A city of the Philistine axis lords. (1 Sam. 6:17, 18) Situated as it was, to the E of the Philistine plain, Gath figured prominently in the Israelite-Philistine seesaw domination of the area. Gath was the birthplace of Goliath and other giant warriors, and was occupied by the Anakim at the time that Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. (Josh. 11:22; 1 Sam. 17:4; 2 Sam. 21:15-22; 1 Chron. 20:4-8) The residents of Gath were called Gittites.—Josh. 13:3.
Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land did not include the territory occupied by the Philistines. This was to be accomplished later. Accordingly, Jehovah instructed Joshua to assign the territory to the tribes, Judah receiving the territory in which Gath was located.—Josh. 13:2, 3; 15:1, 5, 12.
Both the Ephraimites and Benjamites skirmished with the Gittites, as incidentally noted in the genealogies. (1 Chron. 7:20, 21; 8:13) In Samuel’s day the captured ark of the covenant was brought to Gath, with disastrous consequences to the city’s inhabitants. (1 Sam. 5:8, 9) Shortly thereafter Israel subdued the Philistines, and certain cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel “kept coming back to Israel from Ekron to Gath.” (1 Sam. 7:14) Later, when David slew the Gittite giant Goliath, Israel pursued the Philistines as far as Ekron and Gath.—1 Sam. 17:23, 48-53.
After this, when David was forced to flee from Saul he took refuge in Gath. When the servants of Achish the king of Gath began to say: “Is this not David the king of the land?” David became afraid and feigned insanity in order to escape. (1 Sam. 21:10-15) David composed two psalms recalling this experience in Gath. (Psalms 34 and 56, superscriptions) On David’s next visit to Gath, however, Achish granted him and 600 men safe residence in the town of Ziklag until Saul was killed sixteen months later, after which David moved to Hebron. (1 Sam. 27:2–28:2; 29:1-11; 2 Sam. 1:1; 2:1-3) In his dirge over Saul and Jonathan David noted that the news of Saul’s death would cause rejoicing and exultation in the Philistine cities of Gath and Ashkelon.—2 Sam. 1:20.
During David’s reign Gath and its dependent towns came into Israelite hands. (1 Chron. 18:1) When David fled from Absalom there were 600 “Gittites” among those who went with him. (2 Sam. 15:18) But during Solomon’s rule Achish was still king of Gath. (1 Ki. 2:39-41) Solomon’s successor Rehoboam rebuilt and fortified Gath.—2 Chron. 11:5-8.
King Hazael of Syria captured Gath from King Jehoash of Judah sometime after Jehoash’s twenty-third year (876 B.C.E.). (2 Ki. 12:6, 17) The Philistines must have regained control of the city later, for Uzziah recaptured it in his campaign against them. (2 Chron. 26:3, 6) The prophet Amos, and afterward, Micah, refer to Gath as a foreign city. (Amos 6:2; Mic. 1:10) Following the Assyrian king Sargon’s boast of conquering it not long after 740 B.C.E, there are no further historical references to Gath, and later Biblical mention of Philistine cities does not include it.—Zeph. 2:4; Jer. 25:17, 20; Zech. 9:5, 6.
The exact location of Gath is unknown. Its early passing from historical mention and the absence of tradition about its site make it difficult to locate. Even the goodly number of references in tablets and secular records such as the Amarna letters do not identify the site. Several rather widely separated places have been suggested, the most recent being Tell esh-Shariʹah, fifteen miles (24 kilometers) SE of Gaza.