Akir, the usual site given for Ekron, cannot be spoken of a gate, in the sense that Gath, commanding as it does the mouth of the valley of Elah, can be so termed; and a chase of the Philistines prolonged through Philistine territory for such a long distance as from Gath to ‘Akir is not very probable. We seem to find the other gate at a subsidiary outlet of the Valley of Elah, to the south of Gath, where stands a village called Dhikerīn. And Dhikerīn lies exactly in a straight line between Beit Jibrīn and ‘Esdūd, the modern representatives of Mareshah and Ashdod.
Written in English letters, 'Dhikerīn' is not unlike 'Ekron' in general appearance. But philologically there can be no direct connexion between them, and my arguments in favour of the identification here suggested rest on grounds different from the superficial similarity of name. The single letter k in English represents two entirely different sounds in Hebrew and Arabic; one of these (כ) appears in 'Dhikerin', the other (ק) in Ekron, as in ‘Akir. These letters can be treated as interchangeable in one case only. As in English, so in Greek, one sound and one character represent these two letters: and if for a while a district had become thoroughly Hellenized, the Greek κ might have been (so to speak) as a 'bridge' for the passing of one sound into the other. When the Semitic speech reasserted itself, it might have taken up the name with the wrong k. There is thus a possibility that a different word has become substituted for a half-forgotten and wholly misunderstood Hebrew name. But no stress can be laid upon this possible accident.
Dhikerin presents obvious signs of antiquity. Great artificial caves and huge cisterns are cut in the rock, testifying to its former importance, and it has never been finally identified with any other ancient site, though some of the earlier explorers have thought to find here no less a place than Gath itself. The Talmuds have nothing to say about it save that the name is derived from דכרא 'male', because the women there all bear male children. 1 Clermont-Ganneau (Recueil d’arch. orient. iv. 254) suggests a connexion between this place-name and that of the Zakkala.
Let us now look back for a moment to the story of the wanderings of the Ark. Suppose that the Gittites, when the plague broke out
among them, sent the Ark, not to ‘Akin, but to Dhikerin—which way much nearer and more convenient—we have then an immediate answer to an obvious difficulty. Why did the Philistines expect the ark to go anywhere near Beth-Shemesh at all? We must remember that they were not merely trying to get rid of the ark: they were on the look-out for a sign that the pestilence was a manifestation of the wrath of the God of the Hebrews. They must therefore have expected the Ark to return whence it had come, to the sanctuary at Shiloh, of whose existence and importance they could not have been ignorant. This was the natural goal of the sacred symbol, north of the great Canaanite wedge that centred in Jerusalem and separated the northern Israelites from their brethren in the south. From Shiloh the Ark had been taken: Shiloh was the chief centre of Hebrew religious life at the time: and to Shiloh the Ark should be expected to find its way back. 1 Therefore, if it was at the time in ‘Akir, it ought to have gone by the northern valley route, into the Valley of Aijalon, so striking into the road for Shiloh some ten miles north of Jerusalem. If from ‘Akir it went southward it would be shunted off south of the Canaanites into the southern territory, where no specially important shrine of the period is recorded. From ‘Akir, therefore, it should not go within miles of Beth-Shemesh. But from Dhikerin, the only way toward Shiloh, avoiding Jerusalem, is by a valley route that leads straight to Beth-Shemesh and perforce passes that town.
Further evidence is given us by the story of the march of Sennacherib. That monarch was engaged in reducing places easily identified as the modern Jaffa, Yazur, Ibn Berak, and Beit Dejan, when the Ekrouites leagued themselves with the North Arabians and the Egyptians. Sennacherib met the allies at El-Tekeh, a place unfortunately not identified: it presumably was near the Northern Ekron, as the two places are mentioned together as border towns in Dan, Joshua xix. 40. This Northern Ekron, we may agree, might well be represented by ‘Akir, whose poverty in antiquities accords with the apparent insignificance of the Danite town. Close to ‘Akir is a village in the plain, called Zernukah, a name which may possibly echo the name of El-Tekeh. In any case Sennacherib was victorious and then went straight to Timnath, which he reduced, after which he proceeded to attack Ekron. This order of proceedings is inconsistent
with ‘Akir as the site of Ekron. Sennacherib's successful progress against the south we should expect to proceed steadily southward, involving an attack on ‘Akir before the reduction of Timnath. Ekron must therefore have been south from Tibneh, which fits the conditions of the site now suggested.
Click to enlarge
Fig 3. Sketch-map of Philistia.
The denunciations of Ekron in the prophetic books help us very little in the solution of the problem. But there is a suggestive hint in the opening verses of 2 Kings. Ahaziah having met with an accident sent to inquire of Baal-zebub 'lord of flies', the god of Ekron, as to his prospects of recovery. When we find that less than a couple of miles from Dhikerin there is a village bearing the name of Deir edh-Dhubhān, 'the convent of the flies', we feel some
justification in asking, can it be that Baal-zebub still rules his ancient lordship?
The land of the Philistines, dominated by these five cities, has been so often described that it is needless to waste space in an account of it. Briefly, we may say that whoever held that part of the country was at an enormous advantage. With the possible exception of the plain of Esdraelon, it is the most fertile land in Western Palestine. Though there are few perennial streams, water can be found wherever one chooses to dig for it. Through it runs the great trade-route from Egypt by Damascus to Babylon. The mart of Gaza is the natural rendezvous of all who have commerce with Arabia. The seaports of Southern Palestine are all commanded, as are the valleys which are the doorways to the Hinterland: so that the coast dwellers can engage in commerce on their own account, while at the same time they can control the progress and civilization among the aliens in the interior. When we stand on some eminence that commands this rich strip of territory we find it easy to understand the bitterness with which through the centuries the Hebrews regarded the Philistines.
71:1 So a sentry-station was established on a hill some way S. of Gezer: see my Excavation of Gezer, vol. ii, p. 365.
71:2 It has been suggested that this took place not at Ashkelon, but at a small site p. 72 in the valley of Elah called Khurbet (= ruin) ‘Asḳalân. This is certainly nearer to Timnath, but there are here no traceable remains older than the Roman period.
72:1 A description of the remains at Ashkelon, with a plan, will be found in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund for January 1913.
73:1 See Sepp, Jerusalem and das heilige Land, vol. ii, p. 598.
75:1 Neubauer, Geog. d. Talm. p. 71.
76:1 Meyer, Gesch. d. Alterthums, i, p. 358, suggests from Jer. vii. 14, that Shiloh was destroyed. But the space of time between Samuel and Jeremiah is so long, that many unrecorded events might have taken place in the meanwhile: and, indeed, Shiloh is still an important sanctuary in 1 Sam. xiv. 3.