Philistines and Archaeology

Digging Out the Truth

In modern English, the word “Philistine” refers to an uncouth or uncultured person. The term is taken from the name of the people who were Israel’s biggest rivals in the period between the Exodus and the reign of David.

 

Until recently, many scholars doubted the existence of the Philistines. But, as with so much of the biblical text, the more archaeologists dig, the more they confirm the historical character of the biblical narratives.

 

As Jeffrey Sheler writes in his book, Is the Bible True?, recent archaeological discoveries have not only proven the existence of the Philistines, they have also revealed much about how they lived.

 

What’s even more exciting is that much of what the archaeologists have learned confirms what the Bible says about the Philistines.

 

For instance, ancient Egyptian inscriptions indicated that the “Sea Peoples” — the ancient Near Eastern name for the Philistines — most likely came from the island of Crete.

 

Well, the books of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah say that the Philistines were originally from the land of Caphtor. And, as Sheler points out, scholars believe that “Caphtor” is another name for Crete.

 

The Bible characterizes the Philistines as the best metal workers in the ancient Near East — so much so that they exercised a virtual monopoly in the sword-making trade.

 

The archeological record has substantiated this characterization. The record confirms both the Philistines’ skills in metallurgy and the advantage that their superior weaponry gave them in their battles with the Israelites — as described in 1Samuel.

 

As Sheler documents, there is a remarkable consistency between what the Bible says about the Philistines and what archaeologists are finding. This consistency prompted William Dever of the University of Arizona to say: “That all [the archaeological findings] ‘fit’ the many biblical allusions so well . . . and show that a post-exilic editor cannot simply have invented these passages, that they are genuinely archaic.”

 

In other words, archaeology is debunking the once-dominant idea that books such as Judges and 1 Samuel were the product of some post-exilic writer’s fertile imagination. The author of these books wasn’t inventing some glorious past for Israel out of whole cloth. Instead, he was working with real history — both oral and written.

 

The narratives from the time of the Judges aren’t the only ones being verified by biblical archaeologists. So many finds in recent years have lent credence to the biblical text that critics are becoming suspect of the archaeologists’ motives. According to the Biblical Archaeology Review: “Archaeologists have been . . . heavily criticized [for] being biased, for trying to prove the Bible.”

 

But, as the magazine also points out, that’s not what’s going on. They’re simply following where the evidence leads, and this is all that anyone can ask of a scientific endeavor.

 

Many people — Christians and non-Christians alike — believe that science is the enemy of biblical faith. But these discoveries in the desert show that scientific knowledge doesn’t have to come at the expense of faith. It can buttress biblical faith, and that’s something your neighbors need to understand.

 

Because, as it turns out, the true Philistine is the person who dismisses the Bible without first looking at the evidence.

 

 

 

 

For further reading:

 

Jeffrey Sheler, Is the Bible True? (HarperCollins, 1999).

 

Visit the Biblical Archaeology Society website.

 

Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: How Archaeology Confirms the Truth of the Bible (Harvest House, 1997).


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