The Destruction of Philistine Gath

New Excavations Confirm City Fell During Aramaean Siege

Aren Maeir et Safi

Archaeologist Aren Maeir excavating ceramics destroyed around 830 B.C.E. during the Aramean siege of Philistine Gath. Photo courtesy of Aren Maier.

Recent excavations by Bar-Ilan University, led by Dr. Aren Maeir, have shed new light on the destruction of biblical Gath, the Philistine city famously home to Goliath. The team, which has been digging at Gath (modern Tell es-Safi) for 25 seasons, has repeatedly uncovered evidence of large-scale destruction across the entire tell. This destruction is firmly connected to the ninth-century B.C.E. campaign of Hazael, king of Aram Damascus, as mentioned in 2 Kings 12:17.

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Until recently, however, the team did not have a clear picture of exactly how the city fell. But during the 2021 season, new evidence emerged that might explain the city’s final demise—a nearly 30-foot-long break in the city’s massive fortification system. According to the archaeologists, this gap likely represents the very section where the Arameans broke through the walls of the Philistine city after a long siege. This, Maeir believes, may be “the earliest known, on-the-ground evidence of a siege from the entire world.”

During the Iron Age II (c. 1000–586 B.C.E.), the kingdom of Aram Damascus rose to great prominence. Through the centuries, Aram was allied to, in conflict with, or dominated its southern neighbors, especially Israel and Judah and the Philistine city-states. Although it never posed the same threat as Assyria or Babylon, the kingdom of Aram Damascus under King Hazael (c. 842–796 B.C.E.) appears to have expanded southward, creating a mini-empire. It was at this time, probably around 830 B.C.E., that Gath fell into Hazael’s crosshairs.

According to Maeir, it is unclear what caused the conflict between Gath and Aram Damascus, although it may have been spurred by Hazael’s attempt to gain control of the southern trade routes that connected Egypt and the Wadi Arabah with the rest of the Levant. At its height, Gath was one of the largest cities in the southern Levant, with a population of around 10,000. The city, which was located along a major trade route that brought great wealth to the city’s inhabitants, would have been a prize target for Hazael’s expansionist regime.

Although the Bible spends less than a verse describing the city’s destruction, the archaeological evidence paints a picture of an incredibly devastating event. Throughout their excavations, the team discovered abundant evidence of Hazael’s siege, including burned buildings, human remains, and a siege trench over a mile long. After its fall, the city of Gath never recovered, dramatically reshaping the region’s political geography and power dynamics.


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Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath’s Hometown? by Aren M. Maeir and Carl S. Ehrlich

Three of the five cities of the famous Philistine Pentapolis have long been known—Ashkelon, Ashdod and Gaza. A fourth, Ekron, has recently been confirmed by an inscription, locating it at modern Tel Miqne. Gath, the fifth, remains somewhat of a mystery. We believe we have found it—at Tell es-Safi, where we have been digging now for years.

What We Know About the Philistines by Trude Dothan

The Bible is understandably hostile to the Philistines, describing them as a pleasure loving, warlike society of pagans ruled by “tyrants” who threatened ancient Israel’s existence. An unscrupulous enemy, the Philistines deployed Delilah and her deceitful charm to rob Samson of his power. In a later period, they slew King Saul and his sons in battle, then cruelly hung the king’s headless body from the walls of Beth Shean. And for three millennia now, the rousing story of David’s victory over the awesome Goliath has been told and retold, creating an indelibly negative image of the Philistines in the imagination of each new generation.

Did Captured Ark Afflict Philistines with E.D.? by Aren M. Maeir

I’ve always been troubled by the Philistine hemorrhoids. The Hebrew word is ‘opalim (Mylpe). That was supposedly their affliction when they captured the Ark of the Covenant and placed it before a statue of their god Dagon.

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