Medinet Habu: Philistines in Egypt

Mr. Don Knebel traveled with BAS to Egypt in 2007; subsequently Jordan and many other places in the world.   In 2015 he wrote “Flushed with Curiosity; 101 Travel Tales with a Twist”,  all of which were spearheaded by his travels.  Don says “I have tried to find stories in the places we visit that exhibit not only our common humanity but the traditions and religious beliefs that both unite and divide us”.  Don has graciously agreed to let us include some excerpts on our blog. They have been lightly edited.

The well-preserved mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu celebrated the pharaoh’s earthly achievements and allowed priests to nourish his soul so he could live forever as a god. The temple is best known for wall carvings providing information about the Philistines, nemeses of the ancient Israelites.

Medinet Habu

Wall at Medinet Habu Showing Ramses III Battling the Sea People
Photo by Don Knebel

Ramesses III ruled Egypt from 1186 B.C. until his death in 1155 B.C. Colorful columns in the hypostyle hall of his 150-meter-long temple near Luxor show Ramesses III among the gods. Statues in a courtyard portray him as Osiris, god of the afterlife. Wall carvings show him delivering enemies to Amun, Egypt’s highest god at the time.The most famous carvings are on the north exterior wall. They portray Ramesses, bow stretched, and his troops battling a confederation of invading “sea people,” predominantly people the Egyptians called Pelesets and the Bible calls Philistines. The carvings show the Philistines riding three-man chariots pulled by two horses, wielding double edged swords and long spears, carrying round shields and wearing feathered headdresses. According to the hieroglyphic account, Ramesses defeated the invaders, taking many of them prisoner. The carvings also show women and children in ox carts, suggesting an entire population on the move.

Most scholars believe the sea people described at Medinet Habu left the Aegean Sea area in about 1200 B.C. for reasons unknown and sought to settle in Egypt. After Ramesses III beat them back, they moved into nearby areas. The Philistines took what is now the Gaza Strip area along the eastern Mediterranean coast. According to the Bible, as the Israelites entered their Promised Land they stayed clear of the Philistines, apparently because of their superior iron weapons and fighting skill. The Philistines later moved aggressively into Israel’s heartland until young David killed their champion Goliath and they retreated to five cities along the coast.

The Philistines are remembered today in the name “Palestine,” first used by Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. to describe the area that is now Israel. They are also remembered on the wall at Medinet Habu for battles that help shed light on much more recent events.

Flushed with Curiosity; 101 Travel Tales with a Twist

Flushed With Curiosity
From the author’s website:

For years, Don Knebel, an Indianapolis attorney, law professor, speaker and civic leader, has traveled with his wife Jen to interact with the world’s people and learn about their customs and their religions. The idea for this book came when he discovered that not all people find western bathroom plumbing an improvement. From that exposure of his cultural bias, he began looking in the places he visits for stories and pictures reflecting our common humanity and the beliefs and traditions that both divide and unite us. Some of the stories describe people we can never forget. A few are about bodies that end up in more than one place. Some of the stories are quirky, some are inspirational and some contradict common assumptions. All help show our connections to each other and only one is about toilets. The 101 stories are arranged in roughly chronological order, providing a quick and fascinating tour through the 10,000-year history of western and near eastern civilization. If you plan to travel, this book can suggest where to go. If you don’t plan to travel, this book can tell you what you’ll miss.

Related content in Bible History Daily:

The “Philistines” to the North

Where Did the Philistines Come From?

Philistine Cemetery Unearthed at Ashkelon

Adornment in the Southern Levant

The Philistine Marketplace at Ashkelon


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