I need to revisit the topic of the Philistines in the 11th century B.C.E.
In last month’s reading project I talked about Avraham Faust’s understanding that early Iron Age Israel developed its ethnic consciousness over against the culture of the Philistines.
By Philistines, Faust meant those clans of the Sea Peoples who occupied the Gaza coastal strip.. They had five city states there, Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. The Egyptians called them Pelset.
In the latest issue of Biblical Archeology Review (November/December 2014, pg. 30ff.) there is an article about “the other Philistines” by Ephraim Stern. For twenty years he directed the archeological digs at Dor on the coast north of of Gaza at the Mediterranean end of the Jezreel Valley.
We know from an Egyptian text, the Story of Wenamun, that in the 11th century other Sea Peoples, the Sikils, controlled Dor.
Stern points out that in the Bible the fighting in which Saul and Jonathon died took place in the north, in the Jezreel Valley. The Sea People clans, Sikils and Sherden, occupied the nearby coastal areas. It is hard to imagine that the Philistines Saul fought there were the Philistines of Gaza. So Stern argues that the Bible just calls all the Sea Peoples Philistines.
Also his own excavations show that the Sea Peoples culture there lasted only about a hundred years. Then the material culture was replaced by that of the Kingdom of Israel. This is in contrast to the Gaza Philistines who remained until the Babylonian conquest. Like the Israelites, the experienced and exile then. But unlike the Israelites, they disappeared from history.
Stern makes sense. But this also raises some questions.
Faust estimated the Gaza Philistines outnumbered Israel 10 to 1. If we throw in these other Sea Peoples, the proportions get even more lopsided. This has me thinking again about the possibility that David and Solomon adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy. Rather than dominating the Gaza Philistines, David may have made alliances against the northern Philistines with some of the Gaza Philistines and with some of the Phoenicians. The results of Stern’s archeology seems to be that Israel defeated the northern Philistines and occupied their territory. I don’t think Israel did this without help.
I continue to ponder the recent finds in the Elah Valley which seem to show strong Israelite fortifications against the Gaza Philistines. Did this result in a stand-off–and then an alliance? Peace through strength? If you can’t beat them join them? Even terrible cliches sometimes hold a core of truth.