David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
The Biblical text places the Philistines along the coast of ancient Canaan when Joshua led the second generation of Hebrews into the Promised Land. But where did the Philistines come from?
Native Canaanites were designated by their cultural and clan ties—the early books of the Hebrew scriptures speak of the “Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites,” (the Hittite empire was already well along in its decline by the time Israel’s tribes had reached Canaan). The Gibeonites far to the north near what is now Lebanon, at one point were able to broker a deal with Joshua to live peaceably together.
But the Philistines were never included in this list of Canaanite peoples. They came from somewhere else.
In what is often called the Table of Nations, the narrator describes the flow of people groups stemming from Noah’s family, and places the Philistines in Ham’s family tree.
The descendants of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan …
Egypt became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim, from whom the Philistines come, and Caphtorim.Genesis 10:6, 13 (NRSV)
Three other Biblical texts indicate the Philistines came from Caphtor, which some believe is a reference to the island of Crete.
As for the Avvim, who had lived in settlements in the vicinity of Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place.Deuteronomy 2:23 (NRSV)
the Philistines, the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.Jeremiah 474 (NRSV)
“Did I not bring Israel up from the land of EgyptAmos 9:7 (NRSV)
and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”
Although Abraham is described as having resided in the land of the Philistines, it is known the narrator of Genesis employed place names that would have been recognizable to the reader. It is probable Abraham resided in that area that would one day be associated with the Philistine people.
Artifacts recognized as uniquely Philistine began showing up in Canaan by the 12th century BCE (3,200 thousand years ago). At some point, these people from the area of Greece began a massive migration and came to be known as the Sea Peoples, for many reached new coasts to the north, south, and west via the sea.
Abraham’s story took place sometime between the 19th and 21st centuries BCE , nearly a thousand years before the Sea People’s incursion into Canaan.
1177 BC, The Year Civilization Collapsed
Eric Cline wrote a fascinating book a number of years ago positing that climate change triggered a series of disastrous events that led to the collapse of the Mediterranean world (look for a review in August).
It is a canny explanation for what drove the Philistine people from their native country.
Genesis records a number of severe famines that plagued the Mediterranean area, driving Abraham, then Isaac, and finally Jacob and his family to seek aid. This final famine was so severe, Egypt ended up feeding the known world for years. But it seems a confluence of ecological and economic woes brought calamity across the nations.
The video below, produced by the Museum of Philistine Culture, shows the migration of Sea Peoples from their original homes by the Aegean Sea, the area of what is now Greece. Moving southeast and southwest, they sought somewhere where they could begin again.
There are remarkable similarities between Philistine material culture and that of the Myceneans. This example shows a Philistine head compared with Mycenean heads.
The Philistines used sea and water motifs, such as fish and waterfowl in their adornments.
And their ceramics reflect their Aegean influence
Philistine homes were markedly different than Canaanite homes, not just in their style of ceramics (such as cooking pots) but in the placement of rooms, and for the firepit that featured centrally in the main room. Canaanites had ovens placed in the corner of the courtyard or main room.
Many of the motifs found in Philistine art and architecture can be traced directly back to their Mycenean roots.
Conclusive DNA Evidence
In 2019, researchers were able to extract DNA from ten individuals “including four infants, who were buried at Ashkelon during the Bronze Age and Iron Age.” Their findings prove conclusively that Philistine forebears stemmed from southern Europe. (Megan Gannon, Ancient DNA Sheds New Light on the Biblical Philistines, Smithsonian Magazine, July 3, 2019)
Canaan’s coast must have seemed like a dream come true to the fleeing Philistines, so much like their home, yet open enough to accommodate their emigration.
I am deeply grateful to the staff at the Museum of Philistine Culture for allowing me to take photographs, the images you see here in this post.
If you ever are in Israel, this is a destination worth planning. The time flew by as we walked through this well-planned, well-curated, interactive, and guest-friendly museum. They provide a full narrative for the Philistines, so that by the end of the exhibition, not only was the experience memorable, it was “rememberable.”
I do not know how far the permission granted to me goes, so please do not reuse the images in this post.