A Note on the Philistines during the Period of the Judges


The following notes on the Philistines is a direct lift from Chapter 18 of ‘The King’s Calendar: The Secret of Qumran.’ That chapter is divided into Four (4) sections:

1.    Revising Dynastic Egyptian History
2.    Merneptah’s Place in History
3.    The Philistines
4.    Saul’s Death & The Lords of The Philistines

The issue of Merenptah/Merneptah has previously been dealt with on this new site in the article titled ‘When Did Rameses and Merneptah/Merenptah Reign?‘ and the issue of Saul’s Reign was recently dealt with in the article’ The Reign of King Saul – Kingscalendar Chronology

Today’s article is about providing some academic background to the identification of the Philistines during the period of the Judges of Israel. It must be pointed out however that Chapter 18 from which this material is derived was primarily concerned with an examination of the work of James et.al. on the shifting of Egyptian Dynasties.

The Philistines

When one examines the history of the Philistines it becomes apparent that their identification is not always accurately provided in Scripture. The term ‘philistine’ is more generic than specific. (Refer to Aharoni. Y. (1978) The Archaeology of the Land of Israel. Philadelphia. Westminster Press.1978,( p.180) for background information of the Philistine origins – the Peleshet and Sherdanu.)

It is significant  that as a designated People, the Philistines did not appear (depending upon which chronology one holds) until around:-

1186 – Current Chronology (as per Grimal, 1992, p.204, Table 5)

942 – James Adjusted Chronology (James P. Thorpe.I.J., Kokkinos.N., Morkot.R., Frankish.J. (1991) Centuries of Darkness. Rutgers Uni Press. New Jersey.)

980 – ‘King’s Calendar’ adaptation of James.

The Biblical designation ‘Philistine’ found in such places as Exodus 13:17, Joshua 13:2-3 and Judges 3:3-5, is a later insertion by the redactors, and refers not to the ‘Peleset’ later designated as ‘Philistines’, but their forerunners eg: the Sherdanu.

This means that we must be careful when reading the term Philistine. Aharoni makes a clear distinction between the general ‘sea peoples’, and those that later became known as the Philistines.

If James theories about the necessary adjustment to current chronology hold true, the ‘King’s Calendar’ adjustment in light of Aharoni’s research would indicate that the Philistines as such did not arise until between 15 and 40 years after Saul’s death (between 996 & 971 BCE), or as per Aharoni (1978, p.185), 30 – 40 years after Rameses III’s victory, i.e. about 900 BCE as per James Chronology.

This would indicate that the ‘Philistines’ facing Saul and David, were the ‘Sea Peoples’, concerning whom we are told that they acted as Mercenaries. In this case, mercenaries for Merneptah against Israel.

See Aharoni’s (1978, p189) comments on the ‘philistine’ mercenaries garrisoned in Egyptian forts.  For an excellent and expert discussion on the whole question of the origins and identification of the Philistines Refer to:  Bimson.J.J. (1990) Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum (1990/1991 Vol 4) The Philistines: Their Origins and Chronology Reassessed.

The Philistines mentioned in Exodus and Judges must therefore have been these various ‘sea peoples’ many of whom served the Egyptians. Exodus 13:17 makes it clear that Canaan was occupied by both Canaanites and Philistines, and Judges 3:3-5, that the Israelites were dwelling amongst only the Canaanites. From that time onward, there is no mention of the Canaanites at all, but the Philistines who lived separately are mentioned frequently. While there is constant conflict with them mentioned throughout Judges, there is no actual war listed until the battle at Aphek (1 Sam 4:1)

It is clear that from the time of Exodus onwards, Sea Peoples were in Canaan as free settlers and mercenaries for the Egyptians. As Egyptian power waned subsequent to the reigns of Rameses II and Merneptah, the ‘Historical Philistines’ gained their freedom and dominance.

The waning of Egyptian control and the ascendancy of the Philistines would have occurred between Merneptah’s death (1006 BCE) and Rameses III’s 8th year (982 BCE), that is, during David’s reign (1010 – 974 BCE). If Rameses reign is dated at 987 – 955 BCE and ‘true Philistine’ emergence occurred some 30-40 years after Rameses defeated them in his 8th year (as per Aharoni p 185), these Philistines would have emerged c. 950 – 940 BCE during Solomon’s reign.

That Solomon’s empire was unaffected by this could only be explained by asserting that he left this former Egyptian Sphere of influence alone, since his treaties with Egypt took Priority.

Saul’s Death & The Lords of The Philistines

Given that the focus of this chapter is a Shift in Egyptian Chronology, it is appropriate to draw attention to Chapter Nine of “A Test of Time” by David M. Rohl  [Rohl, D.M. (1995) A Test of Time : the Bible – from Myth to History. Century Ltd. London.], in which Saul’s death is discussed.  It is suggested that Saul is ‘Labayu’, mentioned in the Amarna Letters, and the Egyptian connection is quite clear, although not quite that as presented in this Chapter.

Once it is appreciated the ‘philistines’ of the era of the Judges down to King David’s time were actually Egyptian mercenaries, a new image of Israel’s conflict with the Philistines is presented. Israel’s conflict in fact, was with the true lords of the philistines, the Egyptians.

In Joshua 13:2-3, there appears particular reference to the ‘Five lords of the Philistines’, at Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. Whilst all of these are important in our discussion on the interrelationship between the Egyptians and the Philistines during Saul’s reign, Gath is of particular importance, since it was Achish king of Gath that was instructed not to allow David to join in the battle against Saul.

Judges 3:3 reiterates Joshua 13:2-3, by maintaining these cities to be centres of Philistine power during the 14th Century. (See Aharoni (1978 p.180) in relation to centres of Egyptian administration.)

If we accept then that the ‘sea peoples’ (philistines) were employed by Egypt in Philistia, (as early as the 14th Century), reference in Joshua and Judges to the five lords of the Philistines indicates Israelite comprehension of the Egyptian/Philistine interrelationship.

It is noteworthy then, in view of our adjusted chronology which Places Saul’s death during Merneptah’s reign, that 1 Samuel 29 once again alludes to the ‘lords of the Philistines’.

In this story, David who had served Achish king of Gath for some time, was preparing to go with the Philistines to do battle with Saul. Achish wants David to fight with them, but the Lords of the Philistines object.

v1 ‘Now the Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek; …

v2 As the lords of the Philistines were passing ….

v3 The commanders of the Philistines said. “What are these Hebrews doing here?”

v3 And Achish (King of Gath 1 Sam 27:2) said….

v6 Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you.

v7 that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.

There are several points to note concerning this story.

  1. Gath (Tel Zafit  Aharoni, 1978, p.187) was an important Canaanite city originally before the Philistines (Sea Peoples) arrived in the land.
  2. It is named in Joshua 13:2-3 as one of the cities of the ‘lords of the Philistines’.
  3. Achish King of Gath was overruled by the Princes/lords of the Philistines.
  4. The term ‘lord’ used in Joshua and Judges is a non specific designation from the Hebrew word CEREN from an unused root of unclear meaning – figuratively – a peer or lord. [Refer to: Strong. J. (    )Strong’s Comprehensive Concordance of the Bible. World Bible Publishers Inc. Iowa.: From CEREN (5633) & SAR (8269)]
  5. In Samuel the word used to designate the authority of the Philistine rulers, is SAR (from Sarar) – a head person (of any rank or class) Captain (that has rule) Chief (Captain) General, Governor, Keeper, Lord, (task) Master, Prince, Ruler, Steward.
  6. In 1 Sam 27:2 and 29:3 Achish and Saul are referred to as Kings i.e. MELEK (4428) from Malak (4427) – Primary root; To reign, – a king, royal, a stronger term than that used to describe the leaders of the Philistines.
  7. Although Achish is a king (a sovereign – royal) he is subject to the rulers of the Philistines. Since in Judges and Joshua the city of Gath is named as a central city of the Philistine alliance, why is it that Achish is subject not to other kings but to ‘rulers – princes – governors – stewards’ of the philistines.

It seems appropriate to determine that the ‘lords of the Philistines’ were the Egyptian  military commanders.

I hope that this short note was of assistance.

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Author: R.P. BenDedek

R.P. BenDedek (pseudonym) was born in 1953 in Brisbane Australia. From 2003 to August 2017 he lived and worked in The People's Republic of China. Along with photographic stories from China he has been writing social and political commentaries since 2004. He was editor of Magic City Morning Star from 2009 - 2016 and he has a column at iPatriot.com. He is the author of 'the King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' and 'Finding Myself in China: A Politically Incorrect Story.' He is divorced; has 5 children and 16 grandchildren. He is a 4th generation Australian from a racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse family. He has no time for Sociopathic Ideologues or Useful Idiots.

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