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The historic Philistines (see note "Philistines") were a people that inhabited the southern coast of Canaan around the time of the arrival of the Israelites, their territory being named Philistia in later contexts. They are spoken of by Amos as originating in Caphtor: "saith the Lord: Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir?" (Amos 9:7). Later, in the 7th century BCE, Jeremiah makes the same association with Caphtor. Scholars variously identify the land of Caphtor with Cyprus and Crete and other locations in the eastern Mediterranean. If the Philistines are to be identified as one of the "Sea Peoples" then their occupation of Canaan will have taken place during the reign of Rameses III of the Twentieth Dynasty, ca. 1180 to 1150 BCE. Their maritime knowledge would have made them important to the Phoenicians.

Nineteenth-century Bible scholars identified the Philistines with people called Pulsata or Pulista on Egyptian monuments and the land of the Philistines (Philistia) with Palastu and Pilista in Assyrian inscriptions, according to Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897). These inscriptions have not been more precisely identified, though they are widely referred to on the Internet. A recent search through James B. Pritchard, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET, 1969) found no example of an Ancient Egyptian or Assyrian cognate of "Philistine." (The word appears in that reference only from Egyptian texts, where it is translated without any clue of the original spelling.)

The Philistinces occupied the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, along the coastal strip of southwestern Canaan, which belonged to Egypt up to the closing days of the Nineteenth Dynasty (ended 1185 BCE). "David and Goliath" as well as "Samson and Delilah" are two biblical accounts of Philistine/Israelite conflicts. The biblical description of Goliath's armor is consistent with Philistine iron-smithing technology of the time.

This powerful association of tribes made frequent incursions against the Hebrews. There was almost perpetual war between the two peoples. They sometimes held the Hebrews, especially the southern tribes, in servitude; at other times they were defeated with great slaughter. The Philistine cities were ruled by seranim, "lords", who acted together for the common good, though to what extent they had a sense of a "nation" is not clear without literary sources. After their defeat by the Israelite King David, kings replaced the seranim, and their history is of individual cities, and not of a people. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon eventually conquered all of Syria and the land of Canaan, and the Philistine cities became part of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Subsequently the cities were under the control of Persians, Greeks, and Romans, and "Philistia" was governed as a territory.

The Philistines long held a monopoly on iron smithing, a skill they probably acquired during their conquests in Anatolia.

Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897) mentioned that they were called Allophyli, "foreigners," in the Septuagint. "Foreigners" might cover broad ethnic ground, but Cassiodorus' Institutiones book I, reading Jerome, mentions "David, who voluntarily went to attack Saul along with Achis the King of the Allophyli" (Achis the king of Geth/Gath).

In the Books of Samuel the Philistines are spoken of as uncircumcised. Unwarranted conclusions are often built on this detail, making it out that they were not a native people, with the supposition that circumcision was universal in Canaan.

From Philistia the name of the land of the Philistines came to be extended by the Romans to the whole of "Palestine."

Table of contents
1 Origin of the Philistines
2 "Philistines"
3 Philistine as a disparaging term
4 Reference
5 External links

Origin of the Philistines

It has been suggested that the Philistines formed part of the great naval confederacy, the "Sea Peoples", who had wandered, at the beginning of the 12th century BCE, from their homeland in southern Greece and the Aegean islands to the shores of the Mediterranean and repeatedly attacked Egypt during the later Nineteenth Dynasty. Though eventually repulsed by Ramesses III, he was, according to the theory, apparently unable to dislodge them from their settlements in Palestine.

The connection between Mycenean culture and Philistine culture was made clearer by finds, especially pottery styles, at the excavation of Ekron one of the five Philistine cities in Canaan, undertaken in 1981 - 1996. At Ekron, of particular interest is a large, well constructed building which covers 240 square meters. Its walls are broad, designed to support a second story and its wide, elaborate entrance leads to a large hall, partly covered with a roof supported on a row of columns. In the floor of the hall is a circular hearth paved with pebbles, as is typical in Mycenean buildings; other unusual architectural features are paved benches and podiums. Among the finds are three small bronze wheels with eight spokes. Such wheels are known to have served as wheels for portable cultic stands in the Aegean region during this period and it is therefore assumed that this building served cultic functions.

The Harris Papyrus details the achievements of the reign of Ramesses III. In the brief description of the outcome of the battles in year 8 is the description of the fate of the Sea Peoples. Ramesses tells us that, having brought the imprisoned Sea Peoples to Egypt, he "settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries each year" Some scholars suggest that it is likely that these "strongholds" were actually fortified towns in southern Canaan, the cities that would eventually become the five cities of the Philistines (Redford 1992, p. 289). Hebrew tradition, recorded in Genesis 10:14, included the Philistines among the sons of Egypt. The theory that the Sea Peoples included Greek-speaking tribes has been developed even further to postulate that the Philistines originated in either western Anatolia or the Greek peninsula, though the biblical sources are unanimous that they were descended from Egypt.

The Philistines settled along the eastern Mediterranean coast at about the time when the Israelites settled in the Judean highlands. Politically independent, they preserved their traditions, which were clearly related to those of the Mycenaean culture. Architectural features and many finds indicate this relationship, especially the early Philistine pottery decorated in shades of brown and black, which later developed into the distinctive black and red decorations on white slip. Their kings were called Abimelech.


Philistines: (פלשתים, Standard Hebrew Pəlištim, Tiberian Hebrew Pəlištm). Philistia (פלשת, Standard Hebrew Pəlšet / Pəlšet, Tiberian Hebrew Pəlšeṯ / Pəlāšeṯ).

Philistine as a disparaging term

See Philistines for an entry on the disparaging term popularized in the 19nth century for enemies of culture.


External links


British writers of the 19th century and very early 20th century sometimes referred to the Arabs of Palestine as "Philistines". This was apparently not due to a belief in a strong connection with the ancient Philistines, but merely reflects the former convention that "Philistine" simply denotes "native of "Palestine".

The word philistine, in non-historical usage, refers to a person deficient in the culture of the Liberal Arts, a smug and intolerant opponent of the bohemian, exhibiting a restrictive moral code, unappreciative of artistic ideas.