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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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PHILISTINES . The inhabitants of the Maritime Plain of Palestine (cf. art. Palestine, 1) from the period of the Judges onward to the 6th cent. or later. They are said to have come from Caphtor ( Amos 9:7 , Jeremiah 47:4 , Deuteronomy 2:23 ), which is with much probability identified with Crete. At all events they came from over the sea.

Rameses III. of the XXth Egyptian dynasty encountered a piratical sea-faring people on the borders of Syria, whom he called Purusati (= Pulista or ‘Philistines’). They afterwards made incursions on the northern coast of Egypt as well as on the coast of Palestine. In the latter country they gained a permanent foothold, owing to its disorganized condition. When Wenamon made his expedition to Lebanon for a king of the XXIst dynasty (c [Note: circa, about.] . 1100), a Philistine kingdom existed at Dor. (For these facts cf. Breasted, Ancient Records , iv. 274 ff., and History of Egypt , p. 513.)

The Philistines first make their appearance in Biblical history late in the period of the Judges, when Samson, of the tribe of Dan, is said to have waged his curious single-handed combats with them (Judges 13:1-25; Judges 14:1-20; Judges 15:1-20; Judges 16:1-31 ). These conflicts were the natural result of the impact of the Philistines upon Israel’s western border. The reference to the Philistines in Judges 3:31 is a later insertion (cf. Israel, §I. 11). During the time of Eli these invaders were trying to make their way into the central ridge of Palestine, and in one of the battles captured the ark of Jahweh, which a pestilence (probably bubonic plague) induced them to return ( 1 Samuel 4:1-22; 1 Samuel 5:1-12; 1 Samuel 6:1-21 ).

When Saul became king the Philistines tried to break his power, but were defeated through the bravery of Jonathan (1 Samuel 13:1-23; 1 Samuel 14:1-52 ). Saul did not permanently check their progress, however, as by the end of his reign the whole of the rich plain of Jezreel was in their possession, including the city of Bethshean at its eastern end ( 1 Samuel 31:10 ). David early in his reign inflicted upon them a severe defeat ( 2 Samuel 5:22 ff.), afterwards reducing them to vassalage ( 2 Samuel 8:1 ). Down to this time Philistine power was concentrated in the hands of the rulers of the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. The rulers of these cities are called by a peculiar title, which is translated ‘lords of the Philistines’ (wh. see).

After the reign of David, probably at the division of the kingdom, the Philistines regained their independence, for we find the kings of Israel in the 9th cent. trying to wrest from them Gibbethon, a town on the border of the Maritime Plain (1 Kings 15:27; 1 Kings 16:15 ). Late in the same century the Assyrian king Adad-nlrari III. took tribute of Philistine kings ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] i. 190), and began the long series of Assyrian interferences in Philistine affairs. Amos (1:6 8) denounces Philistine monarchies as among the independent kingdoms of his time.

The position of the Philistines exposed them to every approach of the Assyrians and Egyptians, and during the last third of the 8th cent. and the whole of the 7th their history is a series of conquests, conspiracies, and rebellions. It is possible to follow these with much fulness in the Assyrian inscriptions, but full details cannot be given here. Tiglath-pileser iii. received tribute from Philistines ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 20). They became Sargon’s vassals the year that Samaria fell, b.c. 722 ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] li. 54), but ten years later a rebellion was led by Ashdod ( Isaiah 20:1; KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 64 ff.). At the beginning of the reign of Sennacherib another effort was made to shake off the Assyrian yoke. In this Hezekiah of Judah took part by imprisoning Padi, the Philistine king of Ekron, who remained faithful to Sennacherib. The allies thus brought together were defeated at Eltekeh ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 92 ff.), and the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib was the result ( 2 Kings 18:1-37; 2 Kings 19:1-37 ). Esarhaddon ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 148), and Ashurbanipal ( KIB [Note: IB Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek.] ii. 240) marched across the Philistine territory and held it in subjection. With the decline of Assyria the Philistines began to suffer from the rise of Egypt under the XXVIth dynasty. Psammetichus i. took Ashdod after a siege of 29 years (Herod. ii. 157). Necho ii., a contemporary of Josiah of Judah, captured Gaza (Herod. ii. 159). It is probable that the Philistines suffered at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, but no record of his doings among them has been preserved. The Assyrians call the Philistine rulers ‘kings.’ The older title, ‘lords of the Philistines,’ has disappeared.

When Cambyses made his expedition into Egypt (b.c. 525), Gaza opposed him (Polyb. xvi. 40). The Sidonian king Eshmunazar claims that Dor and Joppa were added to the dominions of Sidon. Gaza in 332 held out against Alexander the Great, and his siege of it is famous (Diod. Sic. xvii. xlviii. 7). The Ptolemys and Seleucids often fought over Philistine territory. It finally passed under Roman rule, and its cities had then an important history.

The Philistines cease to be mentioned by this name after the time of the Assyrians. Some infer from the fact that Herodotus (iii. 5) speaks of the Arabians as being in possession of the coast in the time of Cambyses, that the Philistines had even then been supplanted. It is probable that in the ebb and flow of the nations over this land they were gradually absorbed and lost their identity.

Probably the Philistines adopted in the main the religion and civilization of the Canaanites. Their chief god, Dagon (1 Samuel 5:2 ff.), was a Semitic deity. He appears in the el-Amarna letters and also in Babylonia (cf. Barton, Semit. Or . 229 ff.). There was also at Ashkelon a temple of Ashtart (Herod. l. 105). If their religion was Semitic, so also were probably the other features of their civilization. If they brought other customs from beyond the sea, they are not described in our scanty records.

George A. Barton.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Philistines'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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