Philistines part 2
by John Thomas Lowe
How Did David Attack a Philistine Giant?
The Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath (I Samuel 17) has become a legend as a case of the "little guy" defeating an imposing enemy. Before the pair's short duel began, the Israelites and Philistine armies were assembled on opposite hills overlooking a valley. Goliath sets the battle in motion: A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back (1 Samuel 17:4-7). Goliath challenges any man in the Israeli army to fight him. He says the Philistines will become Israeli subjects if the Israelites defeat Goliath. No man in the Israeli army responds to the challenge: On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified (1 Samuel 17:11).
David, meanwhile, leaves his flock of sheep to visit his three older brothers in their army encampment. David hears Goliath's challenge, given for the fortieth day in a row, and learns that Saul's reward for defeating Goliath is the hand of his daughter in marriage and tax breaks for the family of the slayer. David is confident in the God of Abraham when he responds to Goliath's challenge: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (1 Samuel 17:26).
Despite King Saul's reluctance that David, a boy, should fight such a formidable foe, David remains confident he will slay Goliath. David has killed lions and bears that threatened his sheep. The Philistine is like a vicious, wild animal to David—one he can overcome with God's help. David tells Saul, "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:37).
David says to Goliath, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied" (1 Samuel 17:45). David knocks out Goliath with his first shot from his slingshot arsenal of five smooth stones. The giant lays lifeless on the ground. The Philistine army flees and is followed by Israelites, who kill many of them.
After defeating Goliath, David cuts off Goliath's head with Goliath's sword and brings the head to Jerusalem, which Israel had not yet conquered and established as Israel's capital city. King Saul asks David who he is precisely and finds out David is a son of Jesse, whom Samuel prophesied would rule as king of Israel after Saul (I Samuel 17:51-58).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/kevron2001
Whom Did the Philistines Worship?
The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Philistines was due partly to their religious differences. Israelites worshiped one God. The Philistines worshipped Baal, considered a universal god of fertility. Baal was important to the agrarian culture of the Philistines and was also known as Lord of the Earth and Lord of Rain and Dew. The Philistines also worshiped Astarte, the Queen of Heaven and goddess of war and sexual love, to whom the Canaanites burned offerings and poured libations (Jeremiah 44:15-17). Another important deity to the Philistines was Dagon, a god of crop fertility, whose name means "grain." Dagon was the legendary inventor of the plow.
Worshipping Philistine or Assyrian gods was God's first complaint regarding His people in the Old Testament. When the Israelites were influenced by the beliefs of their neighboring Canaanite tribe members and worshiped false gods, God became very angry with His Hebrew people. As the prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites, "This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of their evil. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and worshipping other gods that neither they nor your fathers ever knew" (Jeremiah 44:2-3).
What Happened to the Canaanites?
After the Israelites occupied Canaan in the late second millennium, their conquest of Canaan was drawn out and complicated, as described in the history books of the Old Testament. As the Israelites' civilization spread across Canaan, Old Testament scholars believe Hebrews and the earliest; Philistine Canaanites combined their cultures and D.N.A. with other people in the region.
The Canaanites did not leave documented records of their lives; they used papyrus that dissolved over time instead of the more durable clay for writing used by other cultures. Therefore, much of the Canaanites' history is reconstructed through the interpretations of Old Testament researchers and archeological discoveries by scientists.
In a startling discovery, a group of scientists who published their findings in The American Journal of Human Genetics(AJHG), found that the D.N.A. of five individuals buried in the Canaanite city of Sidon in Lebanon around 1700 B.C.E. is very similar to the D.N.A. of 99 individuals living in Lebanon in 2017. The scientists concluded, "We show that present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, implying substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age." According to this recent archeological evidence, Ancient Canaanite blood still flows in modern middle eastern people. Perhaps some of that blood belonged to the ancient Philistines living in Canaan thousands of years ago.
The Philistines were an ancient people who lived on the south coast of Canaan from the 12th century BC until 604 BC, when their polity, after having already been subjugated for centuries by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, was finally destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. After becoming part of his empire and its successor, the Persian Empire, they lost their distinct ethnic identity. They disappeared from the historical and archaeological record by the late 5th century B.C. The Philistines are known for their biblical conflict with the Israelites. Though the primary source of information about the Philistines is the Hebrew Bible, they are first attested to in reliefs at the Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu, in which they are called Peleset (accepted as cognate with Hebrew Peleshet); the parallel Assyrian term is Palastu, Pilišti, or Pilistu.
Several theories are given about the origins of the Philistines. The Hebrew Bible mentions in two places that they originate from Caphtor (possibly Crete/Minoa). The Septuagint connects the Philistines to other biblical groups such as Caphtorim, the Cherethites, and Pelethites, identified with the island of Crete. This has led to the modern theory of the Philistines having an Aegean origin. In 2016, a sizeable Philistine cemetery was discovered near Ashkelon, containing more than 150 dead buried in oval-shaped graves. A 2019 genetic study found that, while all three Ashkelon populations derive most of their ancestry from the local Semitic-speaking Levantine gene pool, the early Iron Age population was genetically distinct due to a European-related admixture; this genetic signal is no longer detectable in the later Iron Age population. According to the authors, the admixture was likely due to a "gene flow from a European-related gene pool" during the Bronze to Iron Age transition, which supports the theory that a migration event occurred.