Image: The Philistines
The Philistines were Israel’s enemies. They came to Canaan almost at the same time the people of Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, settled in the land. The Philistines lived in the southern part of Canaan. They controlled five cities, known as the Philistine Pentapolis: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (Joshua 13:3).
The origin of the Philistines is debated. Egyptian records include them as one of the groups of people known as the Sea Peoples. The Sea Peoples invaded Egypt during the reign of Ramses III. Archaeologists believe that the Sea Peoples originated in the Aegean area. According to Amos 9:7, the Philistine’s original home was Caphtor, a possible reference to Crete.
According to Egyptian records, the Egyptians defeated the Philistines in a naval battle. But the archaeological evidence seems to suggest that the victory was not as total as the Egyptians claimed. The Philistines were allowed to settle in the southern part of Canaan.
The Bible mentions these Southern Philistines as they relate with the people of Israel. However, Egyptian documents and archaeology reveal that there was another group of Sea Peoples who lived in the northern part of Canaan.
In an article titled “The Other ‘Philistines,” published in the November/December 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Ephraim Stern discusses these Sea Peoples whom he calls “The Northern Sea Peoples.” Stern calls them the northern Sea Peoples in order to differentiate them from the other Sea Peoples who lived in the southern part of Canaan.
In an article titled, “The ‘Philistines’ to the North,” published in Bible History Daily, Robin Ngo gives an overview of these Northern Philistines. Below is an excerpt taken from Ngo’s article:
We know about the different tribes of Sea Peoples not from the Bible but from Egyptian sources-and from archaeology. The famous sculpted reliefs at the Temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu depict the Egyptians in battle with three tribes of Sea Peoples: the Danunu, the Sikils and the Philistines (pictured above). In addition, the 11th-century B.C.E. Story of Wenamun papyrus describes an Egyptian priest’s journey to the Canaan/Phoenician coast to purchase Lebanese cedar trees and includes a reference to the Sikil settlement at Dor.
Archaeological investigations north of the Philistine Pentapolis have uncovered five significant sites inhabited by the northern Sea Peoples-Aphek, Tell Qasile, Tell Gerisa, Jaffa and Dor-of which Dor is the largest.
Excavations at the northern Sea Peoples’ site of Dor, which author Ephraim Stern directed for two decades, reveal that the Sikil city boasted a particularly strong defense wall and engaged in metallurgical activities. Cult objects discovered at Dor reflect Aegean and Cypriot origins and are also attested in the Philistine material record.
This article provides an interesting perspective on the Philistines. You can read Ngo’s article in its entirety by visiting Bible History Daily.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary