Tired of see ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day.

Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


Additional Links

Philis´tines, a tribe which gave its name to the country known as Palestine, though it occupied only a portion of the southern coast, namely, that which was bounded on the west by the hill country of Ephraim and Judah, and on the south extended from Joppa to the borders of Egypt, thus touching on the Israelite tribes Dan, Simeon, and Judah. Indeed the portions of Simeon and Dan covered a large part of Philistia, but its possession by the Israelites was disputed, and was never entirely achieved. This country was originally held by the Avims, who were destroyed and their land seized by the Caphtorims, coming forth out of Caphtor (). In the Philistines are denominated 'the remnant of the country (or isle) of Caphtor.' In , the Divine Being asks, 'Have I not brought the Philistines from Caphtor?' The Caphtorim and the Philistim are also associated together as kindred tribes in the genealogical list of nations given in , both being descendants of Mizraim. Some imagine that Caphtor is Cappadocia: others with more reason affirm that it is Crete, and that the Philistines, being a part of the great Shemitic family, went westward under pressure from the wave of population which came down from the higher country to the sea-coast, but afterwards returned eastward from Crete to Palestine. Another opinion, which is supported by very plausible arguments, is, that the Philistines are to be identified with the Hycksos or Shepherd kings, who were expelled from Egypt, and taking possession of Canaan gave to it the name of Palisthan, i.e., Shepherd-land. This view appears to be countenanced by , where the Philistines are derived from Mizraim, that is from Egypt.

If now we follow the Biblical accounts, we find the history of the Philistines to be in brief as follows. They had established themselves in their land as early as the time of Abraham, when they had founded a kingdom at Gerar (; ). When the Israelites left Egypt, they were deterred by fear of the power of the Philistines from returning by the shortest road—that which the caravans still take—because it lay through the country of the Philistines (). In the time of Joshua () the Philistines appear in a league of five princes, governors of so many tribes or petty states—'all the borders of the Philistines from Sihor which is before Egypt even unto the borders of Ekron northward counted to the Canaanites.' Joshua appears to have thought it prudent to attempt nothing for the dispossession of the Philistines, and he therefore had no hostile relations with them; for the division of Philistia among the tribes was nothing more than a prospective but unfulfilled arrangement (; ). The days of the Judges, however, brought conflicts between the Israelites and the Philistines, who dwelt wide over the land, and even exercised dominion over their Hebrew neighbors (;;;;; ).

In the time of Eli the Philistines succeeded in getting the ark into their possession (1 Samuel 4); but a defeat which they suffered under Samuel put an end to their dominion, after it had lasted forty years (1 Samuel 7). This subjection of the Israelites began after the death of Jair, and continued to the termination of the period embraced in the book of Judges. Within this space of time fall the life and the heroic actions of Samson. Notwithstanding the total defeat which the Philistines had undergone, and the actual termination of their political supremacy, they continued to be troublesome neighbors. 'There was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul' (); a conflict which was carried on with various success, and in which the king found great support in the prudent bravery of his son Jonathan and the high courage of David (; 1 Samuel 14;;; ). Even after his separation from Saul, David inflicted many blows on the Philistines (1 Samuel 23); but soon saw himself obliged to seek refuge in Gath (1 Samuel 27), and was in consequence near making common cause with them against Saul (1 Samuel 29), who met with his death at their hands while engaged in battle (1 Samuel 31). They also raised their arms against David, when he had become king of all Israel, but were several times beaten by that brave monarch (, sq.; 8:1). 'Mighty men,' performing valorous deeds in imitation of David's rencounter with Goliath, gave the king their support against this brave and persevering enemy (, sq.). Solomon appears to have been undisturbed by the Philistines, but they had settlements in the land of Israel under the early Ephraimitic kings (; ). To Jehoshaphat they became tributary (). Under Jehoram, however, they, in union with the Arabians, fell on Jerusalem, and carried off the king's substance, as well as his wives and children (). On the other hand, in the reign of King Jehoash, their city Gath was taken by Hazael, King of Syria, who also threatened Jerusalem (). But in the time of Ahaz they revolted, and carried with them a part of western Judah, having 'invaded the cities of the low country and of the south of Judah, and taken Bethshemesh and Ajalon,' etc. (; comp. ). Hezekiah in the first years of his reign obtained some advantages over them (). Soon, however, Assyrian armies went against Philistia, and, with a view to an invasion of Egypt, got into their power the strong frontier-fortress of Ashdod (), which at a later time Psammetichus took from them, after a siege of twenty-nine years (Herod, ii. 157). In consequence of the hostile relations between Assyria and Egypt, Philistia suffered for a long period, as the troops of the former power took their way through that land, and Pharaoh-Necho captured the stronghold Gaza (). The same was done by Alexander the Great in his expedition to Egypt. On the destruction of the Jewish state, the Philistines, like other neighboring peoples, acted ill towards the Jews, having 'taken vengeance with a despiteful heart' (). Many of those who returned from the captivity 'had married wives of Ashdod, and their speech spoke half in the speech of Ashdod' (, sq.). In the Maccabean period the Philistines were Syrian subjects, and had at times to suffer at the hands of the Jews (; , sq.). King Alexander (Balus) gave Jonathan a part of their territory Accaron, with the borders thereof in possession (). The Jewish monarch Alexander Jannaeus overcame and destroyed Gaza. By Pompey Azotus, Jamnia, and Gaza were united to the Roman province of Syria; but Gaza was given by Augustus to King Herod.

The Philistine cities were greatly distinguished. Along the whole coast from north to south there ran a line of towns—in the north the Phoenician, in the south the Philistine—which were powerful, rich, and well-peopled. The chief cities of the Philistines were five—Gaza, Ashdod, Askalon, Gath, and Ekron (; ). Several of these Palestinian cities flourished at the same time; and though these cities gained at different periods pre-eminence in power, wealth, and population, and though some did not rise till others had declined or perished, yet is it true that from the earliest times till the century after Christ a number of important towns existed on the narrow strip of land which borders the Mediterranean Sea, such as was never seen in any other part of the world, the Ionian coast of Asia Minor not excepted.

The greatness of these cities was mainly owing to commerce, for the coast of Palestine was in the earliest ages exclusively in possession of the trade which was carried on between Europe and Asia. Besides a great transit trade, they had internal sources of wealth, being given to agriculture (). In the time of Saul they were evidently superior in the arts of life to the Israelites; for we read () that the latter were indebted to the former for the utensils of ordinary life. Their religion was not essentially different from that of the Phoenicians. The idol which they most reverenced was Astarte, the Assyrian Semiramis, or Derketo, who was also honored as Dagon, in a very ancient temple at Askelon and at Gaza, also at Ashdod (; , sq.; ). This was a species of fish-worship, a remnant of which may still be found in the special care taken of certain holy fish in some parts of Syria. In Ekron Baal-zebub had his chief seat. Priests and soothsayers were numerous (). Their magicians were in repute (), and the oracle of Baal-zebub was consulted by foreigners (). They had the custom of carrying with them in war the images of their gods (). Tradition makes the Philistines the inventors of the bow and arrow.





Copyright Statement
Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Philistines'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: