The Philistines in Jordan

Bible and archaeology news

Noah Wiener   •  01/30/2014

When we think of the Philistines, we think of the traditional foes of the Israelites. Philistine archaeology has revealed a bit more of the picture. Tell-es Safi (Biblical Gath, a major Philistine city and the hometown of Goliath) excavators Aren M. Maeir and Carl S. Ehrlich outlined Philistine history in BAR in 2001:

The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples (as we know from an Egyptian inscription), a group of seafaring tribes that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean world at the end of the Bronze Age (1200 B.C.E.). After engaging in a number of battles with Egypt, the Philistines settled in Canaan, possibly as Egyptian mercenaries. After attempting to extend their influence farther into inland Canaan, an attempt reflected in the accounts of various battles recorded in the books of Judges and 1 Samuel, the Philistines were wedged into the southwestern coastal strip of Canaan, presumably by King David, in the early tenth century B.C.E.

Archaeology often paints a distinctively Mediterranean picture of the Philistines: three of the five cities of the Philistine “pentapolis” were located on the coast; Philistine religion shows distinct Aegean characteristics; and the Philistine marketplace at Ashkelon was situated directly on the sea, suggesting a western focus for Philistine trade.



Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.



Recent excavations at Tell Abu al-Kharaz in Jordan, a site associated with the Biblical city Jabesh Gilead where Saul and David fought the Philistines and Ammonites, have pulled focus on the Philistines back away from the seashore. Swedish University of Gothenburg archaeologists excavated a 200-foot-long structure dating to around 1100 B.C.E., shortly after the Bronze Age collapse—an event often associated with the emigration of the Philistines to the Levant.

Archaeologist Peter M. Fischer told that “’We have evidence that culture from present Europe is represented in Tell Abu al-Kharaz. A group of the Sea Peoples of European descent, Philistines, settled down in the city … we have, for instance, found pottery resembling corresponding items from Greece and Cyprus in terms of form and decoration, and also cylindrical loom weights for textile production that could be found in central and south-east Europe around the same time.”

While the excavations have uncovered evidence of occupation reaching back to the fourth millennium B.C.E., the multi-story Philistine structure is the one reshaping our view of the orientation of Jordanian culture. The Gothenburg excavations remind archaeologists that Mediterranean archaeology provides integral context for ancient Jordanian material culture.