The Philistines, by R.A.S. Macalister, , at sacred-texts.com
From the time when the Philistines first appear in their Palestinian territory they are governed by Lords, ṣerānīm, each of whom has domination in one of the five chief cities, but who act in council together for the common good of the nation. They seem, indeed, to engage personally in duties which an Oriental monarch would certainly delegate to a messenger. They negotiate with Delilah. They convene the great triumph-feast to which Samson put so disastrous an
end. There is a democratic instinct manifested by the men of Ashdod and Ekron, who peremptorily 'summoned' the council of lords to advise them what to do on the outbreak of plague: just as the merchants of the Zakkala obliged even a forceful ruler like Zakar-Baal to make an unsatisfactory compromise in the matter of Wen-Amon, and in much later times the people of Ekron deposed and imprisoned a ruler who persisted in the unpopular course of submission to Assyria. Achish makes arrangements with David, which his colleagues overrule. Of the methods of election of these officers we know absolutely nothing. From the Assyrian documents we hear of a series of rulers over Ashdod, father and son, but this does not necessarily prove that the hereditary principle was recognized. Such a political organization was quite unlike that of the nations round about: but the government of the Etruscans, who, as we have seen, were probably a related race, presents some analogy. There is a considerable similarity between the lucumones of Etruria and the Philistine ṣeranīm.
Nowhere do we read of a king of the Philistines. 1 To infer, as has actually been done, from 1 Kings iv. 21 ('Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River unto the land of the Philistines') that their territory was organized as a kingdom, displays a sad lack of a sense of humour. When Hebrew writers speak of 'a king of Gath' (1 Sam. xxvii. 2), 'him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon' (Amos i. 8), 'all the kings of the land of the Philistines' (Jer. xxv. 20), 'the king [perishing] from Gaza' (Zech. ix. 5), they obviously are merely offering a Hebrew word or periphrasis as a translation of the native Philistine title. The same is true of the analogous expressions in the Assyrian tablets. The case of the Etruscan 'kings' seems exactly similar, though there appears to have been an Achish-like king in Clusium.
In Gibeah, and probably in other towns as well, a resident officer, like a Turkish mudir, was maintained at the time of their greatest power.
It is possible that, if we had before us all the documents relating to the history of the Philistines, we might be able to divide them into clans, corresponding perhaps in some degree to the threefold division of the Egyptian monuments—Zakkala, Washasha, and Pulasati, i.e. as we have tried to show already, Cretans, Rhodians, and Carians. The continually recurring phrase 'Cherethites and Pelethites' suggests some twofold division. Ezekiel xxv. 16 ('Behold, I will stretch out my hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites') may
or may not imply a similar division. The report of the young Egyptian (1 Sam. xxx. 14) implies that the name 'Cherethites', if it had a specific meaning apart from 'Philistines', denoted the dwellers in the extreme south of Philistine territory: and we have already made passing note of the occurrence of the name Ziklag, a possible echo of the Zakkala, in that part of the country. The almost accidental allusion to Carians in the history of the kings must not be overlooked. But our data are so slender that very little can be built upon them. All we can say is that the origin of the Philistines makes it improbable that they were a single undivided tribe, and that the scanty hints which the history affords render it still more unlikely.
Nor can we necessarily infer that the peculiar government by a council of the lords of five cities implies that they were divided into five tribes. For though there seems to have been an actual division of the territory into districts, each of them under the hegemony of one of these cities, the limits are rather indefinite; and to judge from the scanty materials at our disposal, seem to have varied from time to time. The recurrence of the phrase '[such a city] and the border thereof' 1 seems to indicate a definite division of the country into provinces governed each by one of the cities; and this is confirmed by David's speech to Achish, 2 'Give me a place in one of the cities in the country (באחת ערי השדה), for why should thy servant dwell in the royal city (בעיר הממלכה) with thee?' A similar polity is traceable in Etruria.
Of the division of the minor cities of the Philistine territory among the Pentapolis—perhaps Pentarchy would be a more correct term to use—we know very little. In the time of David's exile Ziklag was under the control of the king of Gath. Sargon, according to one interpretation of his inscription, supposes Gath itself to belong to Ashdod. We may compare 'Gazara that bordereth on Azotus' (1 Macc. xiv. 34), though they are about sixteen miles apart, and each only just visible on the other's horizon. Rather curiously, Joppa and the neighbouring villages depended, according to Sennacherib, on Ashkelon.
Besides these towns we hear of certain unwalled villages (1 Sam. vi. 18) which are not specified by name.
Certain functionaries called sārīm meet us from time to time in the history (1 Sam. xviii. 30, xxix. 3, 9). It is the sārīm whose protest
prevents David from joining in the battle of Gilboa. The word is, of course, a commonplace Semitic term, and is applied in Deborah's Song to the princes of Issachar, and by Zephaniah to those of Jerusalem. Among the Philistines the officials denoted by this word were no doubt military captains.
It is obvious throughout the whole history, from the days of the Medinet Habu sculptures onwards, that the military forces of the Philistines were well organized. In 1 Samuel xiii. 5 we read of 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, which, even if the numbers are not to be taken literally, indicates a considerable wealth in war equipment. Elsewhere (ib. xxix. 2) we hear of 'hundreds and thousands', which may indicate a system of division into centuries and regiments. Of their methods of fighting we have no certain information: Judges i. 19 emphasizes their corps of war-chariots: in the account of the battle of Gilboa the archers are specially alluded to. The Medinet Habu sculptures and the description of the equipment of the champions are analysed in the following section.
On the subject of family life among the Philistines nothing is known. The high-minded sense of propriety attributed to Abimelech in the patriarchal narratives has already been touched upon. Samson's relations with his Timnathite wife can hardly be made to bear undue stress: a Semitic marriage of the ṣadīḳa type is pictured by the storyteller. The wife remains in her father's house and is visited by her husband from time to time. Men and women apparently mingle freely in the temple of Dagon at Gaza. No further information is vouchsafed us.
88:1 1 Except Abimelech, Gen. xxvi. 1. Exceptio probat regulam.
89:1 See Judg. i. 18, 1 Sam. v. 6, 2 Kings xviii. 8.
89:2 1 Sam. xxvii. 5.