Did the Philistines settle in Canaan around 1200 BC?

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The settlement of the Philistines in Canaan is not discussed by D. Rohl in his book "A Test of Time". Dr. J.J. Bimstone however in a paper in 1991 took up this subject exhaustively.1

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The editors of BGA as well as most of the traditional archaeologists, egyptologists and theologists assume that the Philistines conquered the southwestern coastal area of Palestine in 1200 BC and had lived there since.2 Together with other Peoples of the Sea they attacked Egypt in the time of Pharao Rameses III. The Egyptians called the Philistines 'Peleset'. The appearance of a new type of pottery indicates that in the time of Rameses III a new group of population settled in the southwest of Canaan. This type of pottery is called Mycene IIIC:1b or Late-Helladic IIIC:1b.

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The 'Philistine pottery' came into being a little later and was a combination of Mycene IIIC:1b and indigenous Canaanitic pottery tradition. After the time of Rameses III we also find a chance in culinary habits (the consumption of pork increased) and a change in architecture (fireplaces and the building of cities).3

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This new group maybe originated from nearby Cyprus and a connection to the Aegean world is very probable. So the facts are as follows:

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1. The Philistines together with other peoples attacked Egypt in the time of Rameses III.

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2. A new population conquered the Philistine coastal area and made it their habitation in the time of Rameses III.

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No proof

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These facts do not prove that the Philistines settled themselves in the Philistine coastal area only in the time of Rameses III. It is true that many scientists assume that both facts are connected to the arrival of the Philistines but that certainly is not the only possible explanation. According to the followers of the new chronology the Philistines had been living already in Philistea for several centuries before Rameses III. So the new conquerors were no 'Philistines' but another group of which the name is not known to us. For convenience' sake we call them here Cypro-Greeks. After one or two centuries during which the new group mixed themselves with the indigenous Philistines by marriage the characteristic Mycene IIIC:1b pottery disappeared together with the Philistine bichrome pottery which is a derivation of the former. Probably their original language also became lost.

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In the same way the Normans conquered and ruled England from 1066 on. The country is still called England though. The Normans gradually mixed themselves with the English population and ceased using their own French language. So it is altogether not so strange that the new chronology assumes that long before Rameses III Philistines were living in the coastal area in the southwest of Palestine and that their material culture was mainly Canaanitic. In the same manner the Israelites lived in Canaan for several centuries before they were mentioned on the Merenptah stele. Their pottery then is mostly undistiguishable from the Canaanitic pottery.

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New wave of immigration

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Is it necessary to suppose that the wave of Cypro-Greeks to the Philistinian coastal area is mentioned in the Bible? According to the new chronology this must have taken place during the time of Ahab and Jehosaphat. Clearly the Bible does not mention this wave. Why should Israel become worried about a military conflict between Egypt and the Philistines? On the other hand we are informed that during the reign of Jehosaphat's son, Jehoram, the Philistines attacked Judah and even undertook a raid against Jerusalem (2 Chron. 21:16-17).

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In a certain sense the new chronology fits better with the story in the Bible because there it is assumed that the Philistines had been living in Canaan already in the time of Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 26:1). The Philistines had connections with Crete (Kaftor, Jer. 47:4) and maybe with Cyprus.

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One can of couse suggest that the Biblical authors from any given period used the term 'Philistines' very loosely for the inhabitants of southwest Canaan. In the same way one could also say - although this is only partly correct - that Julius Caesar defeated the English while the English (Angels and Saxons) settled themselves in England four centuries later.

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If the Philistines originally did come from Crete the name Philistines could very well be derived from 'Pelasgen' which is the name of the inhabitants of southeastern Greece. The ancient Egyptian name for the inhabitants of Crete was Keftiu and this word is often connected to the biblical Kaftor. Too bad there is no extra-biblical proof that the Philistines came from Crete. Against current opinion according to Dr. Bimson Kaftor is Cyprus .

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He dates the arrival of the Philistines in Palestines several centuries before Rameses III, during the Late-Bronze 1.1 Also in that time we have proof for a flood of new pottery from Cyprus which is also known as bichrome pottery. This is not identical with the later 'Philistine' bichrome pottery. Also in this time we find new types of burying tombs also originating from Cyprus. I myself assume that the Philistines came to live in Canaan still earlier, during the time of Abraham.

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Wenamon in Dor

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From the viewpoint of archaeology the new chronology fits well with what had been reported on the city of Dor in the december 1999 issue of BGA (p. 9-10).2

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The Egyptian Wenamon visited the city of Dor (stratum XII) during Rameses XI (in the new chronology ca. 800 BC.). In that period the city was ruled by the Cheker. In the subsequent strata the city became Phoenician. But a long time before that, in the 10th century BC (new chronology: Late-Bronze period), the city was ruled by a governor under king Solomon. The archaeological and historical situation is in no way contrary to the new chronology. When in BGA Ashkelon and Ashdod at the end of Late-Bronze are discussed the author assumes that the emergence of the Mycene IIIC:1b pottery is related to the arrival of the Philistines and not with the arrival of a new elite-group of Cypro-Greeks who settled down in Philistea.

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Dating the arrival of the Philistines

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A number of traditional scientists also realise that an alternative explanation is possible. Professor Drews writes: "The Egyptian inscriptions do not attest of an overseas migration of nations in the decades before or after 1200 BC."4

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Currently scientists discuss vehemently whether the Philistines came to live in the coastal area in the time of Rameses III or whether they took up habitation in that area only 50 years after their attack on Egypt. Professor I. Finkelstein of the University of Tel Aviv bases this last thesis on the absence of IIIC:1b pottery in strata from the time of Rameses III. Finkelstein dates the settlement of the Philistines in the period after the Egyptian domination.5 Also a debate is going on about a later dating for those strata that can be related with the Unified Kingdom within the existing chronology. It is still difficult to estimate which party will be in the right concerning the dating of the Philistine pottery and which consequences this will bear on the new chronology. In any case any revision that moves forward to the present the existing dating is welcome.

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R.M. Porter

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NOTES

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1. J.J.Bimson, The Philistines. Their Origin and Chronology reassessed, JACF IV (1990/91), p. 58-76.

2. J.G. van der Land, Farao's en de Bijbel, Bijbel, Geschiedenis en Archeologie, V, 1998, 4, p. 9-10 on Dor Ashkelon and Ashdod.

3. L. Stager, The Impact of the Sea Peoples, in: T. Levy, The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, London 1995, p. 332-248.

4. R. Drews, The End of the Bronze Age, Princeton 1993, p. 53.

5. I. Finkelstein, The Date of the Settlement of the Philistines in Canaan, Tel Aviv 22, 1995, p. 213-239.

Latest update: april 17 2019