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At the remains of an ancient metropolis in southern Israel, archaeologists are piecing together the history of a people remembered chiefly as the bad guys of the Hebrew Bible.

The city of Gath, where the annual digging season began this week, is helping scholars paint a more nuanced portrait of the Philistines, who appear in the biblical story as the perennial enemies of the Israelites.

A ceramic shard found at the excavation site in Tel el-Safi

Close to three millennia ago, Gath was on the frontier between the Philistines, who occupied the Mediterranean coastal plain, and the Israelites, who controlled the inland hills. The city’s most famous resident, according to the book of Samuel, was Goliath – the giant warrior improbably felled by the young shepherd David and his slingshot.

The Philistines “are the ultimate other, almost, in the biblical story,” said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation.

The latest summer excavation season began this past week, with 100 diggers from Canada, South Korea, the United States and elsewhere, adding to the wealth of relics found at the site since Maier’s project began in 1996.

In a square hole, several Philistine jugs nearly 3,000 years old were emerging from the soil. One painted shard just unearthed had a rust-red frame and a black spiral: a decoration common in ancient Greek art and a hint to the Philistines’ origins in the Aegean.

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