Tag Archives: Gath

Aren Maeir on Goliath of Gath / Tell es-Safi: Confluence Archaeology and Biblical History


The Indiana Jones show on Voice America, hosted by Dr Joseph Schuldenrein, examines various issues in archaeology. The March 11, 2015 show features an interview with Dr Aren Maeir, director of the Tell es-Safi/”Gath” archaeological dig.

The mp3 may be downloaded here. The iTunes file is here.

Goliath gets a mention, too:

A Confluence Archaeology and Biblical History
Episode Description

To be called a Philistine is to evoke an image of one that is hostile or indifferent to culture and arts. The real story of these ancient people may suggest the contrary. The last thirty years has produced an abundance of new archaeological information about the Philistines during the biblical period. The Indy Team focuses on one area today, Goliath’s hometown Gath. Most scholars believe that biblical Gath was located at the site known as Tell es-Safi, one of the largest biblical sites in Israel. We start our interview today with the findings at Gath, a veritable mine of archaeological evidence ranging from the Chalcolithic period (5th mill. BCE) until modern times, and delve into the recent developments in biblical archaeology. Dr. Aren Maeir, director of the Gath/Tell es-Safi Project, shares with us the discoveries of this biblical site and how they may clarify or change our understanding of the history mythologized in scripture.

Given the biblical association of Goliath and Gath, and the identification of Tell es-Safi with one of the two locations that the Bible gives for Gath, the excavations and their director Aren Maeir have been a popular topic at Remnant of Giants. You can also read these other posts about Tell es-Safi and Aren Maeir:

We must be Aren Maeir’s biggest fan!

1 Comment

Filed under Archaeology, Biblical Giants, Goliath

“Searching for Goliath”: Aren Maeir’s Skype Lecture on the Philistines and Tell es-Safi/ “Gath”

Professor Aren Maeir (Bar Ilan University and director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project) delivered a lecture on the Philistines called “Searching for Goliath” on January 18, 2015. He lectured from a lab at Tell es-Safi, via Skype, to students from Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Michigan).

H/t: Aren Maeir

1 Comment

Filed under Archaeology, Biblical Giants, Goliath

Does Rapha’ appear on a 9th-Century BCE Jar at Tell es-Safi/(“Gath”)?

In two articles, one co-authored with Esther Eschel, Aren Maeir suggests that he may have found a further example of the term or proper name רפא (rapha’) on a ninth-century BCE jar found  at  Tell es-Safi/(“Gath”). That means that the jar was inscribed during Philistine rule, before the later Judean rule of the city.

The term רפא (rapha’) is sometimes apparently just a proper name (“Raphah”; e.g. 1 Chronicles 8:2). Yet it is also used to describe various giants, including the Goliath of Gath who opposed David’s elite soldiers  (2 Samuel 21:18-22). The plural of the term is the more familiar רפאים (Rephaim), which the Bible uses to describe various ancient heroes and kings, as well as (in Deuteronomy) entire races of giants.

Here is a picture of the jar, along with a larger view of the fragments on which the inscription was found:


There is a big problem with reading these Phoenician letters,  however, as Aren Maeir and Esther Eschel discuss in the articles. The first letter (reading  right-to-left) is only partial, and does not clearly look like any particular ninth-century r. It could be a d or an ayin. But it is very hard to tell. The second letter is probably a p, but a g is not ruled out by the authors. The final letter (on the left) is also unclear, and while plausibly an aleph, it could be a l.

With this level of uncertainty, Maeir and Eschel conclude,

we tentatively prefer the first suggested reading of  רפא … but one should not rule out the other possible readings

Maeir also suggests that the Tell es-Safi inscription might be compared with stamped-handle inscriptions from no earlier than eight century BCE, which had previously been uncovered at Tell es-Safi, and which also probably evidence the name רפא. If so, “the רפא family might be seen as an important family/clan on a local scale over several generations”. Possibly. But as there is a fundamental uncertainty in reading the letters of the inscription, further conclusions are likewise uncertain. Still, it is an interesting possibility.

The studies also consider the meaning of the רפא root as “healer”, but dismiss it due to the lack of a definite article (and the lack of sufficient space for one in the gap in the jar to the right of the inscription).

I suggest another possibility. The term may be related instead to Akk. rabā’um (‘to be large, great’), and its derivative rabium (< rabūm; ‘leader, chief, prince’). Notably, the well-known personal name Hammurabi is alternatively spelled Hammurapi at Ugarit (ca. 1200 BCE). By the ninth century BCE, the term in West Semitic may arguably have settled with the spelling r-p-ʾ. The derivation is suggested or supported by Joseph Aistleitner, Georg Sauer, George E. Mendenhall, Samuel E. Loewenstamm, and (with more extensive reasoning) Michael L. Brown. The term is sometimes paired with “king” (mlk) in IA Palestine, as on Samaria Ostracon 24 – which may support the parallelism with r-p-ʾ=’prince’. If so, and if the letters should be read this way, the jar may have belonged to a prince or nobleman, rather than to a family with the name רפא.


Maeir, Aren M. ‘The Rephaim in Iron Age Philistia: Evidence of a Multi-Generational Family?’ Pages 289–97 in ‘Vom Leben umfangen’: Ägypten, das Alte Testament und das Gespräch der Religionen. Gedenkschrift für Manfred Görg, eds. S. J. Wimmer and G. Gafus (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014).

Maeir, Aren M., and Esther Eshel. ‘Four Short Alphabetic Inscriptions from Iron Age IIA Tell es-Safi/Gath and Their Contribution for Understanding the Process of the Development of Literacy in Iron Age Philistia.’ In ‘See, I Will Bring a Scroll Recounting What Befell Me’ (Ps 40:8): Epigraphy and Daily Life—From the Bible to the Talmud Dedicated to the Memory of Professor Hanan Eshel, edited by Esther Eshel and Yigal Levin. JAJSup. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, forthcoming.

Maeir, Aren M. ‘The New Seal from Jerusalem: The Gath Connection.’ The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) weblog. 2 March 2008.


Filed under 1 Chronicles 20, 2 Samuel 21 and 23, Archaeology, Rephaim

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


Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Archaeology

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

1 Comment

Filed under Archaeology, Goliath

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.

1 Comment

Filed under 1 Samuel 17, Goliath

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 responsible for the misleading statement that the Tel es-Safi/Gath inscription contained the name “Goliath”. It is also unlikely that Maeir is right that ’lwt is in fact etymologically similar to the name glyt (“Goliath”) – they are quite different forms – but that is another matter.

Yet Rollston’s conclusion in his article is that Maeir was responsible for BAR‘s 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 only claiming 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