Figure 1 Sea Peoples in a sea battle, from Medinet Habu

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Christin Engstrom

Special Reading Course

PSR Spring 2004

Prof. Aaron Brody

Due: 6/04/04

Philistine Bichrome Ware at Tell en-Nasbeh


The presence of Philistine bichrome ware at Tel en-Nasbeh is tantalizing evidence of cultural interaction and trade between the Philistines and the Early Iron Age Israelites, two peoples often characterized as enemies in the bible. A strange twist to the pottery’s story of culture flow has come from a recent NAA by study suggesting that a portion of the Tel en-Nasbeh Philistine bichrome was manufactured local to the site, however, the study has some weakness that leave its conclusions open to question. This paper presents a brief overview of Tel en-Nasbeh and the Philistines, their biblical references, historical milieu, and material culture, in order to provide a context for the Tel en-Nasbeh Philistine bichrome. The paper concludes with suggestions for testing the veracity of Gunneweg, Asaro, Michel, Perlman’s conclusions of local manufacture for the pottery.

The Philistines

The exact identity of and origin of the Philistine peoples remains, if not a “compelling enigma”i, then at least a puzzle that is still not fully solved. For decades researchers and archaeologists have agreed that the philistines were a sub-group within a larger group called the “Sea Peoples.” Little is known for sure about the Sea Peoples including their exact origins and ethnicity within the larger context of the Mediterranean world, though a majority of evidence links their culture closely with that of Mycenaean civilization in Greece, the Aegean and western Anatolia.

The coming of the Sea Peoples into the eastern Mediterranean seems to have been the outcome of a profound cultural crisis in the Aegean and Anatolian region at the end of the 13th century BCE.ii The exact nature of the sociological calamity is still a matter of debate. This crisis touched off a mass migration of the Sea Peoples to the southeast Mediterranean coastal regions that lasted for perhaps two generations (beginning sometime around 1185-1175 BCE).iii The migration occurred by sea, and other groups of Sea Peoples may have sailed west.

Figure 1 Sea Peoples in a sea battle, from Medinet Habu
n the lands of the Canaanites the result of the Sea Peoples migration and invasion was a Philistine sphere if influence based in the southern coastal plain. There the Philistines carved out the land of Philistia, where they ruled from five City States, the Philistine pentapolis –Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron (Tel Mikne), Gaza, and Gath. The location of Philistine Gath is still not known, it is usually equated with the site of Tell el-Safi.iv At the three excavated pentapolis cities, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron, the early pottery type of the Philistines (Mycenaean IIIC) is found overlying an apparent destruction layer of the Late Bronze Age II Egypto-Canaanite settlements.v This pattern of Philistine settlement over a Late Bronze Age city also appears at Ugarit at the seaside palace of the Ugaritic king (the final destruction of that Canaanite related culture).vi According to some scholars the Sea Peoples established a pattern of destruction and rebuilding that was in stark contrast to the earlier empirical pattern of the Egyptians over the Canaanites. The Egyptians had ruled the provinces of their empire by being overlords of intact settlements.vii Despite the apparent destruction the Philistines may have behaved in a similar fashion dominated the locals as an ethnically distinct civic elite.viii

Biblical Context

Figure 2 Sea Peoples, including women and children, caught up in a land battle, from Medinet Habu
he biblical evidence for the origins of the Philistines is a little confusing.ix They are mentioned in Genesis 10:14 as the sons of Egypt, in association with an obscure group known as the caphtorium. In Deuteronomy 2:23 the Caphtorium were said to occupy part of the coastal strip of southern Canaan – the area that later became the land of the Philistines.x The philistines are mentioned again in connection with this land and the Caphtorium in Amos 9:7 where the bible states, “Did I not bring up the Israelites from the land of Egypt and the Philistines from the land of Caphtor?” Caphtor is comes up again in Jeremiah 47:4, where it is referred to as and Island.

Historically biblical Caphtor has been associated with the island of Crete. The attempt to fit the philistines into an understanding of the Mediterranean world outside of the biblical context began in earnest in the 18th Century with the French historian Calmet. Calmet theorized that the philistines were migrants to the Levant from Crete, equating the island kingdom with the island of Caphtor in the bible. Other contemporaries of Calmet hypothesized that the Philistines were the Pelasgians of Greek myth, pointing out that the story of single combat between David and Goliath had a parallel in the traditions of Homer where warriors would stand in fight in single combat as proxies for their armies.xi Other theorists on the origins of the philistines had held that they were Indo-European Sanskrit speakers, equating the God of Gaza, Marna, with the Vedic celestial king Varna, Or that they were Semitic seafaring Phoenicians (Canaanites) whose capitol of Caphtor lay in the Nile Delta.xii

In Ezekiel 25:16 the Philistines are linked to another group living along the coast, the Cherethites (who may be the Caphtorium under another name). In other later passages the Cherethites are portrayed as mercenaries in the service of the Israelite Kings.xiii

Figure 3 Map of sites with Philistine Pottery, from Dothan and Dothan
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