1. An ancient city listed in the earliest Canaanite boundary description. (Ge 10:19) Aside from some 20 Scriptural references to Gaza, ancient Egyptian records and inscriptions of Ramses II, Thutmose III, and Seti I mention the city. Gaza was apparently the most southwesterly city assigned to the tribe of Judah. (Jos 15:20, 47; Jg 6:3, 4) Its inhabitants were called Gazites.—Jos 13:3; Jg 16:2.
Some would identify Gaza with Tell el-ʽAjul (Tel Bet ʽEglayim), but this has not been confirmed by archaeological diggings there. Generally, the ancient city is linked with modern Gaza (Ghazzeh; ʽAzza), located about 80 km (50 mi) WSW of Jerusalem. Although separated from the Mediterranean Sea by about 5 km (3 mi) of rolling sand dunes, Gaza lies in a well-watered region known for its olive groves, fruit and sycamore trees, grapevines, and grain. Agriculture likely contributed to the prosperity of ancient Gaza. But its importance stemmed primarily from its location on the main road linking Egypt with Palestine. This made Gaza a “gateway” both for caravans and military traffic.
Occupied by Philistines. Sometime before Israel’s Exodus from Egypt in 1513 B.C.E., the Hamitic Caphtorim (Ge 10:6, 13, 14) dispossessed “the Avvim, who were dwelling in settlements as far as Gaza.” (De 2:23) When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Gaza itself was a Philistine city and its inhabitants included some of the Anakim. Although Israel’s war operations under Joshua extended as far as Gaza, the city apparently was not taken. It remained a Philistine city, and some of the Anakim continued to live there. (Jos 10:41; 11:22; 13:2, 3) Assigned to Judah, Gaza was afterward conquered by this tribe, but the Judeans did not retain control over the city. (Jos 15:20, 47; Jg 1:18) In Samson’s day Gaza was again a fortified city of the Philistines, with a “house” used for Dagon worship that could accommodate about 3,000 persons, if not more, on its roof.
While Samson was at Gaza on one occasion, he “rose at midnight and grabbed hold of the doors of the city gate and the two side posts and pulled them out along with the bar and put them upon his shoulders and went carrying them up to the top of the mountain that is in front of [that faces] Hebron.” (Jg 16:1-3) Hebron was a distance of some 60 km (37 mi) from Gaza. The exact location of the mountain facing Hebron is uncertain. For Samson to carry the gates and sideposts any distance, and up a mountain at that, was clearly a manifestation of miraculous power made possible only by Jehovah’s spirit.
Later, Samson caused the collapse of the aforementioned house used for Dagon worship, this resulting in his own death and that of the Philistines who had assembled there.—Jg 16:21-30.
Gaza apparently continued to be a Philistine city throughout the period of the Judges (1Sa 6:17) and during the rule of Israel’s kings. King Solomon held dominion as far as Gaza in the SW, but evidently the Philistines were still there.—1Ki 4:21, 24.
Under Assyrian and Babylonian Rule. Toward the close of the ninth century B.C.E., through his prophet Amos, Jehovah stated that he would send “a fire” onto the walls of Gaza, this in retribution for its taking exiles to hand over to the Edomites. (Am 1:6, 7) Although the “exiles” are not specifically identified as Hebrews, likely the allusion is to captives taken by the Philistines in raids on Judah.—Compare 2Ch 21:16, 17; Joe 3:4-6.
Not long thereafter, about the middle of the eighth century B.C.E., Gaza began to experience the “fire” of war. According to Assyrian annals, Tiglath-pileser III conquered Gaza, but its king, Hanno, fled to Egypt. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, p. 283) Apparently Hanno was soon able to return to Gaza, for Sargon II claims to have defeated both him and the Egyptian army under Sibʼe allied with him. Sargon II claims to have personally captured Hanno and taken him away in fetters.—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 285.
From this time onward, Gaza appears to have been generally loyal to Assyria. Hence, it may be that King Hezekiah’s striking down the Philistines as far as Gaza was a phase of his revolt against Assyria. (2Ki 18:1, 7, 8) After this revolt, King Sennacherib launched his campaign against Judah and, according to his annals, gave captured Judean towns to Mitinti the king of Ashdod, Padi the king of Ekron (who had been imprisoned at Jerusalem), and Sillibel the king of Gaza.—Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 287, 288.
In the time of Jeremiah, Egypt’s army struck down Gaza. (Jer 47:1) Before this event, Jehovah’s utterance against the Philistines indicated that calamity from the N awaited them: “Baldness must come to Gaza.” (Jer 47:2-5; see also Jer 25:17, 20.) As suggested by other passages in Jeremiah (1:14; 46:20), the “waters” from “the north” mentioned at Jeremiah 47:2 evidently denote the Babylonian armies. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon did, in fact, gain control over this area (2Ki 24:1, 7), and the king of Gaza is mentioned in Babylonian inscriptions. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 308) Consequently, the words “before Pharaoh proceeded to strike down Gaza” (Jer 47:1) appear simply to identify the time when the utterance of Jehovah regarding the Philistines came to Jeremiah. They would not necessarily be directly related to the coming expression of judgment “from the north” thereafter discussed.
Destroyed. The prophet Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah, sounded a like judgment from Jehovah for Gaza: “An abandoned city is what she will become.” (Zep 2:4) And Zechariah’s prophecy, recorded after Babylon’s fall, pointed to future calamities: “[Gaza] will also feel very severe pains.” (Zec 9:5) History confirms the fulfillment of the foretold calamities. In the latter half of the fourth century B.C.E., Alexander the Great, after a five-month siege (two months, according to Jewish Antiquities, XI, 325 [viii, 4]), took Gaza. Many of its inhabitants were slain and the survivors were sold into slavery. Over 200 years later, the Jew Alexander Jannaeus, after a year’s siege, completely devastated the city.—Jewish Antiquities, XIII, 364 (xiii, 3).
Although the Roman governor of Syria, Gabinius, ordered the rebuilding of Gaza, this was likely done on a new site. (Jewish Antiquities, XIV, 87, 88 [v, 3]) Some scholars think that at Acts 8:26 the Greek word eʹre·mos (desolate [place]) refers to the old, abandoned Gaza (AT, for example, reads: “The town is now deserted”). Others understand eʹre·mos to refer to the road leading to the city, hence the rendering “this is a desert road.”—NW; compare JB, NE, RS.
2. A city with dependent towns located in Ephraim’s territory. (1Ch 7:28) Its exact location is unknown. Gaza may be a site in the vicinity of ancient Ai, if not perhaps identical with that city itself. The reading “Ayyah” found in numerous Bible translations has the support of many Hebrew manuscripts. However, there is also evidence for “Gaza” in other Hebrew manuscripts, as well as in the Targums.