PHILISTINES (Heb. פְּלִשְׁתִּים), a people of Aegean origin occupying the south coast of Palestine, called Philistia (פְּלֶשֶׁת, peleshet) in the Bible, and often at war with the Israelites. The name Philistine is first found in the Egyptian form prst as one of the "Sea Peoples" who invaded Egypt in the eighth year of Ramses iii (c. 1190 b.c.e.). In Assyrian sources the name occurs as both Pilišti and Palaštu/Palastu (also Palaštaya). The Septuagint, when not translating it as "strangers" (allopsyloi), usually renders it as phylistiim (i.e., in Genesis–Joshua).
In biblical tradition, the Philistines came originally from *Caphtor (Crete: Jer. 47:4; Amos 9:7; cf. Deut. 2:23). This tradition is buttressed by the fact that part of the Philistine coast was called הַנֶּגֶב הַכְּרֵתִי, "the Negeb of the Cherethites" (i Sam. 30:14), and by the occurrence of Cretans in parallelism with Philistines (Ezek. 25:16; Zeph. 2:5), but there is no direct archaeological proof for it. The Philistines participated in the second wave of the "Sea Peoples" who, according to Egyptian reports, ravaged the Hittite lands, Arzawa, the Syrian coast, Carchemish, and Cyprus, and threatened Egypt during the reigns of Merneptah and Ramses iii. The excavations at Hattusas (Boghazköy) and Ugarit have shown that these cities were destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1200) and tablets discovered at Ugarit and archaeological finds on Cyprus give evidence of this troubled period. Of the "Sea Peoples" only the Philistines, who settled along the Palestinian coast, and the Tjeker, who occupied Dor according to the Wen-Amon story (c. 1050), can be positively identified. The others – Shekelesh, Denyen, Sherden, and Weshesh – have only been conjecturally identified. These peoples, displaced from their original homelands, assimilated the Minoan–Mycenean culture patterns of the Aegean world.
"Philistia" or the "Land of the Philistines" is that part of the coastal plain of Palestine which lies between Tel Qasīle and the Wadi Ghazza, about 6 mi. (c. 10 km.) south of Gaza. (See Map: Philistine Pentapolis). The Philistine pentapolis consisted of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath (Tell al–Ṣāfī = Tel Şafit; Rainey, Schniedewind, Dothan), and Ekron (Khirbat al-Muqannaʾ/Tel Miqne). The references to Philistia and the Philistines in Genesis 21:32, 34 and Exodus 13:17; 15:14;
23:31 are anachronistic. The Greeks, familiar at first with the coastal area, gradually applied the name Palestine to the whole of the country. The Philistines depicted on the walls of the temple of Ramses iii at Medinat Habu in Egypt are dressed in a kind of Aegean kilt and wear a plumed headdress with chinstraps. Similar depictions from Late Bronze Age Cyprus have been found. The Philistine ship is unusual while the wagon and chariot fit well–known forms. The clearest sign of Philistine presence is "Philistine pottery," whose chief types are buff–colored craters, beer jugs with spouted strainers, cups, and stirrup vases with a white wash or slip on which are painted reddish–purple or black geometrical designs, or metope–like panels with stylized swans preening themselves. These are found from the beginning of the 12th century to the late 11th century b.c.e. in Philistia itself, in adjacent sites of the Negev (e.g., Tell el-Fāriʿa) and the Shephelah (ʿAyn Shams), and in cities occupied by them (e.g., *Gezer, Tell Belt Mirsim, Meggido, Afulah, and Tell al-Naṣba). Similar pottery was also found at Tell Deir ʿAllā in the Jordan valley. Analysis has shown that from the beginning Philistine pottery was a local product using local techniques with strong points of contact with the Mycenean iiic1 wares discovered at Enkomi and Sinda on Cyprus and the other sub-Mycenean wares of Cyprus and Rhodes. Anthropoid clay coffins also signal Philistine presence (e.g., Tell al-Fāriʿa and Beth-Shean). According to the Bible, the Philistines had a monopoly on metal working (i Sam. 13:19–21) in the days of Saul, and smelting furnaces have been found at Ashdod, Tell Qasīle, Tel Ḥamma, and Tell Mor. Archaeologically, however, it appears that during Iron Age i, iron was a precious metal that did not come into mass production until the tenth century, with bronze surviving as the main utilitarian metal (Rainey, 130).
The excavations at Ashdod have uncovered as yet undeciphered seals in the Cypro-Minoan script from the 12th–11th centuries. Tablets in a related script were also found at Deir ʿAllā. From the ninth century on, a variant of the Phoenician-Hebrew script was used in Philistia. A seventh-century temple inscription of Achish (Ikayaus; Gitin, Dothan, and Naveh; Rainey, 255) the ruler of Ekron (šr ʿqrn) is written in a Canaanite dialect, and dedicated to a goddess Potgaya (Demsky reads Potnia, "Mistress" in Greek). A few words that may be native Philistine have been identified. These are seranim, used of the five princes of the Philistine confederacy which has been equated with the Greek turannos, of pre-Hellenic or Asiatic origin; kobaʿ / qobaʿ, "helmet," connected with Hittite kupakhi; and ʾargaz, "chest," "ark." Two Philistine names in biblical accounts set in the period of the early monarchy have possible Asiatic connections – *Goliath with Alyattas and *Achish, king of Gath, a contemporary of David, with either the Homeric proper name Anchises (Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal refer to Ikaus[u] of Ekron), or with the sense "Achaean," i.e., "Greek." The spelling of "Achish" in the Ekron inscription is identical to the biblical spelling. The other names, from the later period, are usually Canaanite (e.g., Ahimilki, Sidqa (צדקא on a seal), Mitinti (מתת on a seal), and Hanun). Soon after coming to Palestine, the Philistines adopted a Canaanite dialect, and this in turn gave way to Aramaic. Ashdodite (Neh. 13:24) refers to such a local (Canaanite?) dialect and an ostracon from the late fifth century reading krm zbdyh was found at Ashdod. The recurrence of the non-Semitic name Ikayaus in the Assyrian sources and in the Ekron inscription may point to a cultural revival perhaps inspired by the presence of Greeks in Canaan, by nostalgia (cf. Hezekiah and Josiah's reforms), or both.
The Philistines were uncircumcised and were, therefore, despised by the Israelites (Judg. 14:3; 15:18; i Sam. 17:26; 18:25). Among other recognizable cultural traits are certain peculiar burial practices, with Mycenean connections; the replacement of goat meat and mutton in their diets by pork and beef; the division of their cities into zones; and the development of a central city plan (Ashdod had a drainage system and a municipal garbage dump outside the city walls).
Various ritual objects found at Ashdod and Gezer are closely related to similar objects from the Aegean, but all the Philistines' gods known from the Bible have Semitic names. According to the Bible the Philistines had temples to Dagon in Gaza and Ashdod (Judg. 16:23; i Sam. 5:1–7), to Astarte (Ashtoreth) in Ashkelon (Herodotus 1:105), and to Baal-Zebub in Ekron (ii Kings 1:1–16). A Philistine temple discovered at Tell Qasile built about 1150 and rebuilt several times shows Aegean as well as Canaanite influence. Excavations at Ashdod revealed a stylized image of a female deity with small breasts, merged into a high-backed chair. Though the deity's name is unknown she is now commonly referred to as "Ashdoda." An elegant and monumental temple with a large hearth, reflective of Aegean practice, was found at Ekron. Literary sources refer to Philistine temples as late as the Hellenistic period (i Macc. 10:83; Diodorus Siculus 2:4).
The Philistines also achieved a reputation as soothsayers (Isa. 2:6). The Philistine pentapolis, until its defeat by David, was ruled by seranim, "leaders," who acted in council and were able to overrule the decision of any individual seren (i Sam. 29:1–7). The Philistines were able to muster large, well-armed troops of foot soldiers, archers, and charioteers (i Sam. 13:5; 29:2; 31:3) and also elements of the autochthonous population and mercenaries (David – i Sam. 27–29; the Rephaim – ii Sam. 21:18–22). Individual combat (Goliath – i Sam. 17:4–10) and shock troops were used by the Philistines (i Sam. 13:17–18; 14:15). In the later period they were ruled by "kings" (Jer. 25:20; Zech. 9:5).
After being repulsed by Ramses ii, the Philistines first settled the coast of Palestine. Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Gaza, known from older sources, were captured by the Philistines from their Canaanite inhabitants, perhaps with the tacit permission of the Egyptians. They may also have served as part of the Egyptian garrison at Beth-Shean. The tradition concerning *Shamgar son of Anath's killing 600 Philistines may stem from this time (Judg. 3:31). Ekron may have been a newly founded Philistine city, and the excavations at the Philistine-founded Tell Qasīle and at Ashdod attest their building activity during this period. There are no reports of any opposition to the Philistines on the part of the inhabitants of the coastal cities. The Philistine expansion into adjacent areas in the Shefelah and the Negev from about 1150 on is demonstrated by the abundance of their pottery found there. The ensuing pressure upon the Danites and Judahites is reflected in the *Samson saga (Judg. 13–16), and toward the middle of the 11th century, they were able to encroach upon the hill country, destroy Shiloh, and capture the ark. They devastated part of western Palestine, and occupied Gibeath-Benjamin, Megiddo, and Beth-Shean. Under Samuel (i Sam. 7:7–14) and Saul, at the beginning of the latter's reign (c. 1020), some respite from the Philistines was obtained. The Philistine return to power is highlighted by the Goliath pericope (i Sam. 17), but the freedom of David and his band as auxiliaries of Achish of Gath points up Philistine weakness (i Sam. 27). After the defeat of Saul at Gilboa, the Philistines were able to reestablish control over part of the land as far north as Beth-Shean, but David, after being anointed as king over all Israel, was able to use his knowledge of Philistine strategy to defeat them and to drive them back to Gezer (ii Sam. 5:17–25). David subdued the city of Gath (i Chron. 18:1) and imposed vassalage upon it; Gath supplied him with faithful warriors like *Ittai the Gittite (ii Sam. 15:18–22; 18:2). Mercenary troops from the other independent Philistine cities, such as the Cherethites and Pelethites (see below) under the command of Benaiah son of Jehoiada, joined the ranks of David's personal army.
Philistine history was now the history of individual cities, rather than that of a people acting in concert. It is quite possible that in the course of their battles with Saul and David, the ruling Philistine military class had been wiped out and that strong assimilation with the native Canaanite population had already taken place. Except for Achish of Gath, mentioned in i Kings 2:39–40, who is most probably the same person as the ruler of Gath under whom David served, and Ikausu of Ekron, a contemporary of Ashurbanipal of Assyria, all the known subsequent Philistine rulers have Semitic names. The typically Philistine pottery of the Early Iron Age disappears, and the pottery and other artifacts found in the following Early Iron Age iii levels is the same as that found elsewhere in Palestine. The Philistines were, on the whole, limited now to their pentapolis and the immediate coastal area. Reduced to a secondary role, their hold over the sea coast was broken, and Phoenician maritime expansion became possible. The vassal status of Gath remained unchanged at the beginning of the reign of Solomon (c. 960), as can be seen by the ease with which Shimei son of Gera moved into and out of that city (i Kings 2:39–40). Toward the end of the United Monarchy and the early part of the divided Monarchy, Egyptian influence in Philistia may be surmised from the campaign of an unnamed Pharaoh of the 21st Dynasty at Gezer (i Kings 9:16–17) and the use made by Sheshonk i (biblical *Shishak) of Gaza as the starting point of his campaign in Palestine (c. 917), as reported in his itinerary. During the next 50 years *Gibbethon (Tell Malāt, near Gezer), which was held by the Israelites, was the site of border battles, involving troops of relatively large numbers, between them and the Philistines (i Kings 15:27; 16:15–17). During the reign of Jehoshaphat the Philistines paid tribute to Judah (ii Chron. 17:11), but were able to make incursions into Judahite territory and raid the king's household, carrying off his son Jehoram (ii Chron. 21:16–17). It is also clear, from these scant references, that Arabian tribes now occupied the territory to the south of Philistia.
During his raid into Judah in about 815, Hazael of Aram was able to capture the city of Gath (ii Kings 12:18). The first definite reference to Philistia in Assyrian sources dates from the reign of Adad-nirâri iii (810–783), who boasts of having collected tribute from Philistia (Palastu) in his fifth year. Uzziah successfully raided Philistine territory and, according to the biblical report, tore down the walls of some cities (as shown archaeologically at Ashdod) and set up garrisons of his own (ii Chron. 26:6–7). Although no destruction of the city is reported, except in the enigmatic reference in Amos 5:2, Gath lost its former importance. Gath is not listed in the various prophetic condemnations of the Philistines (Jer. 25:20; Amos 1:6–8; Zeph. 2:4; Zech. 9:5–8), and had, in all likelihood, come under the rule of Ashdod. During the reign of Ahaz, the Philistines once again raided Judah and occupied cities in the Shefelah and the Negev (ii Chron. 28:18; cf. Isa. 9:11; 14:28–32). However, Tiglath-Pileser iii invaded Philistia in 734, sacked Gaza, and forced vassalage on Hanun, its king, and upon Mitinti of Ashkelon (text in Rainey, 229; Ehrlich, 176–89). *Sargon ii stormed Gaza in 720, after Hanun had participated in the anti-Assyrian coalition, exiled Hanun, and made Gaza once again a vassal city. Tribute from various Philistine cities is recorded in Assyrian records of this period. In 713, Azuri of Ashdod was deported for treachery and was replaced by his brother, Ahimiti, but the Ashdodites placed a local usurper, Iamani, on the throne. Iamani fortified Ashdod and, by forming an alliance including Philistia, Judah, Edom, and Moab, he precipitated an attack in 712 by Sargon. This campaign is referred to in Isaiah 20:1. The capture of Ekron and Gibbethon is portrayed on wall reliefs from Dur-Sharrukin; Ashdod, Ashdod-Yam, and Gath were also captured. Excavations at Ashdod have uncovered fragments of a basalt victory stele erected by Sargon and also show that the walls of the city were destroyed at this time. Ashdod was temporarily converted into an Assyrian province. According to ii Kings 18:8, Hezekiah invaded Philistia and attacked Gaza. In Ashkelon, Sidqa replaced the loyal ruler while Hezekiah was in alliance with the people of Ekron who handed over their king, Padi, to him. The Ethiopian rulers of Egypt in all likelihood planned to move into the south of Philistia. In 701, Sennacherib invaded southern Palestine and captured the cities of Beth-Dagon, Jaffa, Bene-Berak, and Azor and their capital Ashkelon; deported Sidqa and his family and imposed a new king; and punished the patricians of Ekron, restored Padi to his throne, and rewarded the faithful kings of Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza with a strip of Judahite territory in the Shefelah. The traditional dislike of the Philistines, reflected in both the Prophets and the Psalms, was intensified by their participating in the Phoenician slave trade during this period (Joel 4:1–8). During the rest of Sennacherib's reign Philistia served as a buffer zone between Assyria and Egypt. During the reigns of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, the kings of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Ashdod are listed among the loyal vassals of Assyria who supplied corvée workers and troops to the Assyrian army. The constant passage of Assyrian troops through Philistia in the campaigns against Egypt guaranteed the tranquility of the area.
After the breakdown of Assyrian might, the Philistine cities, particularly Ashdod, were under strong Egyptian pressure (Herodotus 1:157). Archaeological discoveries have made it probable that Josiah annexed part of northern Philistia near Yavneh-Yam. There is also a tradition of an invasion of Scythians who destroyed the temple of Astarte in Ashkelon (Herodotus 1:105). Philistia was overrun by the Egyptians under Neco, who conquered Gaza in about 609–608 (Herodotus 1:159; cf. Jer. 47:1). The Philistines were allied with Egypt against Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, as is now clear from the Aramaic letter found at Saqqarah from Adon (of Ashkelon?) to Pharaoh, but Ashkelon was laid waste and her king exiled in 604 by Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar put out any remaining sparks of Philistine independence. He deported both rulers and people, as has been shown by the mention of the kings of Gaza and Ashdod and the princes of Ashkelon in various lists from Babylon (cf. Jer. 25:20; 47:2–7; Zeph. 2:4–7; Zech. 9:5–6). The later history of the cities Ashdod (Azotus), Ashkelon (Ascalon), and Gaza is of Persian and then Hellenistic cities with a highly mixed population. Only the territorial name *Palestine connected them with their Philistine past.
The Cherethites and Pelethites (הַכְּרֵתִי וְהַפְּלֵתִי) were a section of David's personal army who joined him after he had defeated the Philistines. They were part of his retinue after he was established in Jerusalem. Their commander, *Benaiah son of Jehoiada, is listed as a member of David's administrative corps (ii Sam. 8:18; 20:23). Their absolute loyalty to David was proved by their accompanying him on his flight from Jerusalem (ii Sam. 20:7). Their faithfulness was again proved in their supporting the selection of Solomon as king (i Kings 1:38–44). The name Cherethite most probably meant Cretan and alluded either to the Aegean origin of part of the "Sea Peoples" who settled along the south coast of Palestine with the Philistines or to a group of Cretans settled there by the Egyptians. They probably dwelt in the area to the southeast of Philistia proper, which is once alluded to as the Cretan Negev or the Negev of the Cherethites (i Sam. 30:14). The Pelethites were, in all likelihood, recruited from the ranks of the Philistines with whom David had served during his stay in Ziklag. The form "Pelethite" (peleti) for "Philistine" (pelishti) is explicable as a formation modeled on "Cherethite" (kereti). In the two passages in which the Cherethites are in parallelism with the Philistines, it is not clear from the context whether the terms are synonymous or if separate peoples are meant (Ezek. 25:16; Zeph. 2:5). The Carians were a people originating in southwest Anatolia whose services as mercenaries in Egypt and elsewhere, from the early seventh century on, is well known. Their script has not yet been deciphered, nor is their history before this period known. There may very well be a connection between them and the enigmatic Carites (הַכָּרִי) of ii Kings 11:4, 19 who were considered loyal to the royal house in the story of Joash. The variant reading "Carites" (כָּרִי) for Cherethites (כְּרֵתִי) in the ketiv of ii Samuel 20:23 is in all likelihood an error.
Archaeological excavation has revealed the Philistines to have been a highly sophisticated ancient people, both materially and commercially. They developed trading networks between Canaan and the rest of the Mediterranean world. Ekron produced both utilitarian and high-quality tableware as well as wine. By the seventh century b.c.e. Ekron was the largest producer of olive oil in the ancient Near East. Nonetheless, despite their impressive historical accomplishments, the Philistines, "because of their confrontation with the hill people known as the Israelites… acquired a negative historical image that still retains its symbolic power" (Dothan, cane ii, 1279).
[Jonas C. Greenfield /
S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]
In the Aggadah
Most Midrashim are concerned with the alliance made of Abraham and Isaac with Abimelech, king of the Philistines (Gen. 21 and 26). Abraham is criticized for concluding an alliance with him. The Midrash tells that as a punishment for the seven sheep he sacrificed in making this covenant, the Philistines would one day slay seven righteous men – Samson, Hophni, Phinehas, and Saul with his three sons; they would destroy seven holy places; they would retain the holy Ark in their country as spoils of war for a period of seven months; and, furthermore, only the seventh generation of Abraham's descendants would be able to rejoice in the possession of the land (Gen. R. 54:4). Jacob did not stay in Philistia lest he too be compelled to make an alliance with the Philistines, thus delaying the conquest of the Holy Land (ibid. 68:7). David was not bound by his forefathers' covenant with Abimelech, since the Philistines' stopping of the wells which Abraham had dug constituted a breach of this agreement (Mid. Hag. to Gen. 26:28). However, they came to him with the bridle of a mule, which Isaac had given to Abimelech as a pledge of this covenant (pdre 36). David commanded the Sanhedrin to investigate the claim carefully, but it was declared unfounded. Moreover, the Philistines of his day were not the descendants of the Philistines who had concluded the treaty; they had immigrated from Caphtor at a much later date (Mid. Ps. 60, 1).
After the capture of Samson the Philistines brought their wives to him in the Gaza prison in the hope that he might sire children who would be as strong as he (Sot. 10a). When they took the Ark, they said contemptuously: "The God of the Israelites had only ten plagues which he expended upon the Egyptians, and he no longer has it in his power to do us harm." As a result they were afflicted with a new plague consisting of mice crawling forth out of the earth and gnawing their entrails (Sif. Num. 88).
R.A.S. Macalister, The Philistines, Their History and Civilization (1913); B. Mazar, The Philistines and the Rise of Israel and Tyre (1964); B. Mazar (ed.), World History of the Jewish People, 3 (1971), 164–79; G.E. Wright, in: ba, 29 (1966), 70–86; H. Tadmor, in: ba, 29 (1966), 86–102; W.F. Albright, The Amarna Letters from Palestine-Syria, The Philistines and Phoenicia (1966); T. Dothan, Ha-Pelishtim ve-Tarbutam (1967); H.J. Franken, in: cah2, vol. 2 (1968), ch. 26; R.D. Barnett, in: cah, vol. 2 (1969), ch. 28; M. Dothan, in: D.N. Freedman and J.C. Greenfield (eds.), New Directions in Biblical Archaeology (1969); R. Hestrin, The Philistines and the Other Sea Peoples (1970). in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. add. bibliography: T. Dothan, The Philistines and their Material Culture (1982); N. Sandars, The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean (1985); T. Dothan and M. Dothan, People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines (1992); R. Drews, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 b.c. (1993); H. Katzenstein, in: abd, 5:326–28; T. Dothan, ibid., 329–33 (illustrated); idem, in: cane ii, 1267–78; A. Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East c. 3000–330 bc (1995), 386–93; C. Ehrlich, The Philistines in Transition (1996); T. Dothan, S. Gitin, and J. Naveh, in: iej, 47 (1997), 1–16; W. Schniedewind, in: basor, 309 (1998), 69–77; J. Naveh, in: basor, 310 (1998), 35–37; A. Demsky, in: janes, 25 (1998), 1–5; E. Oren (ed.), The Sea Peoples and their World (2000); A. Rainey and R.S. Notley, The Sacred Bridge Carta's Atlas of the Biblical World (2005). For extensive bibliography on Ekron with illustrations see: http://www.aiar.org/docs/EkronSummary.pdf.
"Philistines." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/philistines
"Philistines." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/philistines