Book: The Philistines, Their History and Civilization
Author: R. A. S. Macalister

The Philistines, Their History and Civilization By R. A. S. Macalister

Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 146
Publication Date: 1913

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This short monograph on the Philistines is one of the few on these mysterious people. The Philistines may have been emmigrants from Mycenean Greece, part of the 'Sea People' migrations of the 12th century BCE. The Philistines occupied an area on the Mediterranian coast approximately corresponding to the current Gaza strip. Macalister covers in some detail Philistine religion. The Philistines fit into an ancient Near Eastern polytheistic religious complex. They worshipped Canaanite deities such as Baal-zebub, the high Goddess Astarte, and Dagon, a merman fish-god who was also a culture hero.

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The Old Testament history is almost exclusively occupied with Semitic tribes. Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites, Hebrews, Aramaeans—all these, however much they might war among themselves, were bound by close linguistic and other ties, bespeaking a common origin in the dim, remote recesses of the past. Even the Egyptians show evident signs of having been at least crossed with a Semitic strain at some period early in their long and wonderful history. One people alone, among those brought conspicuously to our notice in the Hebrew Scriptures, impresses the reader as offering indications of alien origin. This is the people whom we call 'Philistines'.

If we had any clear idea of what the word 'Philistine' meant, or to what language it originally belonged, it might throw such definite light upon the beginnings of the Philistine people that further investigation would be unnecessary. The answer to this question is, however, a mere matter of guess-work. In the Old Testament the word is regularly written Pelištīm (‏פְּלִשְׁתִּים‎), singular Pelištī (‏פְּלִשְׁתִּי‎), twice Pelištīyim (‏פְּלִשְׁתִּיִים‎), The territory which they inhabited during the time of their struggles with the Hebrews is known as ’ereṣ Pelištim (‏אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים‎) 'the Land of Philistines', or in poetical passages, simply Pelešeth (‏פֶּלֶשֶׁת‎) 'Philistia'. Josephus regularly calls them Παλαιστινοί, except once, in his version of the Table of Nations in Genesis x (Ant. I. vi. 2) where we have the genitive singular Φυλιστίνου.

Various conjectures as to the etymology of this name have been put forward from time to time. One of the oldest, that apparently due to Fourmont, connects it with the traditional Greek name Πελασγοί; an equation which, however, does no more than move the problem of origin one step further back. This theory was adopted by Hitzig, the author of the first book in modern times on the Philistines, Who connected the word with Sanskrit valakṣa 'white', and made other similar comparisons, as for instance between the name of the deity of Gaza, Marna, and the Indian Varuna.

On the other hand a Semitic etymology was sought by Gesenius, Movers, and others, who quoted an Ethiopic verb falasa, 'to wander, roam,' whence comes the substantive fallási, 'a stranger.' In this etymology they were anticipated by the translators of the Greek Version, who habitually render the name of the Philistines by the Greek word ἀλλόφυλοι, even when it is put into the mouths of Goliath or Achish, when speaking of themselves. Of course this is merely an etymological speculation on the part of the translators, and proves nothing more than the existence of a Hebrew root (otherwise apparently unattested) similar in form and meaning to the Ethiopic root cited. And quite apart from any questions of linguistic probability, there is an obvious logical objection to such an etymology. In the course of the following pages we shall find the court scribes of Ramessu III, the historians of Israel, and the keepers of the records of the kings of Assyria, agreeing in applying the same name to the nation in question. These three groups of writers, belonging to as many separate nations and epochs of time, no doubt worked independently of each other—most probably in ignorance of each other's productions. This being so, it follows almost conclusively that the name 'Philistine' must have been derived from Philistine sources, and in short must have been the native designation. Now a word meaning 'stranger' or the like, while it might well be applied by foreigners to a nation deemed by them intruders, would scarcely be adopted by the nation itself, as its chosen ethnic appellation. This Ethiopic comparison it seems therefore safe to reject. The fantasy that Redslob puts forward, namely, that ‏פלשׁת‎ 'Philistia' was an anagram for ‏שׁפלה‎, the Shephelah or foot-hills of Judea, is perhaps best forgotten: place-names do not as a rule come to be in this mechanical way, and in any case 'the Shephelah' and 'Philistia' were not geographically identical.

There is a peculiarity in the designation of the Philistines in Hebrew which has often been noticed, and which must have a certain significance. In referring to a tribe or nation the Hebrew writers as a rule either (a) personified an imaginary founder, making his name stand for the tribe supposed to derive from him—e. g. 'Israel' for the Israelites; or (b) used the tribal name in the singular, with the definite article—a usage sometimes transferred to the Authorized Version, as in such familiar phrases as 'the Canaanite was then in the land' (Gen. xii. 6); but more commonly assimilated to the English idiom which requires a plural, as in 'the iniquity of the Amorite[s] is not yet full' (Gen. xv. 16). But in referring to the Philistines, the plural of the ethnic name is always used, and as a rule the definite article is omitted. A good example is afforded by the name of the Philistine territory above mentioned, ’ereṣ Pelištīm, literally 'the land of Philistines': contrast such an expression as ’ereṣ hak-Kena‘anī, literally 'the land of the Canaanite'. A few other names, such as that of the Rephaim, are similarly constructed: and so far as the scanty monuments of Classical Hebrew permit us to judge, it may be said generally that the same usage seems to be followed when there is question of a people not conforming to the model of Semitic (or perhaps we should rather say Aramaean) tribal organization.