BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Who Were the Philistines, and Where Did They Come From?

Investigating the biblical and archaeological evidence for the Philistines’ origins

Who Were the Philistines, and Where Did They Come From? Pottery from Ashkelon bear Philistine decorations

Philistine Pottery. These pottery pieces from Ashkelon bear early Philistine decorations. Photo: © The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

The Philistines are best known from the Bible as the Israelites’ enemies, but they were much more than that. Recent archaeological discoveries help inform our understanding of their culture, economy, and even origins. In the Spring 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Daniel M. Master of Wheaton College looks at the biblical and archaeological evidence for the Philistines’ roots in “Piece by Piece: Exploring the Origins of the Philistines.

Who Were the Philistines?

In the Bible, the Philistines are remembered as an uncircumcised people with advanced technology and a formidable military (Judges 14:3; 1 Samuel 13:19–20; Exodus 13:17). The Philistines frequently encroached on Israelite territory, which led to some battles, including the famous clash between David, the Israelite, and Goliath, the Philistine (1 Samuel 17). They were condemned for being idol worshipers (1 Samuel 5:1–5) and soothsayers (Isaiah 2:6). In short, the Philistines are portrayed quite negatively in the Bible.

They lived in the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza—the heartland of ancient Philistia on the Mediterranean Sea’s southeastern shore. Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath have been excavated in recent decades. The findings from these cities show that the Philistines had distinct pottery, weapons, tools, and houses. They also ate pork and had vast trade networks.

Philistine culture flourished during the Iron Age (12th through sixth centuries B.C.E.). Similar to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the Philistines lost their autonomy toward the end of the Iron Age. They became subservient and paid tribute to the Assyrians, Egyptians, and then Babylonians, the great superpowers of the region who severely punished rebellion. For example, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed disloyal Ashkelon and Ekron and carried off many Philistines into exile.

Where Did the Philistines Come From?
Who Were the Philistines, and Where Did They Come From? Relief from Medinet Habu shows a great sea battle

Philistine Portrait? A confederation of island tribes, including the Peleset (Philistines), attacked Egypt in the 12th century B.C.E. This relief from Medinet Habu records a sea battle between the two forces. Photo: Olaf Tausch, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In his article, Daniel Master looks at archaeological and biblical evidence for the Philistines’ origins. He considers the accounts at Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. In the 12th century B.C.E., during the reign of Ramesses III, a confederation of tribes from the “islands” of the “northern countries” attacked Egypt—several times, both on sea and land. The Peleset, whom scholars connect with the Philistines, was named as one of these tribes. On the way to Egypt, the confederation had traveled through the eastern Mediterranean and destroyed numerous cities, including Ugarit on the Syrian coast. Ammurapi, the last king of Ugarit, had written to surrounding kingdoms for help, when the “seven ships of the enemy” had arrived to ransack his kingdom. By the time help had come, though, it was too late: Ugarit lay in ruins.

Who Were the Philistines, and Where Did They Come From? drawing of a relief at Mediate Habu shows a sea battle

Battle Ships. This drawing of a relief at Medinet Habu shows a sea battle between the Egyptians and people from the “islands,” who had invaded Egypt in the 12th century B.C.E. Photo: Public Domain.

Egypt defeated the confederation, as recorded on one of the temple walls at Medinet Habu. A relief from that temple also depicts a sea battle between the island tribes and the Egyptians. In it, the islanders wear distinct headdresses, which clearly set them apart from the Egyptians. After being defeated, some of these tribes settled on the southern coast of Canaan—in what would become the land of the Philistines. Egyptian sources, thus, seem to record a migration of people from the “islands” to Philistia.

Master also examines the evidence for Philistine origins in the Bible. The biblical authors remembered the Philistines as coming from a foreign land, from “Caphtor” (Genesis 10:14; Deuteronomy 2:23; 1 Chronicles 1:12; Amos 9:7; Jeremiah 47:4). Scholars have long drawn a connection between Caphtor and Crete. This is largely based on Egyptian inscriptions and paintings of “Keftiu” from the 15th and 14th centuries B.C.E., wherein the Keftiu are linked to the Minoan civilization, which was centered on Crete.

Migration Map. Who were the Philistines, and where did they come from? New archaeological evidence suggests that many of the Philistines originally came from Crete, called “Caphtor” in the Bible. Map: © Biblical Archaeology Society.

Excavations have shown that the Philistines had a distinct assemblage of artifacts. Master notes parallels between some early Philistine objects, especially from the 12th and 11th centuries B.C.E., and Aegean and Cypriot artifacts. Elements of Philistine material culture, then, also hint at an Aegean or Mediterranean origin for the Philistines.


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New evidence from Ashkelon further supports this connection. The Leon Levy Expedition excavated at Ashkelon from 1985–2016 under the direction of the late Lawrence Stager at Harvard University; for the last decade, Daniel Master co-directed excavations. They found some infant burials from the 12th century B.C.E., as well as a Philistine cemetery with burials from the 11th through eighth centuries B.C.E. Teaming up with scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, they were able to analyze DNA from seven of these individuals. When they looked at the 12th-century infants’ DNA, they discovered that the infants had some European ancestry. Crete proved to be one of the best matches for the infants’ heritage—when considering all of their genetic material. Yet other places in the western Mediterranean, such as Iberia, also provided a good match.

Interestingly, in the later individuals from Ashkelon’s cemetery, this European ancestry had been so diluted to barely register. Master explains that, by the tenth century B.C.E., enough intermarriage had taken place between the Philistines and the local Levantine population that the Philistines looked a lot like their neighbors:

While there was some evidence of the same Western European Hunter-Gatherer genetic input, for all statistical purposes, it could not be identified for certain. The best models showed that these people [the tenth- and ninth-century individuals buried in Ashkelon’s cemetery] were descendants of both the 12th-century inhabitants and the earlier Bronze Age inhabitants. It appears from these results that so much intermarriage had taken place between the original immigrants and the people around them that the genetic makeup of Ashkelon’s inhabitants had lost its immigrant distinctiveness.

Yet Master clarifies that, at this point in history, the Philistines still thought of themselves as distinct, as evident in a seventh-century inscription from the Philistine city of Ekron. The inscription names Ekron’s king as Ikausu, which means “Achaean” or “Greek.” The name Ikausu (or Achish) also appears in 1 Samuel 21:10 as Gath’s king.

The Philistines remembered their foreign origins.

Master concludes that the new DNA evidence, coupled with the biblical and archaeological testimonies, suggests that the Philistines originated in Crete. That is not to say that the Philistines were a homogenous group, all coming from the Aegean world, but it seems that many Philistines did indeed migrate from there, bringing with them vestiges of Minoan culture. Learn more about this ancient people in Daniel M. Master’s article “Piece by Piece: Exploring the Origins of the Philistines,” published in the Spring 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Subscribers: Read the full article “Piece by Piece: Exploring the Origins of the Philistines” by Daniel M. Master in the Spring 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


This article first appeared in BHD on March 23, 2022.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Illuminating the Philistines’ Origins

Philistine Cemetery Unearthed at Ashkelon

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15 Responses

  1. Michael Katsonis says:

    The nation of Israel was a unique for it’s time patriarchy that had an understanding that certain values and behaviors will benefit the general population of it’s members. In other words, try to understand your humanity, and how co-operating with others will be better than trying to dominate and enslave everyone else. This philosophy was a gift from one all knowing god who inspires all of us in our own way if we can turn down the noise and stress in our lives and receive inspiration. The difficulty is trying to determine what is the best of the inspirations to incorporate into a code of behavior without trampling on others rights, and determining what inalienable rights we all have. We are continuing to work on the determination of what rights we all as humans have and how we can as a species assure we all receive those rights. As far as I know Jacob(AKA Israel) was the first to understand this and apply this to his large family of twelve sons and one daughter and then to his many grandchildren and his resulting large nation now in the millions still trying to fit in with the other billions of humans, who have their on ideas as to how our species should behave to live well and prosper. May the force be with us.

  2. ABDOOL SATAR says:

    I requested knowledge from History – NOT from the bible’s point of view. We all know that the bible is distorted and, considering what constitutes the bible? There is NOT enough evidence-based on naked history – to tell who was there first other from the bible. The bible is a story book, full of them and the people built their faith on what is written and NOT who wrote them. They blindly accept what is written so that they can hold on to something. Until recently, christians has been printing their own bibles – from the ones written and rewritten by the jews serving their purpose. Those who don’t know accept it for what it is, afraid to question the authenticity of their written beliefs. And, even so, the Priests and Rabbis are all preaching and living a lie. Samson is a myth and the jews made him their hero to demonstrate they are gods chosen people. Moses asked of this from god but there was no respone. So, how did this chosen thing became a reality for the jews? More history is required – NOT from the bible – and
    unfortunately, we have reached a stalemate. There is none available. If samson did exist, history has failed to record it and so, one has to rely on a distorted book-the bible, written and rewritten by the jews to tell their story. If there is deception in the bible then the lives of those who read tit are living a lie, sorry to say. If jesus did say, ” The truth shall set you free,” then where would you find the truth?

    1. Carolyn McLemore says:

      Please don’t lump all Christians into a single grouping of those blindly accepting the Bible at face value, to “have something to hang onto” as you said. There are perhaps millions of us who seek out what the Bible says AND look to other sources for further elucidation as to meaning and historicity. I certainly hope you will come into contact in a meaningful way with those of us who claim Jesus as our Lord but don’t forget God’s gift of the ability to think and reason and use the two gifts to learn for ourselves the meaning and import of the Bible. Not all Christians are biblical literalists.

      1. Bill Weir says:

        All scripture is GIVEN by inspiration,( theopnuetos= ‘ God- breathed’ ) so it is the living word of God able to save our souls – sad for all rejectors as they put themselves unwittingly outside the pale of Gods salvation

    2. Michael Wilson says:

      Your statement that the Bible is all a myth, distorted, etc is ridiculous. You have absolutely no proof of that. The bible has been accepted by scholars as (partially) corroberated (sp?) history by scholars of all religions for centuries. If you have proof of your statements you should publish your sources.
      Michael Wilson

    3. Mary J Linder says:

      Abdool-
      Did you bother to read the name of the magazine in which this article was printed?
      The magazine is called “BIBLICAL Archaeology Society”.
      Are you at all aware that the word “Biblical” is related to the word “Bible”?
      —apparently not—

    4. Ron McAfee says:

      I have to assume English is a second language to you? I cant tell if your ranting has got you worked up or you just never make sense but really hard to tell what point your trying to make. If you want to know where to find the truth unfortunately for you the only infallible source on earth is the bible. Thy word is truth period. The entirety of your word is truth which includes the old and new testamnent and because the Jews dont believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah (yet) they only get half the truth. But heres my question. Where did you get Samson as somehow connected to the identity of Gods people? Maybe he wouldnt be my absolute very last choice but Im not sure.

      The sign of identity was the same for Gods people in ancient Israel as it is for Gods true Church today. Ex 31:13 Keep my Sabbath so you will know Its I who sanctifies (makes you Holy, sets you apart for special use). So if your looking for Gods people today (Holy= set apart to do his work of preaching the good news of His soon coming Kingdom) look for a Friday night sunset to Saturday sunset Sabbath keeping Christian church. With your attitude I dont expect to see you at next Saturday services or a billion other professing Christians who show up a day late because the God of this world has blinded them (for now) as much as you unfortunately. I think any with eyes to see can tell things are heading in a very dark direction. Ill pray for you freind. Satan decieves the “WHOLE” world so youre in good company but check your attitude = humble yourself.

      A non apolegetic biblical literalist

      1. Daniel Carley says:

        Bravo Ron! Finally someone who knows the Sabbath from Sunday, so rare these days. Did a research paper on the topic in school. Long story short, Catholic church decided to switch it up for their own purpose. Funny how most people don’t have a clue about this topic but glad to see someone does!

    5. Ian Mac Dougall says:

      At the point of Alpha or the begining is quite rightly the best place to start, somehow I cant help thinking faith alone is not going to establish the truth, I recently listened to an Armenian man describe how the Bible interpretations from Aramaic to English its modern day equivalent, has over 12000 mistakes, differences from the original language. Thats an average of 12 mistakes a page for an average English Bible. If I provided an authoritive work on any subject well I dare say 12000 mistakes would disallow me the privilege of any type of authenticity particulary my own intelligence.

    6. lidia Soares says:

      The Bible is more credible in that it has proven events over the ages, than Koran! What Jesus meant is that when you tell the truth, you are free! You don’t hide under camouflages and be constantly on the look out so you don’t get caught!! You don’t pretend to be who you are not!

  3. Jonathan John says:

    Well I don’t seem to get it ,some lines of history were not taken into account,the taking away of the ten tribes into exile and replacing them with another set of people,the conquest of Jerusalem by salaudeen the Kurdish warrior that inspired the migration of the Jews into Europe.contribute the genes of the people we called Palestinians today

    1. Steve says:

      Jesus said ‘those who say they are Jews but are not’…..is that what you mean when you mentioned the Babylonian exile/replacement of Hebrews that were at Jerusalem/Israel? Someone like modern day Rothschild, in your own opinion can you explain Jacob Rothschild’s conehead? The movie with Dan Akroyd displays them as aliens come to earth. Whoever they are, they LOVE to lie and deceive.

  4. Dr. Carlos Zorea says:

    It is possible to identify the origin of the Philistines, starting on the 14th century B.C.

    1. PAUL C CULTON says:

      The Bible records an exchange between Abimelech the Philistine and Abraham (Gen. 20:1-16 ). I had always thought Abraham lived ca. 2000-1900 B.C. The way I read it, the Philistines occupied their customary area BEFORE Abraham immigrated to Caanan. That would mean they arrived well before Abraham’s arrival, wouldn’t it? In which case, to what wave of immigrants would they (Philistines) correspond? I’ve looked for other sources that put the “invasion” of the Philistines earlier than 1400 B.C., and have found none. Bumping Abraham up to 1300-1200 B.C. is also problematic. Can you offer some clarification?

  5. Sandy Wirfs says:

    Wonderful research. Helps us get an understanding of the origins of people and their place in Bible history. Those taunting the battle line of Israel , as Goliath was doing when challenging David, only came to know it wasn’t David, but Jehovah God they were up against. Easy victory for this boy with a sling and a stone. Those wicked nations had to be removed for the Israelites to inherit the promised land. A good lesson for us today: Daniel 2:44 – Christ’s heavenly Kingdom government will replace imperfect human governments. Isaiah 9:6,7 It is unforgivable to be speaking against holy spirit. Matt 12:32

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


15 Responses

  1. Michael Katsonis says:

    The nation of Israel was a unique for it’s time patriarchy that had an understanding that certain values and behaviors will benefit the general population of it’s members. In other words, try to understand your humanity, and how co-operating with others will be better than trying to dominate and enslave everyone else. This philosophy was a gift from one all knowing god who inspires all of us in our own way if we can turn down the noise and stress in our lives and receive inspiration. The difficulty is trying to determine what is the best of the inspirations to incorporate into a code of behavior without trampling on others rights, and determining what inalienable rights we all have. We are continuing to work on the determination of what rights we all as humans have and how we can as a species assure we all receive those rights. As far as I know Jacob(AKA Israel) was the first to understand this and apply this to his large family of twelve sons and one daughter and then to his many grandchildren and his resulting large nation now in the millions still trying to fit in with the other billions of humans, who have their on ideas as to how our species should behave to live well and prosper. May the force be with us.

  2. ABDOOL SATAR says:

    I requested knowledge from History – NOT from the bible’s point of view. We all know that the bible is distorted and, considering what constitutes the bible? There is NOT enough evidence-based on naked history – to tell who was there first other from the bible. The bible is a story book, full of them and the people built their faith on what is written and NOT who wrote them. They blindly accept what is written so that they can hold on to something. Until recently, christians has been printing their own bibles – from the ones written and rewritten by the jews serving their purpose. Those who don’t know accept it for what it is, afraid to question the authenticity of their written beliefs. And, even so, the Priests and Rabbis are all preaching and living a lie. Samson is a myth and the jews made him their hero to demonstrate they are gods chosen people. Moses asked of this from god but there was no respone. So, how did this chosen thing became a reality for the jews? More history is required – NOT from the bible – and
    unfortunately, we have reached a stalemate. There is none available. If samson did exist, history has failed to record it and so, one has to rely on a distorted book-the bible, written and rewritten by the jews to tell their story. If there is deception in the bible then the lives of those who read tit are living a lie, sorry to say. If jesus did say, ” The truth shall set you free,” then where would you find the truth?

    1. Carolyn McLemore says:

      Please don’t lump all Christians into a single grouping of those blindly accepting the Bible at face value, to “have something to hang onto” as you said. There are perhaps millions of us who seek out what the Bible says AND look to other sources for further elucidation as to meaning and historicity. I certainly hope you will come into contact in a meaningful way with those of us who claim Jesus as our Lord but don’t forget God’s gift of the ability to think and reason and use the two gifts to learn for ourselves the meaning and import of the Bible. Not all Christians are biblical literalists.

      1. Bill Weir says:

        All scripture is GIVEN by inspiration,( theopnuetos= ‘ God- breathed’ ) so it is the living word of God able to save our souls – sad for all rejectors as they put themselves unwittingly outside the pale of Gods salvation

    2. Michael Wilson says:

      Your statement that the Bible is all a myth, distorted, etc is ridiculous. You have absolutely no proof of that. The bible has been accepted by scholars as (partially) corroberated (sp?) history by scholars of all religions for centuries. If you have proof of your statements you should publish your sources.
      Michael Wilson

    3. Mary J Linder says:

      Abdool-
      Did you bother to read the name of the magazine in which this article was printed?
      The magazine is called “BIBLICAL Archaeology Society”.
      Are you at all aware that the word “Biblical” is related to the word “Bible”?
      —apparently not—

    4. Ron McAfee says:

      I have to assume English is a second language to you? I cant tell if your ranting has got you worked up or you just never make sense but really hard to tell what point your trying to make. If you want to know where to find the truth unfortunately for you the only infallible source on earth is the bible. Thy word is truth period. The entirety of your word is truth which includes the old and new testamnent and because the Jews dont believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah (yet) they only get half the truth. But heres my question. Where did you get Samson as somehow connected to the identity of Gods people? Maybe he wouldnt be my absolute very last choice but Im not sure.

      The sign of identity was the same for Gods people in ancient Israel as it is for Gods true Church today. Ex 31:13 Keep my Sabbath so you will know Its I who sanctifies (makes you Holy, sets you apart for special use). So if your looking for Gods people today (Holy= set apart to do his work of preaching the good news of His soon coming Kingdom) look for a Friday night sunset to Saturday sunset Sabbath keeping Christian church. With your attitude I dont expect to see you at next Saturday services or a billion other professing Christians who show up a day late because the God of this world has blinded them (for now) as much as you unfortunately. I think any with eyes to see can tell things are heading in a very dark direction. Ill pray for you freind. Satan decieves the “WHOLE” world so youre in good company but check your attitude = humble yourself.

      A non apolegetic biblical literalist

      1. Daniel Carley says:

        Bravo Ron! Finally someone who knows the Sabbath from Sunday, so rare these days. Did a research paper on the topic in school. Long story short, Catholic church decided to switch it up for their own purpose. Funny how most people don’t have a clue about this topic but glad to see someone does!

    5. Ian Mac Dougall says:

      At the point of Alpha or the begining is quite rightly the best place to start, somehow I cant help thinking faith alone is not going to establish the truth, I recently listened to an Armenian man describe how the Bible interpretations from Aramaic to English its modern day equivalent, has over 12000 mistakes, differences from the original language. Thats an average of 12 mistakes a page for an average English Bible. If I provided an authoritive work on any subject well I dare say 12000 mistakes would disallow me the privilege of any type of authenticity particulary my own intelligence.

    6. lidia Soares says:

      The Bible is more credible in that it has proven events over the ages, than Koran! What Jesus meant is that when you tell the truth, you are free! You don’t hide under camouflages and be constantly on the look out so you don’t get caught!! You don’t pretend to be who you are not!

  3. Jonathan John says:

    Well I don’t seem to get it ,some lines of history were not taken into account,the taking away of the ten tribes into exile and replacing them with another set of people,the conquest of Jerusalem by salaudeen the Kurdish warrior that inspired the migration of the Jews into Europe.contribute the genes of the people we called Palestinians today

    1. Steve says:

      Jesus said ‘those who say they are Jews but are not’…..is that what you mean when you mentioned the Babylonian exile/replacement of Hebrews that were at Jerusalem/Israel? Someone like modern day Rothschild, in your own opinion can you explain Jacob Rothschild’s conehead? The movie with Dan Akroyd displays them as aliens come to earth. Whoever they are, they LOVE to lie and deceive.

  4. Dr. Carlos Zorea says:

    It is possible to identify the origin of the Philistines, starting on the 14th century B.C.

    1. PAUL C CULTON says:

      The Bible records an exchange between Abimelech the Philistine and Abraham (Gen. 20:1-16 ). I had always thought Abraham lived ca. 2000-1900 B.C. The way I read it, the Philistines occupied their customary area BEFORE Abraham immigrated to Caanan. That would mean they arrived well before Abraham’s arrival, wouldn’t it? In which case, to what wave of immigrants would they (Philistines) correspond? I’ve looked for other sources that put the “invasion” of the Philistines earlier than 1400 B.C., and have found none. Bumping Abraham up to 1300-1200 B.C. is also problematic. Can you offer some clarification?

  5. Sandy Wirfs says:

    Wonderful research. Helps us get an understanding of the origins of people and their place in Bible history. Those taunting the battle line of Israel , as Goliath was doing when challenging David, only came to know it wasn’t David, but Jehovah God they were up against. Easy victory for this boy with a sling and a stone. Those wicked nations had to be removed for the Israelites to inherit the promised land. A good lesson for us today: Daniel 2:44 – Christ’s heavenly Kingdom government will replace imperfect human governments. Isaiah 9:6,7 It is unforgivable to be speaking against holy spirit. Matt 12:32

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