The Philistines and Biblical Calneh

Recent archeological digs and new readings of the reliefs and records of Ramses III may give us better insight into the rise of the Philistines in Gaza.

The Philistines, of course, are major players in the Bible stories of Samson, Samuel, Saul, and David. Since William F. Albright, a widely defended theory is that the five cities dominated by them in Gaza came to them as a grant by Ramses III, who had defeated them but wanted to use them as a buffer state against other Sea People encroachments. This would have taken place in -1170 to -1150.

Now there are a number of reasons to think this theory was wrong.

But is there anything to replace it?

An inscription from the tomb temple of Ramses III gives this description of what was apparently the late Bronze Age collapse (see here):

the [Northerners] in their isles were disturbed, taken away in the [fray] — at one time. Not one stood before their hands, from Kheta, Kode, Carchemish, Arvad, Alashia, they were wasted. {The}y {[set up]} a camp in one place in Amor. They desolated his people and his land like that which is not. They came with fire prepared before them, forward to Egypt. Their main support was Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Denyen, and Weshesh. (These) lands were united, and they laid their hands upon the land as far as the Circle of the Earth. Their hearts were confident, full of their plans

All the activity here is near the northeastern turn of the Mediterranean where Turkey and Syria have a border today. The “Circle of the Earth” possibly relates to what is called the “great circuit” in other inscriptions. So it would mean the Euphrates River.

There was a camp at a particular place in Amurru. This may be what archeologists have now excavated at Tell Tayinat.

(map is from here).

The best introduction to this that I have found is James F. Osborne’s YouTube video here. He is very low key in presenting the possible Philistine connection.

Tell Tayinat shows that the people used the name Palestin or Patina for their kingdom and that their pottery was similar to pottery used in Philistine Gaza.  Another thing to note is that this area is in the heart of the sphere where the god, Dagon, was worshiped.  It has always puzzled me how the Philistines came to worship Dagon.

This is the same place called Calneh in the Bible in Amos 6:2 and Isaiah 10:9.

According to the theory advocated by Dan’el Kahn of the University of Haifa (here), Ramses III defeated this kingdom and resettled his POWs in Egypt proper, not Gaza. This would mean that the Philistines established their five city states in Gaza later. Off the top of my head I would correlate this with the destruction layer at Azekah on the Gaza frontier from about -1130 (Biblical Archeology Review January/February 2019 The Last Days of Canaanite Azekah credited to Oded Lipschits, Sabine Kleiman, Ido Koch, Karl Berendt, Vanessa Linares Sarah Richardson, Manfred Oeming and Yuval Gadot)

The mention of Calneh in Isaiah 10:9 is worth looking at:

Is not Calneh like Carchemish?
Hamath like Arpad?
Samaria like Damascus? (NET Bible)

Isaiah is looking back at history. All these places fell to the Assyrians before Isaiah’s time. He arranges them geographically or in the order they fell.  Calneh and Carchemish are in the far north. Hamath and Arpad are in the middle and Samaria and Damascus further south. This is an example of a biblical writer knowing something historical that we have just rediscovered. Iron age Calneh was very obscure until the recent digs at Tell Tayinat.