The ancient biblical Philistines engaged in various kinds of “dialogue” with the Jewish nation for millennia, starting, historically, with Patriarch Abraham and ending with King David. However, as related in Scripture, they were relevant, engaged with the Jewish nation, even much later in forms and shapes that remind us of prophesies for days-to-come.
First mention of the Philistines appears in a bizarre verse, where, following the Great Flood, descendants of Noah are enumerated, one by one (“Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth”, Genesis 10:1). The sons of Ham are Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan (Genesis 10:6). Then comes a detailed enumeration of grandsons, amongst them the seven sons of Mizraim (also Hebrew for the land of Egypt):
“Mizraim gave birth to Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehavim,.., and Patrusim and Kasluhim, out of whom came the Philistines, and Kaftorim” (Genesis 10:13-14).
Rashi (1040 –1105), a most revered Jewish interpreter of the Jewish Hebrew Bible, probably wondered at this bizarre sentence (about the Philistines) in the middle of a detailed list of brothers (sons of Mizrayim). He comments, based probably on Midrash Rabah (Bereshit 37, 5):
“From both they came out since Patrusim and Kasluhim used to swap their wives, one with the other, and out of them came Philistines”.
Rabbeinu Behaye (1255 – 1340) further explains that the source for biblical Philistines were ancestors born bastards (namely, descendants of a mother not married to the biological father); And the reason for that was mutually-agreed invasion of privacy between the two brothers, Patrusim and Kasluhim.
Rashi’s non-conventional interpretation had been pursued by other Jewish interpreters. This interpretation probably leans, to a large extent, on the meaning of the biblical Hebrew root both for the name of the people (Philistines) and their region in Canaan, Philistia (Pleshet in Hebrew), where the Philistines dwelt prior to the arrival of the Israelites to the Promised Land, and a long period of time thereafter.
This Hebrew root is:
Originally, this root means “penetrate, “dig through”, “go from end to end”. A natural derivative gives rise to various Hebrew words, verbs and nouns, having one meaning in common:
“Invade”; “trespass”; “Get hold of that which is not yours”; “Seize illegally”.
Indeed, when one observes the various “dialogues”, more precisely violent encounters, that the Philistines had with the Jewish nation, starting with Patriarch Abraham and ending with their final defeat by King David, there is a common thread that connect them all — “Invasion”, namely, seizing illegally, or claiming to own, or wishing to possess, that which is not yours; And “that” may stretch from wives, to water wells, to spring water, to land (territory), and ultimately to important strategic assets of a foreign nation (the Israelites) — leaders, judges, members of the royal family, and finally even to the holiest object of the Jewish faith (at the time), the Ark of the Covenant.
Following are verses from Scripture that tell these encounters (between the Philistines and the Jewish nation), each preceded with a title that summarizes the significance of that encounter as an embodiment of an unlawful invasion (Plishah).
- Seizing wife — Sarah, Abraham’s wife, seized by Abimelech, King of Gerar, King of the Philistines (Genesis 26:8):
“And Abraham said of Sarah, his wife, she is my sister; and Abimelech, King of Gerar, sent and took Sarah” (Genesis 20: 2);
- Seizing an existing well — Abraham breaking the news to the “innocently ignorant” Abimelech that his servants had seized a well dug by Abraham’s people:
“And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away; And Abimelech said, I know not who has done this thing, neither did thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it but today” (Genesis 21:25-26);
- Nearly seizing wife (again..) — Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, nearly seized by Abimelech, King of the Philistines:
“And Abimelech said, what is this you have done to us? One of the men nearly has laid with your wife and you would have brought guilt upon us” (Genesis 26: 10);
- Unlawfully separating one from his lawfully-owned property — Philistines “deactivate” existing water wells, dug by Abraham’s servants:
“And all the wells that his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham, his father, the Philistines stopped up, filling them with earth” (Genesis 26:15);
- Claiming to possess water of a newly found spring — Philistines claiming spring water found by Isaac’s servants:
“And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of springing water; And the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, the water is ours; So, he named the well Esek because they quarreled with him; And they dug another well and they quarreled over it too so he named it Sitnah” (Genesis 26:19-21);
Comment: Esek appears only here, however Eshek, derived from same root, means robbing; Sitnah appears elsewhere (Esra 4:6), where it probably means extremely negative false slander; In modern Hebrew Sitnah simply means hatred;
- Denying lawful owner taking hold of its property — The Philistines delaying the Israelites from reaching the Promised Land
“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, for God said lest the people repent when they see war and they return to Egypt; And God led the people around through the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea” (Exodus 13:17);
During Joshua’s wars to conquer the Land of Israel, Pleshet, the land of the Philistines, with its five main cities, were not conquered:
“Now Joshua was old and of advanced age and Jehovah said to him: You are old and of advanced age and there remains yet very much land to be occupied; This is the land that yet remains — All the regions of the Philistines…” (Joshua 13:1-2)
The Bible explains why the Philistines (and some other nations) were not conquered during Joshua’s wars to occupy the Promised Land:
“That through them Israel would be put on a trial to find out whether they keep the way of Jehovah to walk in them as their forefathers did keep them or not” (Judges 2:22); See also Judges 3:1-4.
Violent encounters with the Philistines therefore continued for a very long period of time, all remarkably characterized by symptoms of invasion, namely, “seizing that which is not yours”.
- Invasion of privacy and consequently unlawful seizure of a major strategic asset of a foreign nation (Israel) — The Philistines approach Samson’s two women (first wife, and after murdering her — a Philistine concubine); Then capturing, by deceit, the Israeli leader (a judge and a worrier):
(7a) The Philistines approach Samson’s wife secretly (invasion of privacy), subsequently killing her:
“And it came to pass on the seventh day that they said to Samson’s wife: Entice your husband that he may declare to us the riddle lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire…” (Judges 14:15);
Samson’s wife complied, yet had not escaped the fate assigned to her by the Philistines:
“..and the Philistines went up and burnt her and her father with fire” (Judges 15:6);
(7b) The Philistines approach Samson’s concubine (Delilah) secretly:
Nearly same narrative (invasion of privacy) repeats with Samson’s concubine (Delilah), whom the Philistines approach, unknowingly to Samson:
“And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her: Entice him and find out wherein his great strength lies and by what means may we prevail against him that we may bind him and torture him; And we will give you, every one of us, eleven hundred pieces of silver” (Judges 16:5);
(7c) The Philistines capture Samson:
Having approached Samson’s concubine (Delilah) secretly, the Philistines now seizing by deceit the Israeli leader (judge and worrier):
“And the Philistines took hold of him, and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains and he was a grinder in the prison” (Judges 16:21);
- Unlawful seizure of the holiest object of the Jewish nation — The Philistines taking hostage the Arch of the Covenant
This event happened once in history and never again. There is no historic evidence, either in the Bible or in archeological findings, that the Arch of the Covenant has ever left Jerusalem, even during or after the destruction of the first Jewish Temple (586 BCE) or the second (70 AD). Yet, the Philistines captured this central artifact of the Jewish faith during one of their aggressive encounters with the Israelites, while the latter were dwelling in the Promised Land:
“So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated and they fled every man to his tent, and there was a very great slaughter and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers; and the Ark of God was captured and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Pinchas, died.” (1 Samuel 4: 10-11);
- Unlawful seizure of a major strategic asset of a foreign nation — The Philistines kill the royal family (King Saul and his sons) and mutilate the bodies and hang them for display
“Thus, Saul died with his three sons and all those of his house died together” (1 Chronicles 10:6; the full story is unfolding in I Chronicles 10:1-10).
In between these major historic events, the Philistines routinely invaded countless times the land occupied by the Israelites. Examples:
- “Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the valley of Rephaim” (1 Chronicles 14:9);
- “The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the lowland and of the Negev of Judah, and had taken Beth-Shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, and Soco with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages, and they settled there” (2 Chronicles 28:18).
The final defeat of the Philistines was inflicted by King David, after which they no longer harassed the Kingdom of Israel:
“David therefore did as God had commanded him and they struck down the army of the Philistines from Gibeon even as far as Gezer. Then the fame of David went out into all the lands; and Jehovah brought the fear of him upon all the nations” (1 Chronicles 14:16-17).
What was the final destiny of the Philistines? — The great flee from Canaan into the desert
For 300 years, from 900 to 600 BC, the Assyrian Empire expanded, conquered and ruled the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and parts of today’s Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The final stage of the Assyrian empire began in 745 BC, when Tiglath Pileser III took the throne. Tiglath Pileser III received an empire in a slump with a demoralized army and disorganized bureaucracy. He took control and began reorganizing all aspects of the empire from the army to the bureaucracy to re-conquering rebellious provinces. Following Tiglath Pileser III, the Assyrian empire was ruled by Shalmaneser V, Sargon II and Sennacherib. Sennacherib’s reign (705 to 681 BC) welded the empire into an even greater force, and he conquered provinces in Anatolia, Judah and Israel, even sacking Jerusalem. Sennacherib moved the capital of Assyria to Nineveh.
Based on Scripture and some archeological findings, the culprit for the final disappearance of the Philistines was the Assyrian Empire. This empire regularly displaced peoples residing in the territories they had conquered, swapping them with another people as to minimize the likelihood of a rebellion of the local occupied population against the foreign occupier.
The most known example for that are the lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian monarchs, Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul) and Shalmaneser V. The later Assyrian rulers, Sargon II and his son and successor Sennacherib, were responsible for finishing the twenty-year demise of Israel’s northern ten-tribe kingdom, although they did not overtake the Southern Kingdom (Judah; Jerusalem was besieged by Sennacherib, but not taken). The tribes of the Northern Kingdom were forcibly relocated and resettled by Assyria, later to become known as the Ten Lost Tribes. Though captivities began in approximately 740 BC (or 733/2 BCE according to other sources), in 722 BCE, nearly ten to twenty years after the initial deportations, and after a three-year siege started by Shalmaneser V, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, ruled at the time by King Hoshea, is conquered by Assyrian king Sargon II, taking the kingdom’s ruling city Samaria. The biblical account below summarizes these events:
* “And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day.” (1 Chronicles 5:26);
* “In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and he took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.” (2 Kings 15:29);
* “Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents. And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” (2 Kings 17:3–6);
* “And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes: because they obeyed not the voice of Jehovah their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded and would not hear them, nor do them.” (2 Kings 18:11–12);
(Source: Wikipedia, entry Assyrian Captivity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_captivity).
The practice of the Assyrian Empire to dislocate local populations had consequences for the peoples residing in the Land of Israel and around it. When the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, son and successor of Sargon II, came with a huge army to conquer the Southern Israel Kingdom, Judah, with its capital Jerusalem, other local peoples, realizing what prior Assyrian rulers had done to the Ten Tribes of Israel, fled to the desert to mingle with the Ishmaelites, assuming rightly that the Assyrian Empire had no desire to rule the desert. Among the fleeing were the Philistines, residents of Pleshet.
Echoes to the massive flee from Canaan appear in several Hebrew Jewish sources. For example:
“Rabbie Yossi says: “When Sennacherib came to Eretz Israel, all the peoples in the surroundings of Eretz Israel saw his camp and they became very fearful and they fled each man from his place, for it is said: “For he has said, “By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, For I have understanding; And I removed the boundaries of the peoples, and plundered their treasures, and like a mighty man I brought down their inhabitants” (Isaiah 10:13). And they entered the desert and intermingled with the Sons of Ismael, and they were ten peoples in total, as it is said: “The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagrites; Gebal and Ammon and Amalek; Pleshet with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined with them..” (Psalms 83:6-8)”;
(Source: Pirkei de-Rabbie Eliezer 44).
Interestingly, the term “Arav” appears several times in the Bible, relating to the region south east of Canaan, and the rulers of this region are named Kings of Arav (similarly to today’s King of Saudi Arabia). Examples are Isaiah 21:13, Jeremiah 25:24 and Ezekiel 27:21. All these Jewish prophets, mentioning Arav, lived during Sennacherib’s failed attempt to conquer Jerusalem (and the great flee from Canaan that preceded that) or thereafter. The biblical Hebrew source of Arav is:
This root gives rise to various Hebrew words, all having one meaning in common — to intermingle, to mix together. For example, day and night are mixed together in the Erev (Evening).
Thus, the various verses in the Jewish Hebrew Bible that relate to “Arab” implicitly mirror the great flee from Canaan of the ten peoples residing therein and thereabouts, and ultimately mirror the mixing together of these peoples with residents of the desert, the Sons of Ishmael. The Philistines, therefore, vanished from Canaan while fleeing from Pleshet to mingle with the Ishmaelites in the land of Arav (Arabia in English). This Jewish tradition, which perceives the Arab nation as formed out of intermingling of the ten peoples with the Ishmaelites (the original tenants of the desert) perhaps may help explain why present-day Arab people encounter difficulties maintaining and preserving distinct and separate viable nation states.
Finally, Psalms 83, quoted earlier as echoing the Great Flee from Canaan, is worth re-reading, in depth and in full, as it includes, probably, some hints for current affairs and perhaps also for days-to-come. This “Psalm of Asaph” is a prayer for the Jewish people against its enemies; And what do these enemies aspire and conspire to achieve?
The known double-plot — against the Jewish nation and against its possession of Eretz Israel — is made explicit in Psalm 83, echoing what by now, millennia later, may be termed “Same old story”:
“Elohim, do not keep silence, do not turn deaf and do not be still, Oh God; For, behold, thy enemies make an uproar, and they who hate thee have lifted up the head…They take crafty counsel against thy people and conspire together against thy treasured ones; They have said, “Come and let us wipe them out as a nation that the name of Israel be remembered no more.” For they have consulted together with one mind, against thee do they make a covenant…that they say “let us seize for our possession the pastures of God” (Psalms 83:2-13).
This post is largely based of lectures by Rabbi Yinon Kalazan: