According to Egyptian records, the Philistines did not arrive in Canaan along the Mediterranean coast
until the 13th century. The biblical record according to Genesis places the Philistines in Canaan several
hundred years earlier; thus, critics cite this as an anthropologic anachronism that supports the late
dating of the Documentary Hypothesis.
In general, the archeological data does indicate that there was a mass migration of Philistines and other
tribal groups to the coast of Canaan during the 13th and 12th centuries BC. The Philistine presence in Canaan
during the 21st and 20th centuries BC has not been confirmed or denied by archeological data yet.
The Philistines of Judges and Kings
Approximately 1225 – 1175 BC, the Egyptians record that "foreigners from the sea" from the "northern
countries" or "their islands" beyond the sea (the Mediterranean), attempted to invade Egypt. These foreigners,
whom contemporary scholars call "Sea Peoples," originated from areas around Greece and Turkey.
Comprised of several tribal groups, the Sea Peoples attacked Egypt, and in each case, the attacks were
successfully repelled and recorded by the Egyptians. The following are some of the groups comprising the
Danuna (known as Denyen, Danunites, Danaoi, Danaus, Danaids, Dene, Danai, and
Dannaian) have been recorded in the El-Amarna letters dated about 1350 BC.
Karkisa are, because of their sparse mention in ancient records, considered one
of the minor tribes, and scholars are unsure if the term refers to a tribal group or geographical region.
Labu (known as Labu, Libu, or Rebu) is the tribe from which the land of Libya
based its name.
Lukka, mentioned in early Hittite texts, were known as pirates for their seagoing
and rebellious ways. Ancient texts attest to their presence as early as 1450 BC when they were defeated,
as part of the Assuwan Confederacy of 22 other tribal groups, by the Hittites.
Meshwesh have been mentioned in several ancient texts and reliefs in their attacks
on the Egyptians. They have been documented to ally with other tribal groups such as Tehenu, Temehu, Labu,
Philistines, and Tjekker.
Shardana were first mentioned in the El-Amarna letters dated about 1350 BC in
the service of an Egyptian mayor as part of a military garrison.
Shekelesh, like the Karkisa, were rarely mentioned in ancient texts; however,
unlike the Karkisa, they were noted for their fierce fighting capabilities during their attacks on Egypt
around 1220 BC and 1190 BC.
Tjakkar, along with the Philistines, were a major tribal group that attacked
Egypt in 1190 BC. They were depicted prominently in the reliefs at Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of
Philistines (also known as Pulsesati or Peleset) migrated as a tribal group and
in their resettlement after the Egyptian conflicts became the dominant group representing the Sea Peoples
in Canaan. They possessed iron-working skills, were proficient in the ceramic arts and the manufacture of
textiles, and founded several large, complex cities.
The Medinet Habu, a mortuary temple for Ramesses III at Thebes located in upper Egypt, has a series of
reliefs and texts glorifying the accomplishments of the king and, in particular, his victory over the Sea
Peoples. The inscriptions attest to the Philistines:
"…. The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were
removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish,
Arzawa, and Alashiya on…. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them.
Their confederation was the Philistines, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denye(n), and Weshesh, lands united. They laid
their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: "Our
plans will succeed!" (Medinet Habu)
Part of the reliefs indicates that the Philistines were in Canaan before Ramesses defeated them.
"the Peleset are hung up, [ -- ] in their towns . . ." (Medinet Habu)
Egyptian records also indicate that Ramesses III forced the defeated Sea Peoples to settle in Canaanite
cities, outside of Egypt, and formed Egypt's outer line of defense.
"I extended all the frontiers of Egypt and overthrew those who had attacked them from
their lands. I slew the Denyen in their islands, while the Tjeker and the Philistines were made ashes. The
Sherden and the Weshesh of the Sea were made nonexistent, captured all together and brought in captivity
to Egypt like the sands of the shore. I settled them in strongholds, bound in my name. Their military
classes were as numerous as hundred-thousands. I assigned portions for them all with clothing and provisions
from the treasuries and granaries every year." (Medinet Habu)
The Onomasticon Amenope, a collection of manuscripts dating to the end of Ramesses IX’s
reign at the end of the 12th century BC, lists the Sherden, Tjekker, and Philistines as living within
Canaan. The Philistine cities Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza are mentioned as cities comprising Egypt's outer
defense line. These three cities along with Gath and Ekron formed the 5 Philistine city-states mentioned
in the Bible (Josh 13:2-3;
1 Sam 6:16-18).
"This is the land that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and all those
of the Geshurites; from the Shihor which is east of Egypt, even as far as the border of Ekron to the north
(it is counted as Canaanite); the five lords of the Philistines: the Gazite, the Ashdodite, the Ashkelonite,
the Gittite, the Ekronite; and the Avvite. (Joshua 13:2-3)
When the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron that day.
These are the golden tumors which the Philistines returned for a guilt offering to the LORD: one for Ashdod,
one for Gaza, one for Ashkelon, one for Gath, one for Ekron; and the golden mice, according to the number of
all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five lords, both of fortified cities and of country villages.
The large stone on which they set the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua the
Beth-shemite. (1 Sam 6:16-18)
The Philistines were perhaps at the greatest height of their power around 1150-1000 BC and threatened
southern Israel from the time of the judge Jephtah through the time of the prophet Samuel. It wasn’t until
the victories of David when the influence of the Philistines finally waned about 1055-975 BC.
The Philistines of Genesis
Current archeological findings regarding Philistines continue to corroborate with the later biblical
accounts of Judges and 1 and 2 Kings. While the Egyptians record the Philistines as a tribe of a group
who invaded Egypt and settled on the coastal plain south of Mount Carmel, the Old Testament used the term
to describe all the people who were living on the coastal plain at the time of the Conquest and the succeeding
period of the Judges. The debate of anachronism centers on the Genesis record of Philistines during the
time of the Patriarchs somewhere around the end of the third millennium BC (2100-2000 BC).
In this alleged anachronism, there are some unusual aspects to it. The textual information
in Genesis portrays Philistines as being friendly to Abraham and living in one city with a king. In contrast,
the Philistines of later Hebrew history (Judges) were virulent enemies, as exemplified
by the giant Goliath, and lived in 5 city-states led by lords. Critics, who believe that the Philistines
in Genesis were a textual update or redaction by a later editor, face the contradiction of Philistine
attitudes towards the Hebrews and differences in political leadership: why would a feared contemporary
enemy be portrayed as a friend in the Genesis accounts?
So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army,
arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he
called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for
many days. (Gen 21:32-34)
Now there was a famine in the land, besides the previous famine that had occurred in the
days of Abraham. So Isaac went to Gerar, to Abimelech king of the Philistines. The LORD appeared to him and
said, "Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you. "Sojourn in this land and I will
be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish
the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will
give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws." So Isaac lived in Gerar.
When the men of the place asked about his wife, he said, "She is my sister," for he was afraid to say, "my wife,"
thinking, "the men of the place might kill me on account of Rebekah, for she is beautiful." It came about,
when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out through a window,
and saw, and behold, Isaac was caressing his wife Rebekah.
for he had possessions of flocks and herds and a great household, so that the Philistines
envied him. Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the
Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth. Then Abimelech said to Isaac, "Go away from us, for you are
too powerful for us." And Isaac departed from there and camped in the valley of Gerar, and settled there. Then
Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines
had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them.
Currently while there aren’t any extrabiblical accounts that confirm (or deny) the Genesis account,
there is circumstantial evidence that the account is historical.
The earliest mention of the Philistines occurs in Genesis 10 with its presentation of the Table of
Nations. Initially the Philistines are identified with Casluhim; however, later verses in the Old Testament
indicate that the Philistines were associated with an area called Capthor.
Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim and Pathrusim and
Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim.
And the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim who came from Caphtor,
destroyed them and lived in their place. (Deut 2:23)
On account of the day that is coming to destroy all the Philistines, to cut off from Tyre
and Sidon every ally that is left; for the LORD is going to destroy the Philistines, the remnant of the
coastland of Caphtor. (Jer 47:4)
Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?" declares the LORD. "Have I not
brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?
The location of Caphtor has been narrowed down to three areas: the island of Crete, Cyprus, or southwest
Most scholars believe that the location of Caphtor is the island of Crete. During the
first half of the second millennium BC, Crete controlled much of the Aegean and western Anatolia. During
the later half of the second millennium BC, the Mycenaean Greeks of Greece controlled Crete until the 13th
century BC. During this time there was extensive trade with the entire eastern Mediterranean including
the coast south of Mount Carmel, which became known as Philistia.
Extrabiblical sources also seem to equate Caphtor with Crete. Egyptian records of the
Late Bronze Age mention Crete as "Kftyw", which can also be translated as "Caphtor."
The ancient name of the Philistine city of Gaza was Minoah, which was the same
name given to several trade stations that originated from Crete.
Closer examination of the Medinet Habu reliefs provide additional information that associates the
Philistines with the Aegean and Mycenaean world including west and southwest Anatolia.
Clothes – Philistine warriors are portrayed wearing feathered headdresses, which
are very similar to those pictured on the Phaistos Disk, a clay disk found on Crete with inscribed symbols
(of humans, animals, and plants) and words. It is dated around 1700-1600 BC and possibly was imported from
southwest Anatolia. According to the Greek historian Herodotus (440 BC), the feathered headdress worn by
warriors from southwest Anatolia, were later adopted by Greek warriors.
Transportation – The ships transporting the Sea Peoples, pictured at Medinet
Habu, resemble the ships on the Phaistos Disk and a Mycenaean Greek vase found on Skyros, an island in
the Aegean. In another example, the Medinet Habu portrays the chariots of the Sea Peoples containing three
men with spears, which is similar to Hittite / Anatolian warfare methods. In contrast, Egyptians use their
chariots to transport 2 men with bows. Lastly, the Medinet Habu pictures the Sea Peoples using wagons and
humped oxens, which is clearly an Anatolian custom.
Artifacts of Aegean origin, dated about 1900-1700 BC, have been found at Ras Sharma, Hazor, and Megiddo
indicating that there once existed a thriving Aegean trade.
The real ethnic identity of the Philistines is not well understood. Biblical and extrabiblical references
generally use the term to represent several clans from southwest Asia Minor. While the archeological evidence
has not confirmed or denied the biblical accounts of the third millennium BC Philistine, archeological
findings dated in the latter half of the second millennium BC indicates that the Philistines were from
an area that was well known for their sea faring skills, warrior capabilities, and far off trade.
Thus, the Philistine reference in Genesis could very likely refer to historical people that existed
at that time and not represent an anachronism that critics propose. Furthermore it is also very likely
that the Philistines of the 21st and 20th centuries BC (Genesis) are the same people as the Philistines
13th and 12th centuries BC (Judges and Kings) but migrated to Canaan at different times.
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2. Bierling N, Philistines: Giving Goliath His Due, Baker Book House (1992).
3. Drews R, The End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca. 1200 B. C., Princeton: Princeton University Press (1995).
4. Gardiner, AH, Ancient Egyptian Onomastica, London: Oxford University Press (1968).
5. Moran WL, The Amarna Letters, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press (1992).
6. Pritchard J, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, New Jersey: Princeton Univeristy Press (1969).
7. Redford DB, Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Princeton: Princeton University Press (1992).
8. Sarna N, Genesis, New York: Jewish Publication Society (1989), p.252.