Biblical Archaeology Review 32:2, March/April 2006

Strata: New Finds

Gath Inscription Evidences Philistine Assimilation

The oldest Philistine inscription ever discovered was recently excavated in Goliath’s home town of Gath (Tel es-Safi) by an expedition headed by Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University.

The inscription was scratched with a needle-like instrument on a small potsherd and dates from the tenth to mid-ninth century B.C.E. Of the two names on the sherd, the first consists of four Semitic letters: אלות, which Maeir says may be the equivalent of the name Goliath. Although it was written with Semitic letters, the name is apparently Philistine. The Philistines were a people who originally came from the area around the Aegean Sea and who probably spoke an Indo-European language, possibly similar to ancient Greek. When they migrated to the coast of modern Israel, they gradually adopted aspects of Semitic culture, including the alphabet, but retained their own Philistine names and some aspects of their Philistine language.

Maeir stresses that the Goliath of the inscription from Gath is not the Biblical Goliath. Most scholars regard the Goliath story as legend rather than history. The inscription does, however, give a real-life context to the story, and it demonstrates that the name Goliath was probably in circulation in Gath about a century or so after the legendary battle between David and Goliath, according to the Biblical chronology.

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