Thursday, December 27, 2012

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Philistines

This is a story I missed last year – archeology and biblical alignment.  Oh, and the Philistines were migrants to southern Israel…interlopers from Greece.

gath(Excerpts from) In Israel, diggers unearth the Bible's bad guys - By MATTI FRIEDMAN (AP)

At the remains of an ancient metropolis in southern Israel, archaeologists are piecing together the history of a people remembered chiefly as the bad guys of the Bible.

The city of Gath…is helping scholars paint a more nuanced portrait of the Philistines, who appear in the (navi’im – shoftim & shmuel alef – judges and samuel – bible) as the perennial enemies of the Israelites.

Close to three millennia ago, Gath was on the frontier between the Philistines, who occupied the Mediterranean coastal plain, and the Israelites, who controlled the inland hills. The city's most famous resident, according to the Book of Samuel, was Goliath — the giant warrior improbably felled by the young shepherd David and his sling…

Greek roots - In a square hole, several Philistine jugs nearly 3,000 years old were emerging from the soil. One painted shard just unearthed had a rust-red frame and a black spiral: a decoration common in ancient Greek art and a hint to the Philistines' origins in the Aegean.

The Philistines arrived by sea from the area of modern-day Greece around 1200 B.C…  At Gath, they settled on a site that had been inhabited since prehistoric times. Digs like this one have shown that though they adopted aspects of local culture, they did not forget their roots. Even five centuries after their arrival, for example, they were still worshipping gods with Greek names.

Archaeologists have found that the Philistine diet leaned heavily on grass pea lentils, an Aegean staple.  Ancient bones discarded at the site show that they also ate pigs and dogs, unlike the neighboring Israelites (for whom the Torah prohibits non-kosher animals, those without cloven hooves that chew their cud)…

gath2Diggers at Gath have also uncovered traces of a destruction of the city in the 9th century B.C., including a ditch and embankment built around the city by a besieging army — still visible as a dark line running across the surrounding hills.  The razing of Gath at that time appears to have been the work of the Aramean king Hazael in 830 B.C., an incident mentioned in the bible Book of Kings (malachim)…

"Gath fills a very important gap in our understanding of Philistine history," Gitin said.  In 604 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and put the Philistines' cities to the sword. There is no remnant of them after that…

Samson's pillars? - The hero Samson (Shimshon haGibor), who married a Philistine woman, skirmished with them repeatedly before being betrayed and taken, blinded and bound, to their temple at Gaza. There, the story goes, he broke free and shattered two support pillars, bringing the temple down and killing everyone inside, including himself.

pillarOne intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars.  Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath have also found shards preserving names similar to Goliath — an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites.  These finds show the Philistines indeed used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.

The findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period, Maeir said — the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.  (That frontier zone is the area south of Beit Shemesh today.)

"It doesn't mean that we're one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him, but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time," Maeir said.

Check out the full story - In Israel, diggers unearth the Bible's bad guys

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