Philistine Temple 311.
(photo credit: Richard Wiskin)
The word Philistine has come to denote boorishness, an underdeveloped sense of
beauty and sophistication, and vulgar materialism.
2,000 year-old intact carving of Cupid found in Jerusalem
Temple found in Philistine home of Goliath
But remnants of an
ancient Philistine hub now being excavated in the ancient city of Gath tell a
different story: one of an advanced society boasting sophisticated architecture
and an advanced political life.
Excavators of Tell es-Safi/Gath, one of
Israel’s largest archeological sites, resume work this week in search of further
remnants of a Philistine temple believed to have been toppled by an earthquake
in 8th century BCE – an event familiar to millions the world over through the
biblical story of Samson.
The temple was discovered a year ago by a team
led by Prof.
Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan’s University’s Department of Land of
Israel Studies and Archaeology. Dating back to the Iron Age (10th century BCE),
it features two central pillars in accordance with the image described in the
story of Samson in the Book of Judges: “He pulled the two pillars together, and
down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.”
has also uncovered collapsed walls that appear to date from an earthquake in the
8th century BCE – an event that could be identical to the earthquake prophesized
by the prophet Amos.
“What we do illuminates various aspects of the
Bible,” Maeir said.
“We don’t set out to prove or disprove it. We’re just
studying the periods that it was written in and bring color and flesh to the
In its 15th year, experts at the Tell es-Safi /Gath
Archaeological Project (situated in the Tel Tzafit National Park between Beit
Shemesh and Ashdod) hope to discover more finds from the various stages of the
Canaanite, Philistine and Judahite cultures.
Now their efforts have been
bolstered by some 100 students of archaeology, anthropology and theology – from
North America, Europe, South Korea and Australia – hoping to unearth more
insights into Philistine history.
In the Bible the Philistines are
portrayed as the archetypal enemy – all brawn and no brain – exemplified by the
hulking, thick-headed Goliath who falls victim to the wily King David.
2005 dig at Gath made headlines when excavators found a small ceramic shard
bearing two names similar to that of Goliath, whom the Bible says lived in Gath.
The find marked the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription to
The Philistines’ origins lie in Crete, from which they embarked
around 1175 BCE for the southern coastal plain of present-day
They swiftly conquered Gath from the Canaanites and in time they
built up a five-city confederation, the Pentapolis – including Ashkelon, Ashdod,
Ekron and Gaza.
Information of the lives of the Philistines in the 11th
and 12th century BCE is well known from excavations in Ashdod and Ashkelon
conducted since the 1960s. But Seymour Gitin, director of the WF Albright
Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and an expert on the
Philistines, told the Associated Press the excavation at Gath could “fill a very
important gap in our understanding of the Philistines in 9th century
“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a
hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him,” Maeir added, speaking
of Goliath. “But it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that
was actually there at the time.”