ISRAEL - Philistine Cemetery Uncovered

Arno Froese

A huge Philistine cemetery some 3000-years-old has been found in the Mediterranean seaport of Ashkelon. The manner of the burials proves, for the first time, that the Philistines had to have come from the Aegean Sea region, and that they had very close ties with the Phoenician world.

“Ninety-nine percent of the chapters and articles written about Philistine burial customs should be revised or ignored now that we have the first and only Philistine cemetery,” says Lawrence E. Stager, Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

The cemetery was found just outside the city walls of Tel Ashkelon, one of the Philistines’ five primary cities in ancient Israel.

The cemetery was found to have more than 150 individual burials dating from the 11th to 8th century BCE. The undisturbed graves have shed fresh light on a mystery bedeviling archaeologists for decades: the Philistines’ real origins.

“This forms a baseline for what ‘Philistine’ is. We can already say that the cultural practices we see here are substantially different from the Canaanites and the highlanders in the east,” says Daniel M. Master, professor of Wheaton College and co-director of the Leon Levy Expedition.

The deceased were, for the most part, buried in oval pits. Four out of the 150 were cremated and some other bodies were deposited in ashlar burial chamber tombs. These are burial practices well known from the Aegean cultural sphere—but certainly not from the Canaanite one.

Ashkelon became a flourishing trading hub during the Bronze Age because of its location on the Mediterranean Sea and its proximity to Egypt. It was through Ashkelon, which was situated just north of Gaza, that Egypt sold linen and papyrus—and also slaves—to the rest of the ancient world.

Other goods distributed through Ashkelon during the Iron Age (ca. 1185-604 BCE) included wine and textile. There is also evidence of grain imports from Judah, again attesting to the Philistine city as an important gateway between the East and the West.

According to the Bible, the island of Crete (usually held to be identical with Caphtor Jeremiah 47:4; Amos 9:7), though not necessarily the original home of the Philistines, was the place from which they migrated to the Canaan coast.

That the Philistines were not indigenous to Canaan is indicated by ceramics, architecture, burial customs, and pottery remains with writing—in non-Semitic languages (several inscribed stamp handles, as well as a pottery sherd with a Cypro-Minoan script, all dating to around 1150-1000 BCE).

In early December 604 BCE, the Babylonians swept through Philistia, destroying the cities and exiling its inhabitants.  The Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar torched Philistia in early December 604 BCE, yet within the massive destruction, architecture, ceramics and even foods remained, providing the archaeologists with a snapshot of life in a Philistine city during the 7th century BCE.

Arno's commentary

The Philistines, once Israel’s bitter enemy, are no more, but Israel is still an identity with its Jewish population alive and well.

Some Arab-Palestinians insist that they are the descendants of the original Philistines, but that—according to DNA facts—has been disproven. So, who are the Philistines? We read the following in Unger’s Bible Dictionary: “The name of Palestine as a geographical distinction is of later origin. It is derived from the Philistines (Peleste), a non-Semitic Aegean strain, who settled in large numbers along the S.W. coastal plain during the reign of Raamses III of Egypt (c. 1190 B.C.). This area subsequently became known as Phlistia (Joel 3:4) from which, in turn, the Greek name hē Palaistinē was derived” (page 818).

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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