Questions From Readers
Who were the Philistines mentioned in the Bible?
The Bible often refers to a people known as the Philistines, who lived in Canaan when God’s ancient people took possession of the Promised Land. For a long time, these ancient Philistines opposed God’s people, as is highlighted in the account of David’s encounter with the giant Philistine champion named Goliath.—1 Samuel 17:1-3, 23-53.
The Bible indicates that the ancient Philistines migrated from Caphtor to the southwestern coast of Canaan. (Jeremiah 47:4) Where was Caphtor? The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1979) notes: “Although the evidence does not permit a definitive solution, current scholarship points to the island of Crete (or perhaps Crete plus the Aegean Isles, which culturally belong together) as by far the most probable site.”—Volume 1, page 610.
In line with this, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures reads at Amos 9:7: “‘Are you not like the sons of the Cushites to me, O sons of Israel?’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘Did I not bring Israel itself up out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines out of Crete, and Syria out of Kir?’”
It is not known when this ancient sea people migrated from Crete to the section of Canaan that came to be called Philistia, the southwestern coastline between Joppa and Gaza. They seem to have already been in this region of low coastal plains in the days of Abraham and Isaac.—Genesis 20:1, 2; 21:32-34; 26:1-18.
The Philistines continued to be a potent force in the area long after Israel entered the land that God had promised them. (Exodus 13:17; Joshua 13:2; Judges 1:18, 19; 3:3, 4; 15:9, 10; 1 Samuel 4:1-11; 7:7-14; 13:19-23; 1 Kings 16:15) As late as the reign of Judean king Uzziah, Philistines remained in their cities Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod. (2 Chronicles 26:6) Others of their cities prominent in Biblical accounts were Ekron, Ashkelon, and Gaza.
Alexander the Great conquered the Philistine city of Gaza, but in time, the Philistines apparently ceased to be a separate people. Professor Lawrence E. Stager wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review (May/June 1991): “The Philistines too were exiled to Babylon. . . . No record exists, however, as to what happened to the exiled Philistines. Those who may have remained in Ashkelon after Nebuchadrezzar’s conquest apparently lost their ethnic identity. They simply disappear from history.”
The modern name Palestine is derived from Latin and Greek words, which leads further back to the Hebrew word for “Philistia.” Some Bible translations in the Arabic language use a word for “Philistines” that is easily confused with the word for modern Palestinians. However, Today’s Arabic Version uses a different Arabic word, thus distinguishing between the ancient Philistines and modern Palestinians.
[Picture on page 31]
Some ruins at Ashkelon
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.