What Did Goliath Look Like?
So two weeks ago, maybe, just maybe there were some readers who might have said to themselves, “Selves, when I read the books of Judges and Samuel I hear a whole lot about the Philistines. And I don’t recall the Amarna Letters saying all that much about them. They lived in southern Canaan. You’d think they’d have the decency to write pharaoh a letter. Maybe pay him a visit.” And so, to reward such astute thinking, this week we will examine the Philistines.
The Amarna Letters were written towards the end of a period known as the Late Bronze Age. Shortly afterwards, several groups discovered the secret of making iron (and hence the Iron Age), which gave them a military advantage over their neighbors. The Philistines were part of a larger movement of people groups known as the Sea Peoples who had knowledge of iron working and superior naval technology. At the end of the Late Bronze Age, the empires of the ANE went into major recessions and the trade networks between them broke down. The Sea Peoples took advantage of the power vacuum to raid and conquer numerous civilizations.
During the 1200’s and early 1100’s B.C. the Sea Peoples destroyed the Mycenaean civilization in Greece, the Minoan civilization on Crete, the Hittite Empire in Asia Minor, and several small kingdoms in Syria and Lebanon. They’re ultimate goal appears to have been to conquer Egypt, but the Egyptians defeated them on several occasions during the reigns of Merneptah (1213-1203) and Rameses III (1186-1155). Rameses allowed the survivors from the group known as the “p-r-s-t” to settle in southern Canaan and they became the Philistines of Judges and Samuel.
The Egyptians carefully depicted the different clothing and weapon styles of their invaders. This site covers many of the Egyptian monuments which record their victories over the Sea Peoples. Find the section on the Peleset to see what the Philistines looked like according to the Egyptians. Also relevant to southern Canaan are the Canaanites and the Shasu.
The Egyptians were severely weakened by their fight against the Sea Peoples. Shortly after settling in southern Canaan, the Philistines revolted and formed a league of five cities – Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath. They dominated southern and central Canaan for the next 150 years (ca. 1150 – 1000). Israelite victories over the Philistines under Samuel and Saul were rare and only temporary. When David united the Israelites under his rule at Jerusalem, the Philistines attacked again to protect their hegemony, but they were defeated and their alliance was broken.
After David, each of the Philistine cities acted in their own self-interest. In ANE politics over the next 500 years, they were hostile to Judah and often served either as a buffer protecting Egyptian interests, or as a launching pad for Assyrian, Babylonian, or Persian invasions of Egypt.
The following are a few websites that cover archaeological digs at Philistine sites. Gath is a hot topic because no one knew its exact location until just recently.