The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples (as we know from an Egyptian inscription), a group of seafaring tribes that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean world at the end of the Bronze Age (1200 B.C.E.). After engaging in a number of battles with Egypt, the Philistines settled in Canaan, possibly as Egyptian mercenaries. After attempting to extend their influence farther into inland Canaan, an attempt reflected in the accounts of various battles recorded in the books of Judges and 1 Samuel, the Philistines were wedged into the southwestern coastal strip of Canaan, presumably by King David, in the early tenth century B.C.E.
Archaeology often paints a distinctively Mediterranean picture of the Philistines: three of the five cities of the Philistine “pentapolis” were located on the coast; Philistine religion shows distinct Aegean characteristics; and the Philistine marketplace at Ashkelon was situated directly on the sea, suggesting a western focus for Philistine trade.
Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.
Recent excavations at Tell Abu al-Kharaz in Jordan, a site associated with the Biblical city Jabesh Gilead where Saul and David fought the Philistines and Ammonites, have pulled focus on the Philistines back away from the seashore. Swedish University of Gothenburg archaeologists excavated a 200-foot-long structure dating to around 1100 B.C.E., shortly after the Bronze Age collapse—an event often associated with the emigration of the Philistines to the Levant.
As archaeologist Peter M. Fischer told phys.org, “We have evidence that culture from present Europe is represented in Tell Abu al-Kharaz. A group of the Sea Peoples of European descent, Philistines, settled down in the city … we have, for instance, found pottery resembling corresponding items from Greece and Cyprus in terms of form and decoration, and also cylindrical loom weights for textile production that could be found in central and south-east Europe around the same time.”
While the excavations have uncovered evidence of occupation reaching back to the fourth millennium B.C.E., the multi-story Philistine structure is the one reshaping our view of the orientation of Jordanian culture. The Gothenburg excavations remind archaeologists that Mediterranean archaeology provides integral context for ancient Jordanian material culture.
Learn about the tribes of Sea Peoples who settled in northern Canaan in “The ‘Philistines’ to the North” in Bible History Daily.
Explore the Philistines in the BAS Library
Trude Dothan, “What We Know About the Philistines,” BAR, Jul/Aug 1982.
Tristan Barako, “One if by Sea…Two if by Land: How Did the Philistines Get to Canaan?: How Did the Philistines Get to Canaan? One: by Sea,” BAR, Mar/Apr 2003.
Assaf Yassar-Landau, “One if by Sea…Two if by Land: How Did the Philistines Get to Canaan?: How Did the Philistines Get to Canaan? Two: by Land,” BAR, Mar/Apr 2003.
Carl S. Ehrlich and Aren M. Maeir, “Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath’s Hometown?” BAR, Nov/Dec 2001.
Aren M. Maeir, “Prize Find: Horned Altar from Tell es-Safi Hints at Philistine Origins,” BAR, Jan/Feb 2012.
Aren M. Maeir, “Did Captured Ark Afflict Philistines with E.D.?,” BAR, May/June 2008.
Trude Dothan, “Philistine Fashion,” BAR, Nov/Dec 2003.
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