Posted by Chris McKinny | Posted in Archaeology , King David , Old Testament , Philistines , Tell es Safi/Gath | Posted on 8:35 AM
Last weekend I left the lofty heights of the Judean Hill Country and David's capital and went behind enemy lines into the lion's den - into one of the most infamous cities in the land of Israel...the Philistine city of Gath.
I will be at Gath (known today as Tell es Safi - which means "white mound" in Arabic) for 4 weeks as I take part in the thirteenth archaeological season of Tell es Safi. It is being excavated under the auspices of Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv under the directorship of Dr. Aren Maeir. Check out the dig's web site for an overview of the site and blog for updates on the excavations. Also check out Todd Bolen's BiblePlaces for pics of the site.
Each week I will try to provide a recap of the week's events, but first lets have an introduction to the Philistines and one of their most important cities, Gath.
Introduction to the Philistines and Gath
Who are the Philistines? Good question. The Philistines are a sub-group of a large wave of Greek people groups that came to the Levant (Land of Israel) and Egypt in the 1200 and 1100s BCE. The Philistines were the only successful group within that wave to relocate (from somewhere in the Greek isles - maybe Mycenea) and re-establish their own culture identity. Upon arrival the Philistines destroyed several major cities and began to occupy the southern coastland of Israel - known from thenceforth as Philistia. The Philistines' Greek culture, language, and architecture followed them from their former homeland as they made set up shop in the formerly held Canaanite coastland. Because of the foreign material culture it is quite easy to identify Philistine material remains - their art, architecture and particularly pottery is much more decorative and of a much higher quality.
Historically, biblical Gath is part of the 5 major Philistine cities that controlled the western coast of the land of Israel (the other 4 are Ekron (just north of Gath), Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza (along the coastline) - this is sometimes called the Philistine Pentapolus (Greek = 5 cities, i.e. Pentatuech = 5 books of Moses). Each of these 5 cities had their own ruler who worked together with the other 4 rulers to effectively rule Philistia (meaning that the Philistines did not have a monarchical system over their land as did Judah, Israel, Ammon, Moab, or Edom).
Gath sits on the edge of the coastal plain and the Shephelah (lowlands) - it defines the eastern border of Philistia. The International Coastal Highway runs directly to the west of the site - which made ancient Gath a thriving cosmopolitan city. Over its existence there was a kind of a "seesaw" effect between Gath and its sister-city Ekron - Gath would be strong and Ekron would be weak, then Ekron would dominate and Gath would dissipate, and so on and so on. The biblical account and archaeology are cohesive on that point. The city of Gath is mentioned over 30 times in the Bible - most of those occur during the period of the Judges and the United Kingdom (particularly during the reign of David).
Schematic Historical Timeline of Gath
- Early Bronze Age - Late Bronze Age (ca. 3000-1200)* Canaanite City of Gath (destroyed by the Philistines)
- Iron Age (1200-800)* Philistine City of Gath (destroyed by Hazael of Aram)
- Iron Age (800-604)* Judean City of Gath (destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon)
- 1 Samuel 5-6 - Loss of the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark's tour behind enemy lines (including Gath), and "miraculous" return of Ark to Judah
- 1 Samuel 17 - Saul vs. Goliath (Goliath's hometown is Gath v.23) - Philistia defeated as far as Gath (v. 52)
- 1 Samuel 21 - David takes asylum in Gath from a murderous King Saul - but quickly becomes afraid of Achish (ruler of Gath) and acts like a crazy person in order to escape
- 1 Samuel 27 - David returns to Gath, but this time he has won Achish's favor - David becomes a "mercenary" for Achish
- 2 Samuel 21 - King David of Judah fights against Gath (v. 20) eventually subduing the Philistines
- 2 Kings 12:17 - Hazael king of the Arameans (present day Syria) conquers Gath on his way to Jerusalem (today there are very impressive remains of this conquest - including a violent destruction level and the world's oldest and most complete siege trench that completely surrounded the site)
- 2 Chronicles 26:6 - King Uzziah of Judah subdues the Philistines while "breaking the wall of Gath"
TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO THE DOVE ON FAR-OFF TEREBINTHS. A MIKTAM OF DAVID, WHEN THE PHILISTINES SEIZED HIM IN GATH.
"Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life."
Was anyone more eloquent than King David? Our Lord and Master would echo these words in Matthew 10:28 - "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."
Its nice to know where this passage was written.
*Dates are approximate