So Who Were The Philistines And Why Did the Hebrews Hate Them?

Oh, those Sea People, they certainly caused quite the ruckus back in the Bronze Age, blamed for all the bad stuff that transpired in those waning years.

Here we are today, still watching the battles being fought over in the Middle East, for instance, knowing many of those conflicts are ancient, with roots going back to that age of Heroes. Displaced peoples pushed out, swamping neighbouring nations, and moving farther afield desperate for someplace to go, a reality we see unfolding today.

To that point, Canada a few years back took in 25,000 Syrian refugees, settled across this vast country.

Yet not everyone has been so welcoming as Canada, and many nations have turned them away, and various malignant misogynist things have been said over the years of these Middle Eastern refugees escaping the many conflicts that have rocked that whole region for 1000s of years.

And so it is fair to surmise these end times of the Bronze Age would have been no different from people today, there are always going to be those opportunistic merchants of fortune who take advantage of the power vacuum that the collapse of these giant empires would have caused throughout the Mediterranean.

The Vikings were just such a group, gaining fame and fortune on the world stage with various raids across the dark ages that had dropped over Northern Europe as a veil, in the centuries that followed the collapse of Rome.

From around 700 AD until around the 10th Century AD, they plied the waters in their sleek boats, down rivers all across Europe and all the way east to Russia, and down even all the way into the vibrant ports of the Mediterranean.

However, it is often overlooked that the vast majority of Scandinavians that arrived upon British Shores, and across Europe, were family groups merely looking for land, as their own Homeland had nothing any longer to offer.

Raiding was a way of life for some Vikings, particularly the Norse of Norway.

Maybe a couple thousand years apart, still these peoples of Northern Europe give us at least some insight, and are a good benchmark for comparison to illustrate that the diversity in Scandinavian peoples of the Dark Ages probably share quite a bit in common with the group collectively called Sea Peoples of Southern Europe.

With their own reputation skewed over the intervening centuries, Vikings are still by many outside of scholarly circles viewed as evil raiders who scoured the coasts for murder and mayhem. Yet, this narrative is far too simplistic, and ignores the part where they settle down, built settlements and farmed the land, making a living for themselves and their families. Plus, this narrative also ignores that Norse DNA can be found all throughout the Northern lands of Scotland, Orkney’s, the Shetlands, and beyond.

Much the same we are learning can be said of these mysterious peoples throughout the Levant when archaeologists are excavating Philistine sites.

Map of the Philistine Pentapolis – Cush / CC0

The name comes down through history, we know them as the enemy of the Hebrews, eaters of Pork and all round pagan baddies. Yet, new evidence at such ancient cities as Gath and Ashkelon upend this notion. New scientific methods are exposing these enigmatic peoples to a new light, which is illuminating our understanding of who they were, and why they were there… and maybe a clue perhaps as to why the Hebrews might have disliked them.

For instance, styles of pottery shards found at Philistine sites, cooking tools, and other basic features were thought to resemble those of the Mycenaean regions, suggesting that in fact the Philistine had originated somewhere from the Aegean, but it was a theory only.

Recent excavations though have for the first time uncovered a Philistine graveyard, a feature that had eluded archaeologists for years. Without this, archaeologists and scholars were limited in their understanding of these mysterious people that had appeared on the shores of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age.

Graves are often for researchers a primary method for determining a deeper understanding of the people themselves. Much can be learned from bones alone, from what they ate to when, they can point to famine, disease, where they grew up, and how and when they died. As well, many ancient graves often contain items used by the individual in life, and these items alone can offer an invaluable snapshot.

The deal was sealed recently when DNA extracted showed a direct link to Southern European origin of the Philistines, different from their Canaanite neighbours.

The genetic clue that led Dr. Master and his colleagues to their conclusion was found in DNA collected from the skulls of four early Iron Age infants buried beneath the floors of their late 12th century B.C.E. homes in Ashkelon. Dr. Master said the infants, who were not related, were most likely Philistines born in Ashkelon and not immigrants because of the conditions in which they were buried.

His colleagues performed an ancient DNA analysis and uncovered European-derived genetic material, suggesting the infants’ recent ancestors may have arrived from overseas somewhere in Southern Europe.

The researchers said they could not yet pinpoint specifically whether these people came from Greece, Sardinia, Crete or elsewhere.

New York Times | DNA Begins to Unlock Secrets of the Ancient Philistines | July 3, 2019, by Nicholas St. Fleur

Other excavations done at the site uncovered other skeletons, but from 500 years earlier, carbon-dated from between 1746 and 1542 B.C.E, and these skeletons did not share the same DNA as that of the infants… offering the team a genetic comparison between Late Bronze Age and Iron Age people of Ashkelon when there was a known cultural change [ibid].

Science is now illuminating this mysterious time in our human story. With cataclysmic events erupting throughout the Mediterranean being unearthed, from core samples showing a 300-year drought throughout the area in and around the 12th century B.C.E., earthquakes destroying various ancient places, famines ignited from either lack of rain, or pestilence, and it is now not at all surprising to find refugees escaping impossible situations, hoards of homeless desperate peoples roaming across the Mediterranean, from place to place.

By I, Rémih, CC BY-SA 3.0 – Wall relief of philistines captives, mortuary temple of Ramses III (-1186 /-1154), Medinet Habu, Theban Necropolis, Egypt

A bit of backstory is in order to put the Philistines in context, why they were in this area of the Levant.

Now, first point to make, contrary to what the Bible says, according to various archaeologists who work in the Levant, Egypt and other interested parties, there is little to no evidence of the actual Exodus. Nada, nothing.

The reason behind this skepticism, is that for a long time it was thought to be rather unusual for the Egyptians to not have written any of this down, as the Egyptians wrote EVERYTHING down. It was thought to be a tad mysterious as to how this large group of people escaping the clutches of this Superpower and then roaming around the desert for decades would somehow go unnoticed.

Also, there is no evidence that they migrated, or invaded Canaan. In fact, the evidence suggests that in fact they were low class Canaanites themselves, living in simple dwellings, with simple pottery, distinct from their neighbours surrounding them.

For instance, Israel Finklestein, Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and co-author of ‘The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts’, under took extensive field walking expeditions and excavations over the course of years, grid by grid throughout the Levant into Egypt, throughout the Sinai, and found no evidence of the Exodus, no evidence to suggest the Hebrews were immigrants to Canaan. Instead, their findings demonstrated continued occupation, which would mean most of them were in fact Canaanites all along… though evidently very lowly Canaanites.

Most scholars now believe that if the Exodus did happen, it happened on a much smaller scale, and that the stories passed down that made it into the Bible, was a classic case of storytelling and not documenting historical fact.

In 2013 a symposium was held, and from the website (updated in 2015) the following illustrates the new understanding shared by most scholars today.

This event featured many of the worlds leading scientists and scholars, utilizing the newest technologies, methodologies, debates, papers, etc.

2013 Exodus symposium held at UCSD – If there is one underlying thread throughout the conference and the published papers it is the need to reevaluate the historicity of the Exodus in light of the new evidence and overlooked old evidence, using new tools of science and technology. Old-line scholars were reluctant to change. But some minds were changed, even if just a little. There was also considerable agreement that an Exodus event or series of events took place on a much smaller scale than the one depicted in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, many scholars discussed the role of ‘historical memory’ in the creation of the Exodus narrative. | Israel’s Exodus from Egypt Featured in Groundbreaking New Book, By: Thomas E. Levy

It bares noting as well, that Egypt occupied the Levant from around 1550 BCE, till 1177 BCE when they pulled out of the entire region. This occupation ran up the coast to the border lands with the Assyrian Empire at the Northern borders.

Ok, so basically to make a rather long story short, after Egypt had been fending off the Sea Peoples for many decades, Ramsses III writes about this encounter on this war stele.

Therefore, it is sometime around that battle that the Peleset (Philistines), and perhaps the others who accompanied them, settled in Egyptian strongholds that lined the coast of Canaan.

The foreign countries conspired in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could resist their arms, from Hatti, Kode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya on – being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people and its land was like that which had never existed. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared for them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denen, and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts were confident and trusting as they said “Our plans will succeed!”

Afterwards coming down in legend as the longtime enemy of the Hebrews, which to my mind makes a bit more sense now if they saw these hoards of refugees invading their lands as a direct threat. In light of it all, it seems that the Hebrews reaction to the Sea Peoples was akin to how many English would have viewed the Vikings after their raid at Lindisfarne and elsewhere.

This also to my mind provides a far richer narrative. As well, it suggests we are only now just beginning to really understand all the underlying themes at play in the Late Bronze Age collapse, and the effects of that collapse on the peoples of the time.

The Exodus as it may appear in the Bible makes a good story, simple, a tale of faith, perseverance and strength. However, the truth was far more complex, and demonstrates the ingrained prejudices that we to this day face, with the influx of immigrates due to natural and man-made disasters, and the ingrained fear of the other that humanity has struggled with for thousands of years.

FEATURED IMAGE: By ‫יודקה yudkey‬‎, CC BY 3.0,

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