Tag Archives: Gath

Quote of the day: Aren Maeir on Philistine foreskins

OpalimThe quote of the day is from Aren Maeir, chief excavator at Tel es-Safi (“Gath”), regarding the approach in a recent book by Avraham Faust:

Clearly, a more in-depth dialogue between the interpretation of the archaeological remains and the modern, scientific interpretation of the biblical text is required. Bluntly put, even if a sackful of Philistine foreskins were found in an early Iron Age Judahite site, this does not prove that the story of David occurred, as described in the book of Samuel or that all the stories described in this book are true!

- Aren M. Maeir, Review of Avraham Faust, The Archaeology of Israelites Society in Iron Age II (Eisenbrauns, 2012)Review of Biblical Literature, September 2013

Indeed. And have a read of Aren’s whole review of Avraham Faust, which is a significant and weighty response. Aren wears a “velvet fist” in his review, being both broadly appreciative and deeply critical of Faust’s work.

(I admit, though, that I felt a little uncomfortable at Aren’s juxtaposition of the words “bluntly” and “foreskins” in that quote. For as LXX Joshua 5:2 makes clear, circumcision – of the living, at least – should always be carried out with a very sharp knife.)

h/t: Aren Maeir, “Something Interesting That Was Just Published“, The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog, 1 October 2013

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On the Etymology of “Goliath” – A Carian Origin?

Aren Maeir (The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog) notes a new proposal for the etymology of the name “Goliath”. A 2012 paper by M. Vernet Pons relates the Hebrew “Goliath” to the Carian personal name WLJAT/WLIAT. (Caria was located in Western Anatolia, to the south of Lydia, and the Carians lived there before Greek (Ionian and Dorian) colonisation.) Pons also rejects the idea that the name “Goliath” is a cognate of the name of the Lydian king “Alyattes” (619-560 BC).

See M. Vernet Pons, “The Etymology of Goliath in the Light of Carian PN WLJAT/WLIAT: A new proposal.” Kadmos 51 (2012): 143-164.

See also Aren M. Maeir, Stefan J. Wimmer, Alexander Zuckerman, and Aaron Demsky, “A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell es-Safi/Gath: Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 351 (Aug 2008), 39-71 – which links the two names found at Tel es-Safi / Gath, ’lwt and wlt[ ], to the name “Goliath” and suggests Greek or Anatolian origins.

See also “The ‘not Goliath’ Inscription from Tel es-Safi/Gath: Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media“, Remnant of Giants, 5 February 2013

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The Philistine Penis Still Uncircumcised in Iron Age II: Itzick Shai

circumcised-jew-uncircumcised-philistineItzick Shai has made available his 2011 article, האם התקיים מנהג המילה בפלשת בתקופת הברזל ["Was Circumcision practiced in Philistia in the Iron Age II?"] (Eretz-Israel 30: 413-18), on Academia.org.

In it, Shai responds to Avraham Faust’s contention, in Israel’s Ethnogenesis (2006: 147-48), that Philistine non-circumcision was confined to Iron Age I. Faust notes David’s description of Goliath as an “uncircumcised Philistine” in 1 Sam 17:26, 36, in which the term “uncircumcised” is intended as an insult. Faust claims that this type of  insult is only seen in texts referring to Iron Age I.

But Shai discusses two biblical texts which suggest that Faust’s conclusion is incorrect, and also discusses the finding of erect penis pottery at Philistine Ashkelon and Gath which appear to reflect uncircumcised penises. Shai points out the absence, in Jeremiah 9:24-25, of the Philistines from the list of circumcised peoples in that passage. Also, in Ezekiel 32:29-32, the Philistines are not among the nations who are punished by being made to lie down in the netherworld with “the uncircumcised”.

For these, and other reasons, Shai concludes that Philistine non-circumcision continued to be a distinct ethnic marker (or more to the point, a lack of a mark) well into Iron Age II.

So David’s insult of “uncircumcised Philistine” could well be nothing more than a literary embellishment in the composition of 1 Samuel 17. That is, it probably does not imply any historical memory of Goliath’s turtleneck.

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The “not Goliath” Inscription from Tel es-Safi/Gath: Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media

Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the MediaIn “An Ancient Medium in the Modern Media: Sagas of Semitic Inscriptions”, Christopher A. Rollston discusses how some Northwest Semitic epigraphs have been sensationalised when published by the media. He also discusses the role of scholars in ensuring that the way they deal with the media minimises the risk of misreporting. He provides a number of examples where a misleading media report can remain in the public mind long after scholars have had the time to counter it.

Rollston’s article appears in a volume edited by Eric M. Meyers and Carol Meyers, Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media: Proceedings of the Duke University Conference, April 23-24, 2009 (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012).  As Jim West notes, the editors will be fielding questions on the book on the Biblical Studies Yahoo! Groups list from 11-17 February 2013.

Rollston discusses the spurious claim by Simcha Jacobovici that the Talpiyot Tomb contained the ossuaries of Jesus, his wife, and son (“the proposal … fails to meet the minimal standards for cogency, and it even fails to meet the minimal standards for plausibility”: p. 125) and also discusses Marjo Korpel’s speculative argument that a seal inscribed with the letters yzbl belonged to the Queen Jezebel who features in 1 Kings (“… tenuous at best. It falls into the category of sheer speculation, and in its speculation it is particularly weak”: p. 127).

not-a-goliath-inscriptionMore relevant for avid gigantologists are his comments on the media reception of a potsherd found at Tel es-Safi during the 2005 season. It is incised with two names, ’lwt and wlt[ ]. A March/April 2006 article in the populist magazine Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) reports that the director of excavations at Tel es-Safi, Aren Maeir had claimed that  ’lwt was “the equivalent of the name Goliath”. The BAR article also has Maeir refer to “the Goliath of the inscription from Gath”. Readers of BAR would therefore have concluded that Maeir had uncovered an inscription containing the very name “Goliath” at Tel es-Safi, the site of the biblical town of Gath. The BAR article goes on to note that Maeir stressed that the name on the inscription “is not the Biblical Goliath”, thus reinforcing the false idea that the name “Goliath” appears on the inscription, although it belonged to a “Goliath” other than the famous one. Yet as early as February 2006, on the Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog, Aren Maeir issued a “correction” to the article. Maeir noted that he had never claimed that the inscription contained the name “Goliath”. Instead, what Maeir had claimed was that ’lwt and wlt “are etymologically very close to Goliath” and this was something which had been known long before the discovery of the inscription at Tel es-Safi.

So it would seem clear that BAR was solely responsible for the misleading statement that the Tel es-Safi/Gath inscription contained the name “Goliath”.

Yet Rollston’s conclusion in his article is that Maeir was responsible for the error. Rollston goes so far as to suggest that Maeir’s alleged mistake (in fact BAR‘s mistake) was only corrected by Maeir’s co-authors, Stefan J. Wimmer, Alexander Zuckerman, and Aaron Demsky, when they published the inscription in “A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell es-Safi/Gath: Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 351 (Aug 2008), 39-71. Rollston claims that this publication was “certainly much more cautious, perhaps because of the high caliber of the epigraphic work of his co-authors” (p. 128) – negatively contrasting Maeir against his co-authors. Yet Maeir’s own statement in February 2006 already makes it clear that he was aware that ’lwt and wlt were onlyetymologically very close to Goliath” and that they were not in fact “Goliath inscriptions”. Rollston then writes that “Maeir is a very good archaeologist, but not an epigrapher or a philologist” – implying that the blame lies with Maeir speaking about a subject that does not “fall within [his] field of expertise”. Rollston has incorrectly laid the blame on Maeir, not on the dilettante journalists at BAR who failed to understand Maeir’s quite correct explanation.

Yet the damage has been done by the time that Maeir attempted to correct the magazine’s mistake. Many media, blogs, and websites subsequently repeated the false claim that the name of Goliath has been found in the hometown of his biblical namesake:

“The evidence that Goliath was not a story invented many years later – as some Bible skeptics have long claimed – comes from an inscribed fragment of pottery. The name on it appears to be none other than Goliath.”

“Maeir … digging at the site of the ancient city of Gath, the place where Goliath lived, found a shard (a broken piece of pottery) containing an inscription in early Semitic style spelling with the name of Goliath.”
Dr Claude Mariottini, Northern Baptist Seminary

“According to the archaeologist who found the broken piece of pottery with the name “Goliath,” the name was used one hundred years after the time of David.  So, it is possible that the name “Goliath” was used to designate a special type of soldier, like “marines” or “navy seals.”  If it is proved to be true that Goliath was the name of a champion warrior in the army of the Philistines, then David killed one Goliath and Elhanan killed another Goliath.”
Dr Claude Mariottini, Northern Baptist Seminary

“A shard of pottery unearthed in a decade-old dig in southern Israel carried an inscription in early Semitic style spelling “Alwat and “Wlt”, likely Philistine renderings of the name Goliath”
“Goliath’s name found at Israeli dig”, Sydney Morning Herald

All these statements are false, based on media distortions of archaeological findings.


Filed under Archaeology, Goliath, Media

In a Pig’s Ear: On Levels of Pig Consumption as an Ethnic Marker of Ancient Israelites and Philistines

kosher-hamThere is a view that the low levels of pig bones found in the “Israelite” highlands during the Iron Age, and the comparatively higher levels in Philistine sites near the Mediterranean, provide evidence of an ethnic difference between an Israelite people and Philistines as early as 1200 BCE. That is, the explanation of the difference is sought in the ideological proscriptions against eating pork in literature from the much later Persian period (e.g. Lev. 11.7-8). One recent defender of such a view is William G. Dever:

One animal species is conspicuously absent in our Iron Age villages: the pig. Although not nearly as common as sheep and goats at Bronze Age sites, pigs are well attested then. They are also common at Iron I coastal sites that are known to be Philistine. But recent statistical analysis of animal bones retrieved from our Iron I Israelites sites show that pig bones typically constitute only a fraction of 1% or are entirely absent. A number of scholars who are otherwise skeptical about determining ethnic identity from material culture remains in this case acknowledge the obvious: that here we seem to have at least one ethnic trait of later, biblical Israel that can safely be projected back to its earliest days.

- William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 108

It had already been pointed out, however, that there are other causes for a lack of pigs in arid highlands, such as the lack of water required for animals which require much more watering than sheep and goats (Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish, “Can Pig Remains Be Used for Ethnic Diagnosis in the Ancient Near East?”, 1997; cf. Aharon Sasson, Animal Husbandry in Ancient Israel: A Zooarchaeological Perspective on Livestock Exploitation, Herd Management and Economic Strategies, Equinox, 2011).

A recent article from the excavators of Tel es-Safi (identified with biblical Gath, hometown of the legendary Goliath) affirms that there are good ecological and economic reasons for low levels of pig-farming in the highlands of “Israel”:

“… extremely high pig frequencies (c. 20 per cent or more) are found in [Philistine] sites in the Israeli coastal plain (Ashkelon, Tel Miqne-Ekron)…. At Tel es-Safi/Gath, located on the interface between the coastal plain and the hill country, pigs comprise 13 per cent of the Iron I fauna …, while Tel Batash, located in a similar setting, has yielded only 8 per cent pigs; at southern Philistine sites, the Nahal Patish temple … and the small village of Qubur el-Walaydah in the northern Negev …. pigs represent less than 1 per cent of the faunal assemblage, a similar low frequency to that observed in coeval Israelite sites…. Thus, it is very feasible that ecological, economic or functional factors, or a mixture of them, rather than ethnicity, were responsible for the relatively high frequencies of pigs in some Philistine sites and their dearth in others – Philistine and Israelite settlements alike”

- Aren M. Maeir, Louise A. Hitchcock, and Liora Kolska Horwitz, “On the Constitution and Transformation of Philistine Identity”, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 32 no. 1 (2013): 5–6 (emphasis added).

The article by Aren Maeir, et al, is well worth reading, too, for observations about the complex mix of Aegean and Levantine cultural influences in the Philistine territories. These observations are based in the latest archaeology being carried out in the area.

h/t: Aren Maeir, “New Article on the Formation and Transformation of Philistine Identity”, The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) Weblog, 10 January 2013

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Lion of War Promotional Crowd-Funding Video

Aren Maeir highlights a promotional  crowd-funding video for the proposed GiantKiller Film, Lion of War – a film based on a book from the series written by military chaplain Cliff Graham. The film will portray David’s legendary battle with Goliath. Film-maker David L. Cunningham refers to the film as a “live action, gritty, in-your-face major motion picture … not your Sunday School version”.

Aren Maeir is lead archaeologist at Tel es-Safi, the Arab village destroyed and ethnically cleansed by the Israeli Defence Forces in 1948. Aren doesn’t think that the movie corresponds very closely with “the facts on the ground” at Tel es-Safi, observing that the preview is “very liberal in its interpretation”. As for its depiction of the city of Gath, Aren describes it as “fairy tale land”:

Gath does seem to be a little too close to the coast compared with its traditional location. Perhaps the film-makers were thinking of Gaza. Yet even the Bible can’t quite make up its mind where Gath is –  locating the city both in the northern regions of Philistine territory and the southern Negev. So the film continues the fine biblical tradition of fairy-tale geography.

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Filed under Archaeology, Biblical Giants, Goliath

Sheffield Biblical Studies comments on The Tel es-Safi (“Gath”) Excavation: “Apparent purity of motive does not override structural problems”

Sheffield Biblical Studies has commented on the deep rooted ideological issues relating to the archaeological site Tel es-Safi (“Gath”) and the removal of Palestinians from there in 1948. This follows a disappointingly dismissive response by Tel es-Safi archaeologist Aren Maeir to an earlier summary on Remnant of Giants of the political background of the excavation and of the occlusion of any such background in an Associated Press report.

Have a read of the comments at Sheffield Biblical Studies,which, with typical Sheffieldian political insight, gets right at the central issues involved: “Remnant of Giants, pure motives and structure”.

See also:

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Filed under Archaeology, War, Violence & Business

Carol and Eric Meyers on Tel es-Safi, Gath, and Goliath

Duke University run a television program called Office Hours, in which academics answer questions from the public concerning their particular field of study. On 1 September 2011, the program featured Carol and Eric Meyers, two archaeologists and biblical scholars.

The first question was from Deane of New Zealand:

There have been a few media reports in recent months concerning the ongoing excavation at Tel es-Safi. The reports often make representations along the lines that archaeologists are “excavating the biblical city of Gath” or that archaeologists are “discovering what was in Goliath’s hometown”. However, given, in particular, the legendary aspects of the story of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, and the fact that the Bible seems to place Gath both somewhere west of Jerusalem and to the south of Judah, in what sense, if any, can say that the “biblical Gath” is being excavated? Also, in what sense, if any, can we say that Tel es-Safi is “Goliath’s hometown”?

Actually, the host missed part of the question. However, you can listen to Carol Meyers’ fine answer by tuning in at 7:54:

Of course, the whole program is most worthwhile for anybody interested in Palestinian archaeology.

h/t: Jim West

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How tall was your average Philistine woman compared with Goliath? As it turns out: about the same as Kim Kardashian compared with Kris Humphries!

At 5' 1" and 6' 9", Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries are about the same height as your average Philistine woman and Goliath (per the Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Josephus)

At 5′ 1″ and 6′ 9″, Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries are about the same height as your average Philistine woman and Goliath (per the Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Josephus)

Did you know that the heights of Kim Kardashian (5′ 1″) and fiance Kris Humphries (6′ 9″) perhaps exactly match the average heights of an ancient Philistine woman and Goliath?

1 Samuel 17 sets the story of David and Goliath sometime in what we now call the late Iron Age I or early Iron Age II (around 1000 BC), and describes Goliath’s hometown as the city of Gath, identified by some archaeologists with the site of Tel es-Safi.1 Goliath is 4-and-a-half cubits (6′ 8″) in some versions of the text (although he grows to a towering 6-and-a-half cubits (9′ 7″) in other versions). In addition, a notice in Joshua 11.22 states that, after the Israelite conquest of the land, the Anakim (described as Giants in Numbers 13) “remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod”. So in some biblical texts, Gath is remembered as a city in which Giants dwelt!

But how tall was Goliath in relation to the regular Philistine inhabitants of Gath?

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (although it could be your average Philistine woman with Goliath on a trip to the beach down at Ashkelon)

Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (although it could be your average Philistine woman with Goliath on a trip to the beach down at Ashkelon)

A study published this month in Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina Vereins examines the skeletal remains of at least 77 Philistines who were buried in the same period to which Goliath is assigned in 1 Samuel 17: the late Iron Age I or early Iron Age II, that is, 1200-800 BC.2 The human remains were very poorly preserved, had been tampered with by modern grave-robbers, and comprise only fragments of bones, with very few intact specimens. But the authors were able to estimate the stature of four Philistines from four surviving metacarpal bones (the bones at the base of your fingers), according to equations worked out by JH Musgrave and NK Harneja (1978).

According to the 2011 article on Tel es-Safi:

The values obtained [for adult female stature, applying the Musgrave-Harneja calculation] ranged from 151.8 to 159.3 cm and averaged 155.3 cm. This estimate is similar to that of a Philistine woman recovered at Ashkelon, 154 +/-3.5 cm (p. 40).

So, this is how tall Goliath was, compared to your average female inhabitant of Gath:

The height of Goliath versus the height of a regular ancient Philistine woman from Gath

The height of Goliath versus the height of a regular ancient Philistine woman from Gath

Given that the cubit was not an exact measure, and might vary by an inch or two either way, these heights of your average Philistine woman and Goliath may very well be the same as the respective heights of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries:

Your average Philistine woman and Goliath? Nope - Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries again.

Your average Philistine woman and Goliath? Nope – Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries again.

(1) The identification of Tel es-Safi with Gath cannot be easily reconciled with the biblical stories, which appear to place Gath in two separate places, one in the north in the vicinity of Tel es-Safi (west of Jerusalem), and one somewhere to the south of Judah in the Negev desert. But some of those biblical stories may well have had the site of Tel es-Safi in mind, an important site which was continuously occupied by humans from the Chalcolithic Age (4500-3500 BC) until 1948 when ethnically cleansed of its predominantly Arabic population by the Israeli Defence Forces.
(2) Faerman, M., Boaretto, E., Uziel, J., Maeir, A. M., and Smith, P, “’… In Their Lives, and in Their Death …': A Preliminary Study of an Iron Age Burial Cave at Tell es-Safi, Israel,” Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina Vereins 127(1) (2011): 29–48.

h/t Jim West / Aren Maeir


Filed under 1 Samuel 17, Biblical Exegesis, Goliath, Numbers 13-14

Facts on the Ground at Tel es-Safi (“Gath”)

The Mars Volta - Bedlam In GoliathThere is now a Time Magazine report on the archaeological excavation at Tel es-Safi, the Arab village destroyed and ethnically cleansed by the Israeli Defence Forces in 1948, but now heavily populated by North American and South Korean biblical archaeologists who believe they are in “Gath”.

(“Gath” in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament is not so much an historical site as a legendary place. Depending on the particular biblical story, “Gath” floats between the northern regions of Philistine territory and the southern Negev. Therefore, if there is a “Gath” lying under Tel es-Safi, it would show that at least one portion of the biblical accounts about Gath are quite inaccurate. But, you might object, hasn’t the name of “Goliath” been found at Tel es-Safi? Well, no. Contrary to reports, the name “Goliath” has not been found at Tel es-Safi. What was found were two names that are clearly not “Goliath”: ‘WLT and WLT. All this shows is that, under Tel es-Safi is probably a Philistine settlement – not Gath, and not a hometown of any “Goliath”.)

The Time Magazine article (Ted Newcombe, “Biblical Bad Guy: Archaeologists Excavate Goliath’s Hometown”, 13 July 2011) appears on the surface to contain the usual angle of media stories on Tel es-Safi: that this is Goliath’s hometown: “Any one of thousands of smooth stones being excavated at Gath could be the one that toppled Goliath, the giant conquered by David via a slingshot outside the city.” It also makes wild links between features at Tel es-Safi and various biblical passages – archaeology with a spade in one hand and the Bible in the other.

But in the middle of the article, seemingly quite unrelated to anything written there, is a revealing Time video report on the cultural and ideological impact of the Israeli achaeology industry: “Archaeology Digs Up Controversy in Jerusalem”. The report notes the continued destruction of Palestinian homes to make way for Israeli tourist-archaeology:

City of David (click to view)

The world, when they hear about the King’s Garden, the area that King Solomon was in when he wote the Song of Songs [sic], an area that has an essential role in the biblical period [sic], has enormous international ramifications for understanding the Bible [sic!].
– An Israeli tourist-archaeologist

Why me? Why my neighbourhood? Because I am Arabic? Because I have no power? Because they have the power, they have the police, they have their government.
– An Arab who is dismayed to find out he is now living in the area that King Solomon was in, when he wrote the Song of Songs


Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Archaeology, Goliath