Every Sunday School child is familiar with David and Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior who David slew with a stone from a sling. Many more are familiar with Samson who killed a 1000 Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass. Still others remember the story of Saul’s son Jonathan who bravely took on over twenty Philistines with his armor bearer and killed them all. And there is the famous Battle of Mt. Gilboa where Saul and his sons, including the heroic Jonathan were themselves killed by the Philistines.
Philistines were originally from Mizraim (Egypt); Deut 2:23; Gen 10:13, 14. From Caphtor, originally the northern delta of the Nile, from which the Phoenicians emigrated to Asia. (Crete was an intermediate resting place, and gave rise to the legends as their source. Tacitus (Hist., 5:2) says “the inhabitants of Palestine came from Crete.”) The time of migration must have been very early, as the Philistines were settled in Palestine in Abraham’s time (Gen. 21:32,34). Their immigration to the neighborhood of Gerar in the south country was before Abraham’s time, for he deals with them as a pastoral tribe there (Gen 21:32,84; 26:1,8). Philistiym means immigrants, from the Ethiopic fallasa. Philistia is derived from the Ethiopic falasa “to emigrate,” Hebrew palash, “wander.” (In the W. of Abyssinia are the Falashas, i.e., emigrants, probably Israelites from Palestine.) The Romans later deliberately named the region Palestina (Latin for Philistines) after the enemies of the Jews in an attempt to erase their memory. Thanks to the British, they almost succeeded. Their uncircumcision was due to their having left Egypt at a date anterior to the Egyptians’ adoption (Herodotus ii. 36) of circumcision (compare Jer 9:25,26). By the time of the Exodus, the Philistines had become formidable (Ex 13:17; 15:14). At Israel’s invasion of Canaan they had advanced N. and possessed fully the seacoast plain from the river of Egypt (el Arish) to Ekron in the N. (Josh 15:4,47), a confederacy of the five cities (originally Canaanite) Gaza (the leading one), Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (always put last). The Shephelah: Their plain was famed for its fertility in grain, vines, and olives (Judg 15:5), so that it was the refuge from times of famine (2 Kgs 8:2; compare Gen 26:12). It suited war chariots, while the low hills of the shephelah afforded sites for fortresses. Philistia is an undulating plain, 32 miles long, and from nine to 16 miles broad, from 30 to 300 ft. above the sea. To the E. lie low spurs culminating in hog’s backs running N. and S., and rising in places 1,200 ft. above the sea. To the E. of these the descent is steep, about 500 ft., to valleys E. of which the hill country begins. The sand is gaining on the land, so that one meets often a deep hollow in the sand, and a figtree or apple tree growing at the bottom, or even a house and patch of ground below the sand level. It was the commercial thoroughfare between Phoenicia and Syria on the N. and Egypt and Arabia in the S. Ashdod and Gaza were the keys of Egypt, and the latter was the depot of Arabian produce. The term “Canaan” (merchant) applied to the Philistine land (Zeph 2:5) proves its commercial character. They sold Israelites as slaves to Edom and Greece, for which God threatens retribution in kind, and destruction (Amos 1:6-8; Joel 3:3-8). They were proficient in smelting iron; they had so subjugated Israel as to outlaw all smiths and indigenous iron workers (1 Sam 13:19). They used sometimes to burn their prisoners alive (Judg 15:6; Ps 78:63). Their speech differed from the Jews’ language (Neh 13:23,24).