Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Philistines: Bitter Enemy of Israel

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Philistines: Bitter Enemy of Israel

Article excerpt

From the era of the Judges to that of the Assyrian empire, the Philistines were the arch enemy of Israel. During the reign of Ahaz (740 BCE), the Philistines seized control of Beth-shemesh and the Aijalon district (II Chron. 28:18). Even though both King David (1040 BCE) and King Hezekiah (725 BCE) had subjugated the Philistines, they were still a threat to the Judean kingdom even at the time of the prophet Ezekiel (585 BCE) some 140 years later. Ezekiel writes:

Thus said the Lord God: Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with disdain of soul to destroy, for the old hatred; therefore thus said the Lord God: Behold, I will stretch out My hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites, and destroy the remnant of the sea-coast. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay My vengeance upon them (Ezek. 25:15-17).


The Bible identifies Abimelech as king of the Philistines in the days of Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 20:32; 26:8). This has aroused controversy, since extra-biblical sources indicate that the Philistines were a "Sea People" from the region of Crete who invaded the Levant toward the end of the Late Bronze/Iron I Ages, a time generally identified with the Exodus and conquest of Canaan. (1) Also, while there is some tension with Abimelech over water rights (Genesis 26) and wife/sister deception (Genesis 20 and 26), these matters are all resolved, and there is no hint of the enmity that would characterize later Israelite-Philistine relations. (2) Rather than view the mention of Philistines in the Patriarchal era as an anachronism, we can say that these Philistines were part of an earlier, minor wave of Aegean invaders who set up a small city-state in Gerar ruled by Abimelech. (3)

According to the biblical account, there were two separate immigrations or invasions by Philistines in the Land of Canaan. The first took place in the era of the Patriarchs, Abraham and Isaac. There was friction, but no violence, between the Patriarchs and Abimelech, who actually made a compact in Beer-sheba (Gen. 6:28-31). The second, much larger invasion came centuries later (around 1200 BCE) and led to the Philistines being entrenched in five major cities, Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron, ruled over by seranim (lords). (4) From this point onward they displayed bitter enmity toward Israel, engaging in a 600-year conflict up to the post-exilic era. They had lost their identity by the fifth century BCE, leaving no inscriptions or literature.

Archaeologists are still not clear as to where the Philistines originated, but it is thought that they most probably came from the Aegean region. The Bible states that their place of origin was Caphtor: Mizraim begot the Ludim. the Anamim, the Lehabim, the Naphtuhim, the Pathrusim, the Casluhim, and the Caphtorim, whence the Philistines came forth (Gen, 10:13-14). Amos states: Have I not brought Israel up from the Land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor? (Amos 9:7). Most scholars identify Caphtor with Crete, (5) so that the origin of the Philistines, as stated in the Bible, concurs with the findings of current scholarship based on extra-biblical historical data.

The Philistines at the time of the Exodus occupied the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, apparently extending almost to the tip of the eastern Egyptian delta. (6) This coastal area is the "way of the Philistines" noted in Exodus 13:17: Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, 'The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt' (Ex. 13:17). This is distinct from the land of the Philistines in the days of the Patriarchs, which was located in the Negev, its chief city being Gerar. (7)

A major Sea Peoples' attack on Egypt, led by the Philistines, occurred in 1175 BCE. …

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