In recent news report, the Philistines have been called “The Bible Bad Guys.”
Archaeologist Aren Maeir, the director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations gave an interview on Fox News in which he describes the Philistines and their culture.
Watch the video by clicking here.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Very interesting discoveries. It is also interesting of the presuppositions that color one’s views. Maeir notes that most think of the Philistines as a “barbarian culture” from reading the Bible. I am not sure what others think but I have never thought of them as “barbarians” which would somewhat mean “culturally retarded.” I guess if one looks at the Philistines through the lens of the Greeks, one might think that the Philistines were like the Spartans and the Hebrews like the Greeks, then it would make sense. But Maeir is certainly correct to note that the historical writings of the OT were produced by Hebrews for Hebrews (one wonders what Philistine history of the same era would look like.)
As I read Judges, Israel seems to be quite captivated by the Philistine culture – with its iron tools, chariots, etc. Israel at the time of the judges seems to be the “barbarians” not the Philistines. This is to be expected considering that they were an enslaved culture for hundreds of years followed by about 40 years of nomadic wilderness existence. It is quite difficult to see where and how a mature and sophisticated could emerge until they are settled with some degree of peace and stability – something that is lacking during the time of the judges.
I wonder when the Philistine society saw their zenith. If the Hebrew culture reaches its apex around 1000 BCE the Philistine culture might have been in decline at the same time Solomon was building the temple, sea ports, expanding the kingdom, etc. It’s not exactly like a foot-race where the two cultures both start out at the same time.
The reason the Philistines are called barbarians was because they were a warlike people, who were associated with the Sea Peoples. The Sea peoples destroyed many cultures, including the Hittites. The Philistines came to Canaan and conquered the Canaanites and established a pentapolis from where they ruled the land. Their zenith came before the time of David, since David conquered them. The Philistines remained semi-independent until the rise of Assyria. The Israelites were not captivated by Philistines culture, because the Philistines had a monopoly on iron technology and the people of Israel had to pay the Philistines to help the sharpen their iron tools. Philistine culture seems to have been very advanced. If they came from the Greek world, they brought some of their culture with them.