Philis’tines (immigrants). The origin of the Philistines is nowhere expressly stated in the Bible; but as the prophets describe them as “the Philistines from Caphtor,” Amos 9:7, and “the remnant of the maritime district of Caphtor,” Jer. 47:4, it is primaÆ facie probable that they were the “Caphtorim which came out of Caphtor” who expelled the Avim from their territory and occupied it in their place, Deut. 2:23; and that these again were the Caphtorim mentioned in the Mosaic genealogical table among the descendants of Mizraim. Gen. 10:14. It has been generally assumed that Caphtor represents Crete, and that the Philistines migrated from that island, either directly or through Egypt, into Palestine. But the name Caphtor is more probably identified with the Egyptian Coptos. [Caphtor.]
History.—The Philistines must have settled in the land of Canaan before the time of Abraham; for they are noticed in his day as a pastoral tribe in the neighborhood of Gerar. Gen. 21:32, 34; 26:1, 8. Between the times of Abraham and Joshua the Philistines had changed their quarters, and had advanced northward into the plain of Philistia. The Philistines had at an early period attained proficiency in the arts of peace. Their wealth was abundant, Judges 16:5, 18, and they appear in all respects to have been a prosperous people. Possessed of such elements of power, they had attained in the time of the judges an important position among eastern nations. About b.c. 1200 we find them engaged in successful war with the Sidonians. Justin xviii. 3. The territory of the Philistines, having been once occupied by the Canaanites, formed a portion of the promised land, and was assigned to the tribe of Judah. Josh. 15:2, 12, 45-47. No portion of it, however, was conquered in the lifetime of Joshua, Josh. 13:2, and even after his death no permanent conquest was effected, Judges 3:3, though we are informed that the three cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron were taken. Judges 1:18. The Philistines soon recovered these, and commenced an aggressive policy against the Israelites, by which they gained a complete ascendency over them. Individual heroes were raised up from time to time, such as Shamgar the son of Anath, Judges 3:31, and still more Samson, Judges 13-16–16; but neither of these men succeeded in permanently throwing off the yoke. The Israelites attributed their past weakness to their want of unity, and they desired a king, with the special object of leading them against the foe. 1 Sam. 8:20. Saul threw off the yoke; and the Philistines were defeated with great slaughter at Geba. 1 Sam. 13:3. They made no attempt to regain their supremacy for about twenty-five years, and the scene of the next contest shows the altered strength of the two parties. It was no longer in the central country, but in a ravine leading down to the Philistine plain, the valley of Elah, the position of which is about 14 miles southwest of Jerusalem. On this occasion the prowess of young David secured success to Israel, and the foe was pursued to the gates of Gath and Ekron. 1 Sam. 17. The power of the Philistines was, however, still intact on their own territory. The border warfare was continued. The scene of the next conflict was far to the north, in the valley of Esdraelon. The battle on this occasion proved disastrous to the Israelites; Saul himself perished, and the Philistines penetrated across the Jordan and occupied the forsaken cities. 1 Sam. 31:1-7. On the appointment of David to be king, he twice attacked them, and on each occasion with signal success, in the first case capturing their images, in the second pursuing them “from Geba until thou come to Gazer.” 2 Sam. 5:17-25; 1 Chron. 14:8-16. Henceforth the Israelites appear as the aggressors. About seven years after the defeat at Rephaim, David, who had now consolidated his power, attacked them on their own soil, and took Gath with its dependencies. The whole of Philistia was included in Solomon’s empire. Later, when the Philistines, joined by the Syrians and Assyrians, made war on the kingdom of Israel, Hezekiah formed an alliance with the Egyptians, as a counterpoise to the Assyrians, and the possession of Philistia became henceforth the turning-point of the struggle between the two great empires of the East. The Assyrians under Tartan, the general of Sargon, made an expedition against Egypt, and took Ashdod, as the key of that country. Isa. 20:1, 4, 5. Under Sennacherib Philistia was again the scene of important operations. The Assyrian supremacy was restored by Esarhaddon, and it seems probable that the Assyrians retained their hold on Ashdod until its capture, after a long siege, by Psammetichus. It was about this time that Philistia was traversed by a vast Scythian horde on their way to Egypt. The Egyptian ascendency was not as yet re-established, for we find the next king, Necho, compelled to besiege Gaza on his return from the battle of Megiddo. After the death of Necho the contest was renewed between the Egyptians and the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, and the result was specially disastrous to the Philistines. The “old hatred” that the Philistines bore to the Jews was exhibited in acts of hostility at the time of the Babylonish captivity, Ezek. 25:15-17; but on the return this was somewhat abated, for some of the Jews married Philistian women, to the great scandal of their rulers. Neh. 13:23, 24. From this time the history of Philistia is absorbed in the struggles of the neighboring kingdoms. The latest notices of the Philistines as a nation occur in 1 Macc. 3–5.
Institutions, religion, etc.—With regard to the institutions of the Philistines our information is very scanty. The five chief cities had, as early as the days of Joshua, constituted themselves into a confederacy, restricted however, in all probability, to matters of offence and defence. Each was under the government of a prince, Josh. 13:3; Judges 3:3, etc.; 1 Sam. 18:30; 29:6, and each possessed its own territory. The Philistines appear to have been deeply imbued with superstition: they carried their idols with them on their campaigns, 2 Sam. 5:21, and proclaimed their victories in their presence. 1 Sam. 31:9. The gods whom they chiefly worshipped were Dagon, Judges 16:23; 1 Sam. 5:3-5; 1 Chron. 10:10; 1 Macc. 10:83, Ashtaroth, 1 Sam. 31:10; Herod. i. 105, and Baalzebub. 2 Kings 1:2-6.