Monday 4 March 2019

Philistines and the ‘Sea People’ who were they?

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The Mysterious Philistines

David vs. Goliath, by Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939)

In the half-century between c. 1200 and 1150 BC the Mycenean Kingdoms, the Kassite dynasty of Babylonia, the Hittite Empire, many Canaanite cities began to fall like dominoes. 

They (and Egyptian Empire) were caught up in mega-drought and famine, disruptive people movements, war, depopulation and ensuing illiteracy over much of the known world.

This was the time of the Bronze Age collapse (which is discussed in a separate blog). 

The origin of the Philistines and their arrival into Palestine occurred at this time and is caught up in the mystery of the 'Sea People', best known from Egyptian accounts as savage raiders attacking in great numbers along the Mediterranean coast for maybe a century through to 1178 BC.

 ‘The unruly Sherden (people of the sea) whom no one had ever known how to combat, they came boldly sailing in their warships from the midst of the sea, none being able to withstand them’ (from an inscription credited to Ramesses II

The Egyptians  (and the Hittites) not only suffered from these marauders but more local raiders . In Egypt's case this  included people from Canaan and Libya,

By the time of Ramesses III 1180 BC, the Peleset (from Hebrew Peleshet (meaning Philistine)) were first included in the list, at time of unimaginable wide spread slaughter and collapse.
'No land could resist their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya … They desolated its people and its land was like that which had never existed … They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts were confident …'  

Ramesses III's reliefs show carts loaded with women, children, and household goods amongst the attackers. They weren't just there to raid, they were looking for new lands to settle.

The Israelite term (Pelesheth) means a region on the S. Mediterranean coast of Israel, (similar in origin to Palestine) . Philistine simply means the people that lived in that region. So calling them ‘Philistines’ doesn’t tell us anything about who they were and where they originally came from.

In fact the early (and more friendly) Philistines (mentioned in Genesis) were simply local Canaanites, but that changed after the Bronze Age Collapse to be a new people who (according to the Bible at least) were both hated and feared by the Israelites. 

There has been great speculation around their origin. Some of which was spurious attempts to link them to similar sounding names . 

The similarity between ‘Peleset’ and Pelasgoí’ caused speculation that the two might have been etymologically related. The Pelasgoí were only a power in the early Bronze Age until they were absorbed by the Minoans. Their small islands could not possibly support the great numbers described.

Some early archeologists tried to link the 'Sherden' to similar sounding names like Sardinia or Sicily which similarly seems unlikely. ) The Israeli archeologist Adam Zertal suggested that the ruins of El-Ahwat in Palestine had a (Sardinian) Nuragic influence. Zertal suggested it was the fortress of Harosheth Haggoyim, according to him a Sardinian colony, which was said to be defeated by the Israelites after a brief period of military dominance over the local area.

A few Israelite references point to Crete as the origin of the Philistines. A small number of artefacts found could have been influenced by bulls. Crete was conquered by the Myceneans after the ‘Minoan Eruption’ occurred in approximately 1600 BCE. 

Crete might have been a handy stepping off port for a fleet of ships but if there was a contingent from Crete, even a large one, this would be Mycenean, not Minoan culture.

The culture Of the Philistines was centred around the five city-states of the southwestern levant : Gaza, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gatha. 

Wiki, public domain map , anonymous contributor
The last level of Canaanite occupation at these sites shows a layer of violent conflagration, and after a few decades there was reoccupation and a marked change in culture . 

Much of the archaeological record show Mycenean pottery (Late Helladic 111C) pottery, Mycenaean megaron buildings and Aegean burial, all supporting a Mycenean origin.

There were other significant migrations of Greek-speaking peoples to Sardinia and Sicily at the time and (as mentioned) the collapse of Mycenean society. Some have suggested this was the time of the somewhat discredited ‘Dorian invasion’ of Greece coming (initially) over land from the North.

Wherever the new Philistine settlers came from, in a few short centuries their culture became merged with and finally completely eclipsed by the local culture. They adopted Canaanite Gods, pottery, freely intermarried (usually more successfully than Sampson’s marriage to Philistine Delilah) . While they had their own (poorly attested language)  they were soon speaking a Phoenician dialect easily understood by the Israelites and many had Canaanite names.

One possibility might be that the original numbers of the Mycenean Greek settlers were relatively small and they welcomed Canaanites amongst them in considerable numbers until the Canaanite number and culture became dominant.

The archeologically record shows brilliantly organised and productive cities, wine, perfume, and interest in personal hygiene (They certainly were not 'Philistines' in the modern sense of the word).

Why didn’t the Israelites like them?

This is a very murky time and our best record is the Bible. Unfortunately some parts of the Bible were written and added to long after, and sometimes many centuries after, the events described. The Biblical description of the large, very rich ‘Golden Age’ United  Kingdom of Saul, David and Solomon emerging around 1030 BC (see map) isn’t supported by the archaeological record. Judah and Jerusalem were said to be thinly populated at the time.  

Putting this aside, if the Biblical record is accepted at face value, God promised the land of the Philistines to the Israelites and “you shall drive them out before you.” Exodus 23:31 . In Joshua 13:1–3 God lists them in the lands yet to be conquered.
Such war-like attitudes have not been uncommon throughout human history. While there is some evidence of good relations and intermarriage, perhaps some conflict with the Philistines was inevitable.

Fall of the Philistines

 The Philistines were already being absorbed into the local culture.
Unless David conquered them, they may have maintained their independence till they were forced to pay tribute to Adad-nirari III (810–782 BC), an Assyrian King.
By the early part of the 7th century BC they were vassals of the Assyrians. In the second half of that century, they became Egyptian vassals and they were conquered in turn by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar 11 (605 BC – c. 562 BC) after which they faded from history as a separate cultural or political group.
It was the same Nebuchadnezzar who besieged and looted Jerusalem, destroying its temple and taking some Israelites into captivity.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea Peoples

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