Compiling Bible history is not an easy job, but archaeologists do it every day in Israel. And another piece of the puzzle came together in summer as a team found the hometown of Philistine hero Goliath.
We all know the story of David and Goliath. The Israelites and the Philistines fought and instead of sending their troops into battle, the Goliath Philistine soldier challenged every Israeli warrior to fight him in combat. Whoever wins the battle would win the war for his country. Nobody went out. But then David, who would later become an important Bible king, accepted the challenge.
Goliath was apparently a huge man, to whom David looked like a dwarf. But David knocked him down with a stone from his sling and cut off his head.
Later, David visits the hometown of Goliath, now known as Tel Es-Safi, and stares at the gate because he is very impressed by the massive fortifications and architecture of the Philistine settlement of the Iron Age.
According to Haarez:
“Gath is mentioned more than once in the Bible by each of the five major Philistine cities (the other four are Ekron, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza). Gath is said to have kept the covenant of the covenant briefly after the Philistines captured him from the Israelites (1 Samuel 5: 8), and it was there that David sought asylum twice from King Saul, eventually becoming the mercenary of the ruler of the city of Anchus ( 1 Kings 21 and 1 Kings 27). ”
The ancient city of Gath in front of the horizon.
Archaeologists have already found Ashkelon, where they conducted DNA tests and discovered that the Philistines were originally from Europe.
Another team of researchers, led by Bar-Ilan University professor Aren Mayer, have been digging the Gath site for years. The problem is that Gat is one of those places where people have built settlements on older settlements for centuries, making it difficult to find a specific time period. So the level that they believed was Goliath’s hometown originally was wrong. Because they have already found a level that coincides with the right time, and the ruins are massive enough for one to think that giants lived here.
“The revelation suggests that Gath was at the zenith of his own power much earlier than previously thought, which puts his heyday around the time when the city is heavily featured in the Bible story as a fierce rival of the early Israelites, as well as the hometown of Goliath and other extraordinary Bible warriors. ”
“During the summer excavation campaign, which ended last week, archaeologists decide to explore the foundations of spacious terraces located in the lower city of Gat, inhabited only during the Iron Age. Excavations reveal that these terraces lie on massive fortifications and larger buildings made of huge stones and baked bricks – a method that makes them healthier than traditional sun-dried mud bricks. ”
The ruins of Gath.
“I’ve been digging here for 25 years, but this place still surprises me,” Mayer says. “All the time we had this older, gigantic city, hidden just a meter below the city where we were digging. It was the largest Philistine city and probably one of the largest in the eastern Mediterranean during the Iron Age. There were larger cities just outside the eastern Mediterranean, such as Egypt and Mesopotamia. “
The later settlement, which was marched, was destroyed by the king of Syria, Hazael around 830 BC. during the Iron Age IIA. The earlier settlement they had just found, however, was even larger.
“Up until now, we thought that Iron City IIA – the one that was destroyed by Hazael – was the largest and most important period in Gath,” says Mayer. “This year, history is different.”
In some places these walls are four or more meters thick, and the ceramics associated with them date from the early Iron Age, to the 11th century BC. or probably earlier. “No comparatively colossal structures are known in the rest of the eastern Mediterranean of this period … or even the later incarnation of the Philistine Ghats,” says Mayer.
The ruins of Gath.
“Whatever it is, it’s huge,” Mayer added. “It’s as if Gat’s place during the early Iron Age made the later city look like a dwarf.”
And so many believe that the Philistines were great, though no skeletal remains were found to suggest such.
“Many biblical texts have to be understood as allegory,” Mayer says. “We dug several tombs in Gath and we definitely did not find any bones of particularly large people, so what is the origin of the legend that giants lived here? If there were huge wreckage around, this is the best way to start stories about giants.”
Professor Thomas Rohmer of the University of Lausanne agrees:
“We always have to be very careful about our interpretations, but that may be related to the size of Philistine cities like Gath and to this very impressive civilization that the Jews were familiar with,” says Rohmer. “When you confront such large structures, you have to explain them: so why not giants?”
Again, Gath was destroyed several times. It would be easy for later visitors to see the massive rubble and conclude that there must have been giant people living there, further perpetuating the stories of the Goliath giant, while he might not have been much bigger than David. People who wrote bible stories about Gath have done it centuries after these events happened. In addition, the inclusion of giants in history added excitement to the scriptures and made the Philistines look even uglier.
After all these centuries, it turns out that the only true giant was the city itself.
“We still don’t know very much why a new city was built on the old one, with different building orientations,” Mayer says. “But one thing is for sure – we are slowly awakening a sleeping giant.”
Probably the next excavation of the site will find a tomb with an inscription identifying it as belonging to Goliath himself. That would be an even bigger discovery.