Ancient Structures Found at Gath, the City of Goliath

Archaeologist Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, has discovered “unusually large fortifications from the 11th century BCE” in the city of Gath which he believes can shed light on the story of David and Goliath found in 1 Samuel 17.

Professor Aren Maeir is the director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project. Meir has been excavating at Tell es-Safi/Gath for the past twenty-three years.

Amanda Borschel-Dan, the editor of Israel’s Jewish World and Archaeology for The Times of Israel has written an extensive article detailing Meir’s work at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Below is a brief excerpt from her article.

View of the Water Gate at Gath, summer 2019 (Aren Maeir/Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project)

“For those scholars that accept that David was a historical figure – and I’m among them – the late 11th-, early 10th century BCE, the time of the earlier phase of the city of Gath, whose impressive remains were just found, is the time frame in which David existed,” Bar-Ilan University Prof. Aren Maeir, the 23-year excavation director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath dig, told The Times of Israel. The dating follows the chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah as presented in the Bible.

“If in fact David did confront an opponent in single combat, most often identified as Goliath, this would, more or less, be the time of this early Iron Age phase of the city of Gath,” said Maeir. He emphasized that “it is hard to say whether or not there is a historical kernel to the story, and if there is in fact a kernel, what this kernel was.”

There is still no inscription conclusively stating that “this is Gath,” however the previous two decades of excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath have uncovered a massive Iron Age Philistine site that served as the region’s center of gravity in the 9th and 10th centuries, said Maeir. The settlement was destroyed by the Aramean King Hazael around 830 BCE, which is echoed in the account of Gath that is written in Kings II 12:18.

Meir said that the recent discovery of ancient Philistine DNA indicates that the Philistines, a group of people known as “the Sea Peoples,” came from the Aegean region. In addition, Meir said that skeletal remains found in Philistine graves do not show that the Philistines were giants or that they were any different from normal-sized people:

“All Philistine skeletal remains discovered so far have shown absolutely no evidence that the people were larger or different from normal-sized people,” joked Maeir. In light of the new find, he wonders whether the various biblical traditions referring to the giants of Gath – Goliath is only one example – may stem from the size of the Philistines’ monumental building.

Perhaps the authors of the Bible saw the remains of the outsized 11th century building on the ground, speculated Maeir, and thought to themselves, “Enormous stones? Who could move such things? Only giants could move it.” Similar mythological narratives have developed at other ancient wonders, including Stonehenge and Easter Island, he said.

Amanda Borschel-Dan’s article, “Colossal ancient structures found at Gath may explain origin of story of Goliath,” includes several pictures of the site and some of the findings unearthed at Gath. The article also includes a brief overview of the origin of the Philistines.

You can read Amanda Borschel-Dan’s article in its entirety by visiting The Times of Israel. Click here to read the article.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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