Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The etymology of Palestine

Posted by Fredsvenn on May 7, 2016

The Philistinesְְִִּּׁ were a people described in the Bible. In the Biblical canon of Judaism and Western Christianity, the Deuteronomistic history books describe the land of the Philistines as a pentapolis in southwestern Levant comprising the five city-states of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, from Wadi Gaza in the south to the Yarqon River in the north.

A pentapolis, from the Greek words pente (“five”) and polis, (“city state”) is a geographic and/or institutional grouping of five cities. Cities in the ancient world probably formed such groups for political, commercial and military reasons, as happened later with the Cinque Ports in England.

Amos in 1:8 sets the Philistines at Ashdod and Ekron. In 9:7 God is quoted asserting that, as he brought Israel from Egypt, he also (in the Hebrew) brought the Philistines from Caphtor. In the Greek this is, instead, bringing them from Cappadocia.

This description portrays them at one period of time as among the Kingdom of Israel’s most dangerous enemies. The Philistines are said to have dominated the Israelites in the times of Samson, who killed many Philistines and had many skirmishes with them, and Eli, and even to have captured the Ark of the Covenant for a few months.

The Torah does not record the Philistines as one of the nations to be displaced from Canaan. In Genesis 15:18-21 the Philistines are absent from the ten nations Abraham’s descendants will displace as well as being absent from the list of nations Moses tells the people they will conquer (Deut 7:1, 20:17).

God also directed the Israelites away from the Philistines upon their Exodus from Egypt according to Exodus 13:17. In Genesis 21:22-27, Abraham agrees to a covenant of kindness with Abimelech, the Philistine king, and his descendants. Abraham’s son Isaac deals with the Philistine king similarly, by concluding a treaty with them in chapter 26.

The Bible paints the Philistines as the main enemy of the Israelites (prior to the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire between the 10th century BC and late 7th century BC) with a state of almost perpetual war between the two peoples.

The Philistine cities lost their independence to Assyria, and revolts in the following years were all crushed. They were subsequently absorbed into the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Achaemenid Empire, and disappeared as a distinct ethnic group by the late 5th century BC. During the 10th to 7th centuries BC the distinctiveness of the material culture appears to have been absorbed with that of surrounding peoples.

However, the canon of Eastern Christianity, the LXX, uses the term as “allophuloi” (“other nations”) instead of “philistines”, and Rabbinic sources state that the Philistines of Genesis were different peoples from the Philistines of the Deuteronomistic history.

Throughout the Deuteronomistic history, Philistines are almost always referred to without the definite article, except on 11 occasions. On the basis of the LXX’s regular translation into “allophyloi”, Robert Drews states that the term “Philistines” means simply “non-Israelites of the Promised Land” when used in the context of Samson, Saul and David.

This differentiation was also held by the authors of the Septuagint, who translated (rather than transliterated) its base text as “allophuloi” (“other nations”) instead of “philistines” throughout the Books of Judges and Samuel.

Biblical scholars have connected the Philistines to other biblical groups such as Caphtorim and the Cherethites and Pelethites, which have both been identified with Crete, and leading to the tradition of an Aegean origin, although this theory has been disputed.

The Philistines are the subject of research and speculation in biblical archaeology. Since 1822, scholars have connected the Biblical Philistines with the Egyptian “Peleset” inscriptions, all five of which appear from c.1150 BCE to c.900 BCE just as archaeological references to “Kinaḫḫu” or “Ka-na-na” (Canaan) come to an end, and since 1873 comparisons were drawn between them and to the Aegean “Pelasgians”.

The term “Peleset” (transliterated from hieroglyphs as P-r-s-t) is found in five inscriptions referring to a neighboring people or land starting from c.1150 BCE during the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt.

The first known mention is at the temple at Medinet Habu which refers to the Peleset among those who fought with Egypt in Ramesses III’s reign, and the last known is 300 years later on Padiiset’s Statue.

The Assyrians called the same region “Palashtu/Palastu” or “Pilistu”, beginning with Adad-nirari III in the Nimrud Slab in c.800 BCE through to an Esarhaddon treaty more than a century later.

Since 1822, scholars have connected the Egyptian “Peleset” inscriptions with the Philistines, described in the Masoretic bible as “pelistim”. Neither the Egyptian nor the Assyrian sources provided clear regional boundaries for the term.

While the evidence for these connections is etymological and has been disputed, this identification is held by the majority of egyptologists and biblical archaeologists. Archaeological research to date has been unable to corroborate a mass settlement of Philistines during the Ramesses III era.

The name Pelasgians was used by some ancient Greek writers to refer to populations that were either the ancestors of the Greeks or preceded the Greeks in Greece, “a hold-all term for any ancient, primitive and presumably indigenous people in the Greek world”. In general, “Pelasgian” has come to mean more broadly all the indigenous inhabitants of the Aegean Sea region and their cultures before the advent of the Greek language.

During the classical period, enclaves under that name survived in several locations of mainland Greece, Crete, and other regions of the Aegean. Populations identified as “Pelasgian” spoke a language or languages that at the time Greeks identified as “barbaric”, even though some ancient writers described the Pelasgians as Greeks.

A tradition also survived that large parts of Greece had once been Pelasgian before being Hellenized. These parts generally fell within the ethnic domain that, by the 5th century BC, was attributed to those speakers of ancient Greek who were identified as Ionians.

In 2003, a statue of a king named Taita bearing inscriptions in Luwian was discovered during excavations conducted by German archeologist Kay Kohlmeyer in the Citadel of Aleppo.

The king describes himself as the king of Palistin, and recent archaeology indicates that Palistin extended from the Amouq Valley in the west to Aleppo in the east down to Mhardeh and Shaizar in the south.

Many scholars have interpreted the ceramic and technological evidence attested by archaeology as being associated with the Philistines advent in the area as strongly suggestive that they formed part of a large scale immigration to southern Canaan, probably from Anatolia and Cyprus, in the 12th century BC.

Haplogroup J2 is thought to have appeared somewhere in the Middle East towards the end of the last glaciation, between 15,000 and 22,000 years ago. The oldest known J2 sample at present comes from Kotias Klde in Georgia and dates from c. 9700 BCE (Jones et al. (2015)), confirming that haplogroup J2 was already found around the Caucasus during the Mesolithic period.

Its present geographic distribution argue in favour of a Neolithic expansion from the Fertile Crescent. This expansion probably correlated with the diffusion of domesticated of cattle and goats (starting c. 8000-9000 BCE) from the Zagros mountains and northern Mesopotamia, rather than with the development of cereal agriculture in the Levant (which appears to be linked rather to haplogroups G2 and E1b1b).

A second expansion of J2 could have occured with the advent of metallurgy, notably copper working (from the Lower Danube valley, central Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia), and the rise of some of the oldest civilisations.

Quite a few ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilisations flourished in territories where J2 lineages were preponderant. This is the case of the Hattians, the Hurrians, the Etruscans, the Minoans, the Greeks, the Phoenicians (and their Carthaginian offshoot), the Israelites, and to a lower extent also the Romans, the Assyrians and the Persians. All the great seafaring civilisations from the middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age were dominated by J2 men.

There is a distinct association of ancient J2 civilisations with bull worship. The oldest evidence of a cult of the bull can be traced back to Neolithic central Anatolia, notably at the sites of Çatalhöyük and Alaca Höyük.

Bull depictions are omnipresent in Minoan frescos and ceramics in Crete. Bull-masked terracotta figurines and bull-horned stone altars have been found in Cyprus (dating back as far as the Neolithic, the first presumed expansion of J2 from West Asia).

The Hattians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Canaaites, and Carthaginians all had bull deities (in contrast with Indo-European or East Asian religions). The sacred bull of Hinduism, Nandi, present in all temples dedicated to Shiva or Parvati, does not have an Indo-European origin, but can be traced back to Indus Valley civilisation.

Minoan Crete, Hittite Anatolia, the Levant, Bactria and the Indus Valley also shared a tradition of bull leaping, the ritual of dodging the charge of a bull. It survives today in the traditional bullfighting of Andalusia in Spain and Provence in France, two regions with a high percentage of J2 lineages.

The archaeological evidence from the southern coastal plain of ancient Palestine, termed Philistia in the Hebrew Bible, indicates a disruption of the Canaanite culture that existed during the Late Bronze Age and its replacement (with some integration) by a culture with a possibly foreign (mainly Aegean) origin.

The Trialeti culture is named after the Trialeti region of Georgia. It is attributed to the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC. Trialeti culture emerged in the areas of the preceding Kura-Araxes culture.

The Trialeti culture was known for its particular form of burial. The elite were interred in large, very rich burials under earth and stone mounds, which sometimes contained four-wheeled carts. Also there were many gold objects found in the graves. These gold objects were similar to those found in Iran and Iraq. They also worked tin and arsenic.

This form of burial in a tumulus or “kurgan”, along with wheeled vehicles, is the same as that of the Kurgan culture which has been associated with the speakers of Proto-Indo-European. In fact, the black burnished pottery of especially early Trialeti kurgans is similar to Kura-Araxes pottery.

The Kura–Araxes culture or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end; in some locations it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC. The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain.

It gave rise to the later Khirbet Kerak-ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire. Khirbet Kerak (“the ruin of the fortress”) or Beth Yerah (“House of the Moon (god)”) is a tell (archaeological mound) located on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee in modern day Israel.

Beth Yerah means “House of the Moon (god)”. Though it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible or other Bronze or Iron Age sources, the name may preserve, at least in part, the Canaanite toponym of Ablm-bt-Yrh, “the city/fort (qrt) of his-majesty Yarih”.

As Ablm (Heb. Abel), this location is mentioned in the 14th century BCE Epic of Aqht, and is thought to be a reference to the Early Bronze Age structure extant at Khirbet Kerak.

The tell spans an area of over 50 acres—one of the largest in the Levant—and contains remains dating from the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC – 2000 BC) and from the Persian period (c. 450 BC) through to the early Islamic period (c. 1000 AD).

“Khirbet Kerak ware” is a type of Early Bronze Age Syro-Palestinian pottery first discovered at this site. It is also found in other parts of the Levant (including Jericho, Beth Shan, Tell Judeideh, and Ugarit).

The 2009 discovery at the tell of a stone palette with Egyptian motifs, including an ankh, points to trade/political relations with the First dynasty of Egypt, at approximately 3000 BCE.

In a historical context, their impressive accumulation of wealth in burial kurgans, like that of other associated and nearby cultures with similar burial practices, is particularly noteworthy. This practice was probably a result of influence from the older civilizations to the south in the Fertile Crescent.

At that time, there was already strong social differentiation indicated by rich mound burials. There are parallels to the Early Kurgan culture. Cremation burial was practised. Painted pottery was introduced.

Tin bronzes became predominant. Geographical interconnectedness and links with other areas of the Near East are seen in many aspects of the culture. For example, a cauldron found in Trialeti is nearly identical to the one from Shaft Grave 4 of Mycenae in Greece.

The Trialeti culture shows close ties with the highly developed cultures of the ancient world, particularly with the Aegean, but also with cultures to the south, such as probably the Sumerians and their Akkadian conquerors.

The Leyla-Tepe culture of ancient Azerbaijan belongs to the Chalcolithic era. It got its name from the site in the Agdam district. Its settlements were distributed on the southern slopes of Central Caucasus, mostly in Agdam District, from 4350 until 4000 BC.

The inhabitants apparently buried their dead in ceramic vessels. Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture, that is mostly of much later date.

Among the sites associated with this culture, the Soyugbulag kurgans or barrows are of special importance. The roots of the Leylatepe Archaeological Culture to which the Soyugbulaq kurgans belong to, stemmed from the Ubaid culture of Central Asia. They were dated to the beginning of the 4th millennium BC.

The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region (Arslantepe, Coruchu-tepe, Tepechik, etc.).

The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets. It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture (ca. 3700 BC—3000 BC), a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.

An expedition to Syria by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed the similarity of the Maykop and Leyla-Tepe artifacts with those found recently while excavating the ancient city of Tel Khazneh I, from the 4th millennium BC.

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BCE, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.

At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”. This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.

Proto-Semitic is the hypothetical proto-language ancestral to historical Semitic languages of the Middle East. Locations which have been proposed for its origination include northern Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant with a 2009 study proposing that it may have originated around 3750 BCE.

Nippur (Sumerian: Nibru, often logographically recorded as EN.LÍLKI, “Enlil City”; Akkadian: Nibbur) located in modern Nuffar in Afak, Al-Qādisiyyah Governorate, Iraq, was among the most ancient of Sumerian cities.[citation needed] It was the special seat of the worship of the Sumerian god Enlil, the “Lord Wind,” ruler of the cosmos, subject to An alone.

There is evidence of the succession on the site of different peoples, varying somewhat in their degrees of civilization. One stratum is marked by painted pottery of good make, similar to that found in a corresponding stratum in Susa, and resembling early Aegean pottery more closely than any later pottery found in sumer, Mesopotamia.

Artifacts of the Philistine culture are found at numerous sites, in particular in the excavations of the five main cities of the Philistines: the Pentapolis of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza. Some scholars (e.g. S. Sherratt, Drews, etc.) have challenged the theory that the Philistine culture is an immigrant culture, claiming instead that they are an in situ development of the Canaanite culture, but others argue for the immigrant hypothesis; for example, T. Dothan and Barako.

Two of the peoples who settled in the Levant had traditions that may connect them to Crete: the Tjeker and the Peleset. The Tjeker may have left Crete to settle in Anatolia, and left there to settle Dor.

According to the Old Testament, the Israelite God brought the Philistines out of Caphtor. The mainstream of Biblical and classical scholarship accepts Caphtor to refer to Crete, but there are alternative minority theories.

Crete at the time was populated by peoples speaking many languages, among which were Mycenaean Greek and Eteocretan, the descendant of the language of the Minoans. It is possible, but by no means certain, that these two peoples spoke Eteocretan.

Recent examinations of the eruption of the Santorini volcano suggest that it occurred very close (estimated between 1660–1613 BCE) to the first appearances of the Sea People in Egypt.

The eruption and its aftermath (fires, tsunami, weather changes and famines) would have had wide-ranging effects across the Mediterranean, the Levant and particularly Greece, and could have provided the impetus for invasions of other regions of the Mediterranean.

However, scholars such as London, Brug, Bunimovitz, H. Weippert, and Noort, among others, have noted the “difficulty of associating pots with people”, proposing alternative suggestions such as potters following their markets or technology transfer, and noted that the coastal area identified with “Philistines” was not more “Aegean” influenced than the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nothing is known for certain about the language of the Philistines. It is thought to be “probably Semitic,” although such conclusion is based on limited data. The Bible does not mention any language problems between the Israelites and the Philistines, as it does with other groups.

There is some limited evidence in favour of the assumption that the Philistines were originally either Indo-European-speakers from Greece or Luwian speakers from the coast of Asia Minor, on the basis of some Philistine-related words found in the Bible not appearing to be related to other Semitic languages.

There is some limited evidence in favor of the suggestion that the Philistines did originally speak some Indo-European language. A number of Philistine-related words found in the Hebrew Bible are not Semitic, and can in some cases, with reservations, be traced back to Proto-Indo-European roots.

Such theory suggests that the Semitic elements in the language were borrowed from their neighbours in the region. For example, the Philistine word for captain, “seren”, may be related to the Greek word tyrannos (thought by linguists to have been borrowed by the Greeks from an Anatolian language, such as Luwian or Lydian).

Although most Philistine names are Semitic (such as Ahimelech, Mitinti, Hanun, and Dagon) some of the Philistine names, such as Goliath, Achish, and Phicol, appear to be of non-Semitic origin, and Indo-European etymologies have been suggested.

Recently, an inscription dating to the late 10th/early 9th centuries BC with two names, very similar to one of the suggested etymologies of the popular Philistine name Goliath (Lydian Alyattes, or perhaps Greek Kalliades) was found in the excavations at Gath.

The deities worshipped in the area were Baal, Astarte, and Dagon, whose names or variations thereof appear in the Canaanite pantheon as well.

The first clear use of the term Palestine to refer to the entire area between Phoenicia and Egypt was in 5th century BC Ancient Greece, when Herodotus wrote of a “district of Syria, called Palaistinê” in The Histories, which included the Judean mountains and the Jordan Rift Valley.

In the treatise Meteorology c.340 BCE, Aristotle wrote, “there is a lake in Palestine”. This is understood by scholars to be a reference to the Dead Sea.

Later Greek writers such as Polemon and Pausanias also used the word, which was followed by Roman writers such as Ovid, Tibullus, Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder, Dio Chrysostom, Statius, Plutarch as well as Roman Judean writers Philo of Alexandria and Josephus. Other writers, such as Strabo, referred to the region as Coele-Syria (“all Syria”) around 10-20 CE.

In 135 CE, the Greek “Syria Palaestina” was used in naming a new Roman province from the merger of Roman Syria and Roman Judaea after the Roman authorities crushed the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

During the Byzantine period c.390, the imperial province of Syria Palaestina was reorganized into: Palaestina Prima, Palaestina Secunda, and Palaestina Salutaris.

Following the Muslim conquest, place names that were in use by the Byzantine administration generally continued to be used in Arabic. The use of the name “Palestine” became common in Early Modern English, was used in English and Arabic during the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem.

In the 20th century the name was used by the British to refer to “Mandatory Palestine”, a mandate from the former Ottoman Empire which had been divided in the Sykes–Picot Agreement. The term was later used in the eponymous “State of Palestine”. Both incorporated geographic regions from the land commonly known as Palestine, into a new state whose territory was named Palestine.

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