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18. Small States Surrounding Judah

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“The name Philistia refers to the part of Palestine which was dominated by the Philistines in the period of the Israelite monarchy. This was the area of the coastal plain lying roughly between Jaffa in the north and the region some fifty miles to the south, beyond Gaza, where the desert which separates Palestine from Egypt begins. The eastern boundary may be most conveniently defined as the junction between the alluvial coast plain and the limestone plateau called the Shephelah, which formed a buffer zone to the hill country of Judah.”1

Ashkelon, Ashdod and Gaza are well identified in archaeology. Gath is not. Recently, Trudy Dothan and Seymour Gitin have identified Tel Miqne as Ekron.2

The earliest biblical references to Philistia are in Genesis 21:34; 26:1, 8. These are usually considered anachronisms, but it is quite probable that earlier Mediterranean movements took place on which the later Philistines piggy-backed. Mitchell says, “The Philistines of this later period are known, however, to have been of Aegean origin, and it is possible that the name was used in Genesis to refer to earlier people with Aegean affiliations.”3

There were movements of “Sea People” in the 14th. c. Ugaritic texts mention Ashdod and Ashkelon as trading centers. Mitchell argues for Indo-European names indicating earlier migrations.4 The later “Sea People” bear such names as Shardana (mercenaries in Egypt from N. Syria), Shekelesh (Sicily), Teresh (western Anatolia [Lydia or Troas]), Ekwesh (Perhaps = Ahhiyawa [Hittite texts] = Achaeans, if so from western Anatolia), Denyen (Darwana), Tjeker, Pelest, Weshesh were farmers who attacked by land and sea.5

These “Sea People” attacked Egypt and Ramases III was able to beat them off, but their onslaught left Egypt weak and gave breathing room in Palestine for the rise of the monarchy. “During the twelfth and eleventh centuries, the period of the Judges, the Philistines, having settled, and possibly been settled as garrison troops by the Egyptians, in the area of Philistia, expanded inland and threatened the Israelites in the hill country.”6 The Sea People/Philistines, according to Noth, “may also have advanced into the Plain of Jezreel and the plain of the River Jalud (Isr., Harodh) and settled there. Clear finds from the twelfth century B.C. in the excavations at Beth-Shan, as well as the historical role of Beth-Shan in the final battle of the Philistines against Saul (I Sam. 31:10,12), speak for this fact.”7

The Philistine political and social situation surrounded the organization of five cities (pentapolis). Their principal god was Dagon (known from Ugarit as the Semitic grain god) at Ashdod. Most consider the ruler title, seren, to be equivalent to Greek tyrannos.

The books of Judges and 1 Samuel indicate the dominance held by the Philistines over the Israelites since they controlled the iron industry (the Iron Age begins in Palestine in the 12th century). A devastating blow was struck with the attack in 1 Samuel 4. The ark was captured and Jeremiah 7 indicates that Shiloh was destroyed as well.8

Under Samuel, Saul and most of all, David, the Philistines were subdued, but never brought into Israelite control. David used Philistines in his personal army (2 Sam. 8:18; 20:23). 2 Samuel 8 is a synopsis of David’s wars and victories.

“The narratives in Samuel suggest that by the time of the struggle with Israel the culture of the Philistines had become very much assimilated to that of the Canaanites. Three of their gods are mentioned, Dagon, Baal-zebub, and Ashtaroth with a temple at Beth-shan. These all have Semitic names and may have been adopted by the Philistines as the equivalents of some of their own deities. It is probable that Ashtaroth was a well-established deity in pre-Philistine Beth-shan, where the Philistines are unlikely to have been in more than garrison occupation. Dagon was known, under the form Dagan, with weather and fertility aspects, from the third millennium in the Near East, and Baal-zebub, whether the name is taken as it stands as ‘Lord-Fly’ or as a corruption of Baal-zebul ‘Baal-Prince’, which has support in Ugaritic, has nothing that is not Near Eastern about it.”9

On Beth-Shan, Wright says, “Philistines in 12th century Beth-shan were most probably there because they were or had been in the employ of Ramases III as mercenaries. Stratum VI of the city…was controlled, in all probability, by that pharaoh, just as his predecessors of the 19th Egyptian dynasty had been in control of the city represented by the preceding Stratum VII. An official of his left an inscription on a door lintel and a statue of the pharaoh in the city. Hence we can only conclude that after his defeat of the Sea Peoples early in his reign, he proceeded to hire them to protect his interests in Beth-shan. They were still in possession of the city at the time of the death of Saul…”10

Some of the Philistine cities may have been taken by Sheshonq (Shishak) at the end of the tenth century. Philistia seemed to maintain a form of independence during Assyrian domination as did Judah. “They are, however, frequently mentioned as suffering from the campaigns of the Assyrians.”11

Egypt moved back in with the decline of Assyria and Psammetichus I took Ashdod and Necho II took Gaza. Nebuchadnezzar pushed his control south after Carchemish in 605 and became master of all Syria-Palestine.

In 539 Cyrus took over the Babylonian territories. Babylon, Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine became the province of Babylon and the “Cross River” satrap.


The territory of Edom extended for about 160 km. (100 mi.) from the Wadi Zered to the Gulf of Aqaba and encompassed the Wilderness of Edom. A rugged area with mountain peaks rising to 1616 m. (5,300 ft.) it nevertheless possessed good areas for cultivating crops (cf. Num. 20:17,19). In the Middle Bronze Age the King’s Highway passed along the eastern plateau (Num. 20:14-18).12

Early Period. Historically, the Edomites are descendants of the brother of Jacob (Gen. 36:1-17). By the time the Israelites entered Canaan, the Edomites were well-established under tribal chiefs (Gen. 36:15-19). The pharaohs Merenptah and Ramases III claimed to have subjugated Edom.13 The Edomites refused passage to Israel when they came from Egypt (Num. 20:14-21) and ever after there was implacable hatred between the two countries. As a matter of fact, Edom becomes an archetypical enemy of God’s people (cf. Isaiah 34, 63). In the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites did not disturb the Edomite borders (Josh. 15:1, 21).

Middle Period. Saul fought the Edomites (1 Sam. 14:47); David conquered them, stationing troops to control and govern (2 Sam. 8:13-14). Solomon built a port at Ezion-geber “which is near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom” (1 Kings 9:26). “Edom was ruled by a deputy (1 King 22:47), who joined with Israel and Judah in a campaign against Moab (2 Kings 3:4-27).”14 “Under Jehoram (848-841 B.C.), Edom remained independent for half a century, but Amaziah of Judah partially recaptured Edomite territory (2 Kings 14:7). For a brief time the Edomites gained revenge on Judah (2 Chron. 28:17) when Ahaz (732-716 B.C.) was ruling, but about 736 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser III made Edom a vassal.”15

Later Period. Edom is the butt of aggressive oracles from both Obadiah and Jeremiah. Both these prophecies are probably adaptations of a previous prophecy. Obadiah as well as Jeremiah should probably be dated in the 586 vicinity. The Edomites took advantage of Judah’s vulnerability after the Babylonian debacle and began to move into the Negev and take over Judean territory. Eventually they come under Arab control. The Arabs are Aramaic-speaking Nabateans. In the third century B.C. the Nabateans overran Edom and begin to control the caravan trade through Petra. The Edomites were subjugated by the Hasmoneans (John Hyrcanus in the second century) and forced to become Jewish proselytes. A certain Antipater was appointed governor by Alexander Jannaeus (102-76 B.C.). He was the grandfather of Herod the Great. Herod married the daughter of the Nabatean king Aretas.

1T. C. Mitchell, “Philistia” in AOTS, p. 405.

2T. Dothan and S. Gitin, “Ekron of the Philistines,” BAR 16 (1990) 21-36.

3Mitchell, “Philistia,” p. 409. See also M. H. Segal, The Pentateuch, p. 34.

4Ibid., p. 410.

5N. K. Sanders, The Sea Peoples, Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean, 1250-1150.

6Mitchell, “Philistia,” p. 413.

7M. Noth, The Old Testament World, p. 78.

8See R. A. Pierce, “Shiloh and Jer. VII 12, 14, & 15,” VT 23:1 (1973): 105-108 who follows a reevaluation of the archaeological evidence and argues that Shiloh was not destroyed until Jeremiah’s time. He says that Jeremiah links 1 Samuel 4 (the ark/glory departed) and the destruction (recently) of the city. But see “Did the Philistines Destroy the Israelite Sanctuary at Shiloh?—the Archaeological Evidence,” BAR 1:2 (1975):3-5 where the archaeologist Y. Shiloh is quoted in refutation of the revised evaluation. Shiloh (the place) was indeed destroyed about 1050 B.C. and later reoccupied as evidenced by the name “the Shilonite” in 1 Kings 11:29).

9Mitchell, “Philistia,” p. 415.

10G. E. Wright, “Philistine Coffins and Mercenaries,” BA 22:3 (1959):53-66.


12R. K. Harrison, “Edom; Edomites,” NIDBA.


14Ibid., see also S. Horn, “Why the Moabite Stone Was Blown to Pieces,” BAR 12:3 (1986): 53-61.

15Ibid., see ANET, p. 281 (for Adad Nirari III), p. 282 for Tiglath-Pileser, p. 287 for Sennacherib, p. 291 for Esarhaddon, pp. 294, 298, 301 for Ashurbanipal.

Related Topics: Archaeology, History

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