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The Philistines (Hebrew: פְלִשְׁתִּים‎, p'lishtim) (see "other uses" below) were a people who occupied the southern coast of Canaan, their territory being named Philistia in later contexts. Their origin has been debated among scholars. There is not enough information of the original language of the Philistines to relate it securely to any other languages. Biblical and related traditions differentiate between the original Philistines in the days of Abraham called Avvites and the later conquering Caphtorites who replaced them. It is theorized that the latter Philistines originated among the "sea peoples".

Modern archaeology has also suggested early cultural links with the Mycenean world in Greece.[1]

Though the Philistines adopted local Canaanite culture and language before leaving any written texts (and later adopted the Aramaic language), an Indo-European origin has been suggested for a handful of known Philistine words that survived as loan words in Hebrew.


The etymology of the word into English is from Old French Philistin, from Late Latin Philistinus, from Late Greek Philistinoi (Phylistiim in the Septuagint), from Hebrew P'lishtim, (See, e.g., 1 Samuel 17:26, 17:36; 2 Samuel 1:20; Judges 14:3), "people of P'lesheth" ("Philistia"); cf. Akkadian Palastu, Egyptian Palusata; the word probably is the people's name for itself.[2]

Biblical scholars often trace the word to the Semitic root p-l-sh (Hebrew: פלש‎) which means to divide, go through, to roll in, cover or invade,[3] with a possible sense in this name as "migrant" or "invader".[4]

Another theory, proposed by Jacobsohn and supported by others, is that the name derives from the attested Illyrian locality Palaeste, whose inhabitants would have been called Palaestīnī according to normal grammatical practice.[5]

Another historian suggests that the name Philistine is a corruption of the Greek "phyle histia" ("tribe of the hearth", with the Ionic spelling of "hestia").[6] He goes on to suggest that they were responsible for introducing the fixed hearth to the Levant. This suggestion was raised before archaeological evidence for the use of the hearths was documented at Philistine sites.


Deuteronomy 2:23 records that the Caphtorites came from Caphtor, destroyed the Avvites and usurped their land. The Talmud (Chullin 60b) notes that the Avvites were the original Philistine people in the days of Abraham while the Philistines of later times were descended from the conquering Caphtorites.

In Egypt, a people called the "Peleset" (or, more precisely, prst), generally identified with the Philistines, appear in the Medinet Habu inscription of Ramesses III,[7] where he describes his victory against the Sea Peoples, as well as in the Onomasticon of Amenope (late Twentieth Dynasty) and Papyrus Harris I, a summary of Ramesses III's reign written in the reign of Ramesses IV. Nineteenth-century Bible scholars identified the land of the Philistines (Philistia) with Palastu and Pilista found in Assyrian inscriptions, according to Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897).

The Philistines occupied the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, along the coastal strip of southwestern Canaan, that belonged to Egypt up to the closing days of the Nineteenth Dynasty (ended 1185 BC). The biblical stories of Samson, Samuel, Saul and David include accounts of Philistine-Israelite conflicts. The Philistines long held a monopoly on iron smithing (a skill they possibly acquired during conquests in Anatolia), and the biblical description of Goliath's armor is consistent with this iron-smithing technology.

According to the Bible, the Philistines made frequent incursions against the Israelites. There was almost perpetual war between the two peoples. The Philistine pentapolis were ruled by seranim (סְרָנִים, "lords"), who acted together for the common good, though to what extent they had a sense of a "nation" is not clear without literary sources. After their defeat by the Hebrew king David, who originally for a time worked as a mercenary for Achish of Gath, kings replaced the seranim, governing from various cities. Some of these kings were called Abimelech, which was initially a name and later a dynastic title.

The Philistines lost their independence to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria by 732 BC, and revolts in following years were all crushed. Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon eventually conquered all of Syria and the Kingdom of Judah, and the former Philistine cities became part of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. There are few references to the Philistines after this time period. However, Ezekiel 25:16, Zechariah 9:6, and I Macabees 3 make mention of the Philistines, indicating that they still existed as a people in some capacity after the Babylonian invasion. The Philistines disappear as a distinct group by the late fifth century BCE.[8] Subsequently, the mixed people of the former Philstine cities were converted to Judaism by the Hasmoneans.

The name "Palestine" comes, via Greek and Latin, from the Philistines; see History of Palestine.

Origin of the Philistines

Genesis 10:13 lists the Philistines as being descended from Ham. The Bible contains roughly 250 references to the Philistines or Philistia, and repeatedly refers to them as "uncircumcised", just like the Hamitic peoples, such as Canaanites, which the Bible relates encountered the Israelites following the Exodus. (See, e.g., 1 Samuel 17:26-36, 2 Samuel 1:20, Judges 14:3)

It has been suggested that the Caphtorite Philistines formed part of the "Sea Peoples" who repeatedly attacked Egypt during the later Nineteenth Dynasty. Though they were eventually repulsed by Ramses III, he finally resettled them, according to the theory, to rebuild the coastal towns in Canaan. Papyrus Harris I details the achievements of the reign of Ramses III. In the brief description of the outcome of the battles in Year 8 is the description of the fate of the Sea Peoples. Ramses tells us that, having brought the imprisoned Sea Peoples to Egypt, he "settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries each year." Some scholars suggest it is likely that these "strongholds" were fortified towns in southern Canaan, which would eventually become the five cities (the Pentapolis) of the Philistines (Redford 1992, p. 289). Israel Finkelstein has suggested that there may be a period of 25–50 years after the sacking of these cities and their reoccupation by the Philistines. It is quite possible that for the initial period of time, the Philistines were housed in Egypt, only subsequently late in the troubled end of the reign of Ramses III would they have been allowed to settle Philistia. Jewish tradition identifies Caphtor the original home of the later Philistines as the region of Pelusium in Egypt.


The connection between Mycenean culture and Philistine culture was made clearer by finds at the excavation of Ashdod, Ekron, Ashkelon, and more recently Gath, four of the five Philistine cities in Canaan. The fifth city is Gaza. Especially notable is the early Philistine pottery, a locally-made version of the Aegean Mycenaean Late Helladic IIIC pottery, which is decorated in shades of brown and black. This later developed into the distinctive Philistine pottery of the Iron Age I, with black and red decorations on white slip known as Philistine Bichrome ware. Also of particular interest is a large, well-constructed building covering 240 square metres (2,600 sq ft), discovered at Ekron. Its walls are broad, designed to support a second story, and its wide, elaborate entrance leads to a large hall, partly covered with a roof supported on a row of columns. In the floor of the hall is a circular hearth paved with pebbles, as is typical in Mycenean megaron hall buildings; other unusual architectural features are paved benches and podiums. Among the finds are three small bronze wheels with eight spokes. Such wheels are known to have been used for portable cultic stands in the Aegean region during this period, and it is therefore assumed that this building served cultic functions. Further evidence concerns an inscription in Ekron to PYGN or PYTN, which some have suggested refers to "Potnia," the title given to an ancient Mycenaean goddess. Excavations in Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath reveal dog and pig bones which show signs of having been butchered, implying that these animals were part of the residents' diet.


One name the Greeks used for the previous inhabitants of Greece and the Aegean was Pelasgians, but no definite connection has been established between this name and that of the Philistines. The theory that the Sea Peoples included Greek-speaking tribes has been developed even further to postulate that the Philistines originated in either western Anatolia or the Greek peninsula.

Philistine language

Nothing is known for certain about the language of the Philistines.[9] There is some limited evidence in favor of the assumption that the Philistines did originally speak some Indo-European language. A number of Philistine-related words found in the Bible are not Semitic, and can in some cases, with reservations, be traced back to Proto-Indo-European roots. For example, the Philistine word for captain, seren, may be related to the Greek word tyrannos (which, however, has not been traced to a PIE root). Some of the Philistine names, such as Goliath, Achish, and Phicol, appear to be of non-Semitic origin, and Indo-European etymologies have been suggested. Recently, an inscription dating to the late 10th/early 9th centuries BC with two names, very similar to one of the suggested etymologies of the popular Philistine name Goliath (Lydian Alyattes, or perhaps Greek Kalliades) was found in the excavations at Gath. The appearance of additional non-Semitic names in Philistine inscriptions from later stages of the Iron Age is an additional indication of the non-Semitic origins of this group.

Culture and religion

Philistine culture was almost fully integrated with that of Canaan and the Canaanites. The deities they worshiped were Baal, Astarte and Dagon, whose names or variations thereof appear in the Canaanite pantheon as well.[9]

Extrabiblical inscriptions

Inscriptions written by the Philistines have not yet been found or conclusively identified; however, their early history is known to scholars from inscriptions in other ancient documents, such as Ancient Egyptian texts.[10] The Philistines appear in four different texts from the time of the New Kingdom under the name Peleshet.[10] Two of these, the inscriptions at Medinet Habu and the Rhetorical Stela at Deir al-Medinah, are dated to the time of the reign of Ramses III (1186 - 1155 BCE).[10] Another was composed in the period immediately following the death of Ramses III (Papyrus Harris I).[10] The fourth, the Onomasticon of Amenope, is dated to some time between the end of the 12th or early 11th century BCE.[10]

The inscriptions at Medinet Habu consist of images depicting a coalition of Sea Peoples, among them the Philistines, who are said in the accompanying text to have been defeated by Ramses III during his Year 8 campaign. Scholars have been unable to conclusively determine which images match what peoples described in the reliefs depicting two major battle scenes. A separate relief on one of the bases of the Osirid pillars with an accompanying hieroglyphic text clearly identifying the person depicted as a captive Peleset chief is of a bearded man without headdress.[10]

The Rhetorical Stela are less discussed, but are noteworthy in that they mention the Peleset together with a people called the Teresh, who sailed "in the midst of the sea". The Teresh are thought to have originated from the Anatolian coast and their association with the Peleshet in this inscription is seen as providing some information on the possible origin and identity of the Philistines.[11]

The Harris Papyrus which was found in a tomb at Medinet Habu also recalls Ramses III's battles with the Sea Peoples, declaring that the Peleset were "reduced to ashes." Egyptian strongholds in Canaan are also mentioned, including a temple dedicated to Amun, which some scholars place in Gaza; however, the lack of detail indicating the precise location of these strongholds means that it is unknown what impact these had, if any, on Philistine settlement along the coast.[11]

The first mention in an Egyptian source of the Philistines in conjunction with three of the five cities that are said in the Hebrew Bible to have made up their pentapolis comes in the Onomasticon of Amenope. The sequence in question read: "Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza, Assyria, Shubaru [...] Sherden, Tjekker, Peleset, Khurma [...]" Scholars have advanced the possibility that the other Sea Peoples mentioned were connected to these cities in some way as well.[11]

Statements in the Bible

The Philistines and Philistia are mentioned over 250 times in the Hebrew Bible.[11] The "Pelishtim" (פְּלִשְׁתִּים, Standard Hebrew Plishtim, Tiberian Hebrew Pəlištîm) appear in the Book of Genesis 10:14 in a listing of the Hamitic branch of Noah's descendants.[12] The verse in question, in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, reads as follows:

"...we'et-petrusim we'et-kesluhim, eŝer yats'u miŝam piliŝtim, we'et-keftorim."

Most interpretations, including the King James Version, take the consistently plural grammar to mean that the Philistim were a people who proceeded from the Casluhim (כַּסְלֻחִים), and possibly also the Pathrusim (פַּתְרֻסִים) — groups who descended from Mizraim (מִצְרַיִם, Egypt), son of Ham.[13] This biblical passage is therefore generally interpreted as assigning Philistine origins to Egypt.[11] However, in The Companion Bible (2000), the footnote for verse 14 states: "The parantheses in this verse should come after Caphtorim, as these gave the name Philistine. The five cities of the Philistines (Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath) were on the confines of Egypt (Deut. 2. 23)."[14] Other biblical texts also relate the Philistines to Caphtor, such as the Book of Amos which states: "saith the LORD: Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and Aram from Kir?" (Amos 9:7). The later 7th century BC, Jeremiah makes the same association: "For the LORD will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor." (Jeremiah 47:4).[11] Scholars variously identify the land of Caphtor with Cyprus and Crete and other locations in the eastern Mediterranean.

One historian has written that Metsir or Mizor was the forefather of the Mizraim, defined as a people of Egypt, and writes that the Philistim, or Philistines, came from Mizor's grandson, Peles, explaining that this is why Jeremiah calls them, "the remnant of Caphtor."[15] Of the Cherethites, whose name is thought to derive from Caphtor, he says they are mentioned as a people of Philistia in Samuel 30: 14. Of the Pelethites, mentioned alongside them, the historian says they were also Philistines, with their name derived from that of Peles.[15] Mentioning that the meaning of Caphtor approximates the Hebrew word "to cut or destroy," and Peles, "to divide or slay," he submits that rather than deriving their meanings from the Hebrew, these peoples imbued the Hebrew words with their meanings, employed as they were as life guards or executioners.[15]

The Philistines are described as having settled "Pelesheth" (פְּלֶשֶׁת, Standard Hebrew Pléshet, Tiberian Hebrew Pəléšeṯ) along the eastern Mediterranean coast at about the time the Israelites settled in the Judean highlands. Biblical references to Philistines living in the area before this, at the time of Abraham or Isaac (e.g. Gen. 21:32-34), are generally regarded by modern scholars to be an "update" of the original story directed at a later readership.[11]

Battles between Israel and the Philistines

The following is a list of battles recorded in the Bible between Israel and the Philistines: [16]

See also

  • Syro-Palestinian archaeology#Archaeology in Gaza


  1. For an important typological study, cf. Dothan 1982
  2. Etymology Online
  3. Jastrow, Marcus. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature. New York: Judaica Press, 1989., p.1185
  4. "plš". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition: Appendix II Semitic Roots. 2000. Retrieved 2008-01-02. 
  5. G. Bonfante, Who were the Philistines?, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 50, (1946), pp. 251-262.
  6. Jones, A. 1972. The Philistines and the Hearth: Their Journey to the Levant. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 31: 343–50
  7. Texts from the Medinet Habu Temple with Reference to the Sea Peoples
  8. Eric M. Meyers, American Schools of Oriental Research, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 313.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Fahlbusch, 2005, p. 185.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Killebrew, 2005, p. 202.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Killebrew, 2005, pp. 204-205.
  12. Smith, 1863, p. 1546.
  13. Lapidge et al., 1982, p. 132. In Lapidge et al., Philistim is said to refer to a city, while Philistiim refers to the people.
  14. Bullinger, 2000, p. 6.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Brooks, 1841, p. 10.
  16. Chaim Herzog & Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible, Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006


External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Philistines. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.