Tag Archives: Philistines

New Book on Goliath and his family: Goliath’s Legacy

Lukasz Niesiolowski-Spano - Not a Philistine

Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò – Not a Philistine

Harrassowitz has just published an English version of Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò’s book on the Philistines and other Sea Peoples: Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times (Nov 2015). The book was originally published in Polish as Dziedzictwo Goliata: Filistyni i Hebrajczycy w czasach biblijnych (2012).

My task in writing this book has been to examine the impact of the Sea Peoples, especially the Philistines on the local population, particularly the Hebrews.
Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò


Table of Contents and other front matter here.


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Filed under Books on Giants

“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

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Filed under Archaeology, Biblical Giants, Goliath

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

Obama’s Opening Speech in Israel Sounds Strangely Familiar – Oh yes, remember Bibi Netanyahu’s speech before Congress in the US?

Obama at Ben Gurion Airport

No sooner had US President Barack Obama touched the ground at Ben Gurion Airport, than he commenced this speech:


President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most of all, to the people of Israel, thank you for this incredibly warm welcome. This is my third visit to Israel so let me just say tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz.

I’m so honored to be here as you prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel. Yet I know that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.

Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.” And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.

– Barack Obama, in “Full text of Obama’s speech on arrival in Israel”, The Times of Israel, 20 March 2013

Now, there is much in here that a critical biblical scholar might take issue with.

Have “the Jewish people” really lived in the region for “more than 3,000 years”? No. A people known as Judeans did live in the land from perhaps the early part of the first millennium BC to the early Common Era. And they did so alongside many other peoples, many of whom have come and gone, including the Philistines (or residents of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath), the Edomites/Idumaeans, Romans, and Arabs (including Nabataeans). Moreover, the Judeans never occupied all the region now occupied by the modern state of Israel, including Tel Aviv, where Obama delivered his speech.

Did “the Jewish people” pray to God there for more than 3000 years? No. Not if you mean by God, with a capital letter, or the monotheistic concept of later Jews. In the early period of Judean settlement of the southern hill country and northern Negev, the inscriptions from various sites and the Elephantine correspondence (around 400 BC), written before much of the Bible was written, show that Judeans worshipped a number of gods and goddesses. Before this, even Yahweh (later identified as the monotheistic “God”) was worshipped alongside his divine consort or wife, named Asherah.

Are “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah” fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be ‘masters of their own fate’ in ‘their own sovereign state'”. No. Almost everything is wrong with this. First, no Abraham or Sarah ever existed, except in legendary tales. Second, if you’ve read the Bible, you might note that “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah” comprises a much more inclusive group than the Jews of the “Jewish State of Israel”. The sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah include, for example, Ishmael (Abraham’s first son), the alleged ancestor of all Arabs. Given that the Bible makes Ishmael older than Judah (the eponymous ancestor of the Jews), why haven’t their “dreams of the ages” to have “their own sovereign state” been fulfilled? Third, the “dream” of a sovereign Jewish state is not “the dream of the ages”. It was only a dream of some Jews in the nineteenth century onwards, under the influence of European concepts of national sovereignty and Christian concepts of divine election and manifest destiny. And many Jews today still oppose the idea of a sovereign state in Palestine.

But this propaganda sounds all very familiar. Oh yes – remember the speech by Bibi Netanyahu to Congress in the US in 2011?

We’re not the British in India. We’re not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one god, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw his vision of eternal peace.
– Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, in Jonathan Lis, “The facts and fictions of Netanyahu’s address to Congress”Ha’aretz, 26 May 2011

I guess when you’re planning a war against Iran “to preserve our freedom” (as Obama alludes to the Bush Doctrine in his speech) the facts will only get in the way of shoring up political alliances.


Filed under Goliath, Politics, War, Violence & Business

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


Filed under History

Israelite David versus Palestinian Goliath? Imagined Community and Israeli Missile-Defence Systems

The creation of a modern state of Israel was prompted – in large part – by the imagined community of modern Jews with an imagined ancient “Israel”. Conversely, as Keith Whitelam pointed out in The Invention of Ancient Israel, “the discourse of biblical studies has imagined an ancient Israelite state that is remarkably similar in many aspects to the modern state” (p. 129). This imagined ancient state of Israel even has its own enemies which it supposed to have defeated when Israel became, under David, a mighty empire. These were the Philistines, who were a repeated threat to Israel until the time of Saul. Yet, under David, “the Philistines are, interestingly, confined to the southern part of the maritime plain, the modern Gaza strip” (p. 137).

Shift forward to 2012, and history repeats itself – so long as new peoples can be identified with old legendary peoples. This from Associated Press:

Israel’s newest missile defense system, designed to provide another layer of protection against enemy fire, is on schedule for deployment in 2014, defense officials said Tuesday.

The “David’s Sling” system, named after the famous weapon in the biblical David and Goliath story, is part of a multi-layered defense against incoming rockets and missiles….

Over the past decade, militants in the Gaza Strip have fired thousands of rockets into Israel….

“Israel prepares new missile defense system”, Fox News, 13 November 2012

David’s Sling (קלע דוד‎) is a joint military project between Israel and the U.S., funded by U.S. Government financial aid to Israel. It is being developed by the same two companies involved in the development of the Iron Dome defence system, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and Raytheon.

David's Sling (קלע דוד) missile

David’s Sling (קלע דוד) missile

The rhetorical identification of Israel with David facing a Palestinian/Philistine Goliath takes advantage of the rhetoric of “the underdog” to deny Israel’s military aggression against and military superiority over Palestinians and other neighbouring countries in the area:

In modern usage, a “David and Goliath struggle” is proverbial for a seemingly unequal contest between an overpowering opponent and a small but courageous contender…. The David and Goliath metaphor has frequently been employed to provoke sympathy for a heroic Israeli underdog against a surrounding Arab coalition – despite Israel’s overwhelming military superiority since 1948.

– DG, “Goliath”, Dictionary of the Bible and Western Culture, edited by Mary Ann Beavis, Michael J. Gilmour (Sheffield Pheonix, 2012), p. 189


Filed under Goliath, War, Violence & Business

Aren Maeir: “The so-called political issues that are supposedly raised by the remnants of giants blog are, you’ll excuse me, ludicrous!”

In an earlier post, Remnant of Giants observed how the current archaeological site of Tel es-Safi (“Gath”) was remembered in The Washington Post as a place of conflict between Israelites and Philistines approximately 3000 years ago, while the newspaper made no mention of the eradication of Palestinians from the site in 1948 by Israeli military forces.

How does such a public memory arise? An important factor is that the Israeli government has heavily sponsored and supported scientific investigations into the “Israelite” history of Palestine, with which the state of course identifies, while discouraging any scientific inquiry into the recent presence there of Palestinian Arabs. This Israeli hegemonic structure, and the terms of engagement it imposes, are the already existing conditions within which archaeologists must work in Israel/Palestine. It follows, therefore, that even the most scientifically rigorous expedition will, within such constraints, support that hegemony. This – to be clear – is not to say that the inherently political nature of archaeology in Israel is the fault of individual archaeologists or individual surveys. Instead, it is fundamentally a result of political power structures that already exist in the region. A properly critical, social-scientific approach to Israeli archaeology should be able to recognise – not ignore – the political situation in which the Israeli state and society acts and has its being.

In this respect, no matter how much rigorously scientific information is furnished at Tel es-Safi, the archaeological excavation at Tel es-Safi also contributes to Israeli claims to the land while it suppresses or silences Palestinian claims. Because it is carried out in a particular political context, it necessarily assists in what Nadia Abu El-Haj has described as the enactment of the Israeli state’s colonial-national historical imagination.

Recently on Jim West’s blog (Zwinglius Redivivus), Aren Maeir, archaeologist at Tel es-Safi, replied in this way to the Remnant of Giants blog post mentioned above:

The so-called political issues that are supposedly raised by the remnants of giants blog are, you’ll excuse me, ludicrous! Because I mentioned one example of interaction between cultures (that of the Philistines and Israelites), which went on for ca. 500 years during the Iron Age, does not mean that I purposely not mentioning the modern Palestinian/Israeli issues. First of all – I’m an archaeologist – I deal with archaeological cultures. Second, the Palestinian/Israeli issue is only related to a very brief point in the history of the site (and nevertheless, we have published articles and chapters on the later periods at the site, including the on the Palestinian village). Thirdly, I also made the horrible mistake of not mentioning the altercations between the Canaanite city states in the Late Bronze Age; the tensions in this region between the Jews and the Pagans in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods; and the battles between the Crusaders and the Muslims in the Middle Ages!!!
C’mon – if one mentions modern day politics you are accused of enmeshing archaeology and politics; if you don’t, your accused of not!!!

Let’s get serious – what we are doing at Tell es-Safi/Gath is archaeology. What others try to do with this is their issue.

Much of this reply quite misses the point of the original criticism. I might first note the strangely overdetermined dismissal of any political implications of the archaeological excavation. Not only are the political issues described as only “so-called”, but apparently I only “supposedly” raised them. Well, I don’t think there’s too much doubt that I had at least raised the political dimensions of the excavation. I mean, why else would Aren Maeir have responded? But more seriously, what is disappointing in this response is a complete failure to even recognise the grounds of the criticism being raised. This is not a criticism of the scientificity of the dig; it is also not a criticism that specialists in Iron Age archaeology have confined themselves to their specialist knowledge. In the original post, I did not criticise Aren Maeir nor the excavation; what I did, rather, was highlight the political implications of the archaeological excavation which already prevail, and which the excavation necessarily enters into.

The criticism is, therefore, of the very structure of Israeli archaeology, which renders such archaeological expeditions as pawns in a larger power play over modern Israeli and Palestinian claims to the land. Recognition of this social-political-material situation, and of the political interests which it serves, simply makes for a more critical, more scientific approach to the archaeological dig, not less so. Critical recognition of social-political-material interests does not negate the scientific value of the excavation of Tel es-Safi; it increases scientific knowledge by adding a social scientific dimension. On the other hand, to pretend that your archaeological work is neutral, that it comes “before” political applications, that political applications are independent of your work, now that represents a lack of critical judgment and poor socio-political analysis.

Examination of the political dimensions of Israeli archaeology increases the overall contribution to critical thought. Any archaeologist who wants to concentrate on archaeology, but who is interested in advancing scientific criticism, should therefore welcome such criticism from others.

See also:


Filed under Archaeology, Goliath