Q. Who was Israel’s most persistent enemy? A. The Philistines
Every Sunday School child is familiar with David and Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior who David slew with a stone from a sling. Many more are familiar with Samson who killed a 1000 Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass. Still others remember the story of Saul’s son Jonathan who bravely took on over twenty Philistines with his armor bearer and killed them all. And there is the famous Battle of Mt. Gilboa where Saul and his sons, including the heroic Jonathan were themselves killed by the Philistines.
You might think that given the Philistines were Israel’s most persistent enemy they would have been one of the people’s to be displaced by Joshua and Moses as they possessed the promised land but they are not. Instead the Philistines are mentioned over 250 times in the Old Testament and come across as Israel’s most persistent enemy. Eventually, they would be overcome by Saul’s successor King David.
As students of the Bible know, after David’s son Solomon died the Davidic kingdom of a united Israel fell apart. The two halves would eventually succumb to the Babylonians and Assyrians and eventually to Persia under the Achaemenid dynasty. The Philistines are absorbed by the various conquerors and disappear from history.
Q. If the Philistines were not among the nations God ordered Joshua and Moses to displace then where did the Philistines come from?
Sometimes called the Sea People’s they probably came from somewhere in the Aegean, possibly Illyria (an area bordering Greece on the west) and settled in the coastal strip bordering Israel.
There is a debate as to whether or not the Sea People’s including the Philistines migrated or invaded the coastal strip. I’m not sure there is much of difference since someone else clearly inhabited the coastal strip before the Philistines.
Egyptian history gives us what may be the most accurate reason the Philistines ended up where they did.
It is probably more precise to say that the Philistines were part of an alliance of “Sea Peoples” and went by the name “Peleset.” Egyptian forces under Ramses III eventually defeated the Sea Peoples as they invaded or sought to migrate to Egyptian lands. It is known that the Sea Peoples were fierce warriors and the Egyptians recruited many as mercenaries after defeating them, notably a people called the “Sherden.”
It is thought that Ramses settled the “Philistines” or “Peleset” in the area that became known as the Philistine pentapolis. Students of history and the Bible know the five cities as Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gath of Goliath fame.
People who study the origin of words (a fascinating subject in my opinion) believe the word Philistine has more of a Greek connection than anything else thus proving they were not of Semitic origin like Hebrews and Arabs.
Now this is where it becomes most interesting to an ancient history geek like me.
Q. Why is modern-day Palestine called Palestine?
A. Palestine was renamed Palestine (From the Latin “Philistinus”) following the Jewish Revolt of AD 132 (Simon Bar Kochva).
A. The Romans suppressed the revolt killing over 600,000 Judeans. The Romans deliberately renamed the area after Israel’s ancient enemy.
There are many reasons for the fact Jewish communities have had a presence in countries outside of Israel. In fact, that is the meaning of the word “diaspora” meaning Jews living outside of ancient Israel. For example, most of us are familiar with Daniel and and his friends living in Babylon during the exile period.
However, the biggest reason so many Jews left their homeland is tied to the Jewish revolts against the Romans, the first being in AD 70 and the second during the Emperor Hadrian’s reign in AD 132 reference above.
While many Jews perished in both revolts many more were sold into slavery. It appears that the Emperor Hadrian took extreme measures to stamp out Judaism once and for all and went to great pains to depopulate the area of Jews. It was Hadrian who renamed the area “Palestine” after Israel’s ancient enemy.
Q. Why are these details significant?
A. As pointed out earlier modern-day Palestine or Palestinians have nothing to do with Philistines, a people who vanished from history long ago. At a time when the Palestinians are demanding a state because they claim refugee status (rebirth of the nation Israel, 1948) you have to wonder why their fellow Arabs in the nations surrounding Israel did not reach out and absorb those who had no desire to be part of Israel?
In a day and age where few seem to care about history but are quick to sympathize with either Jews or Palestinians we’d do well to consider all the historical and biblical facts before we render an opinion on who belongs where and why.
To learn more about the history of Palestine (Philistines) go to Media 4 Life Ministries.