Tel Batash in the Shephelah is a bewildering and fascinating archaeological site. Excavations there have revealed an Iron Age city that scholars have identified as biblical Timnah. Yet this identification doesn’t tell us who the people were in Timnah or how to delineate them from others. Neither textual nor archaeological sources seem to provide clear answers.
The site is close to the so-called Philistine cities of Gath (Tell eṣ-Ṣafi) and Ekron (Tel Miqne) in the Shephelah, the low hills between the highlands to the east and the coastal plain to the west. According to archaeologists, for much of the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.E.), the Shephelah was a region where different people interacted and coexisted. These people are labeled in the Bible as Philistines, Canaanites, Israelites, and Judahites, but it seems that their identities were more fluid than the names we have for them. There is no clear consensus on how to reconstruct or label peoples in this border region. So the only categories we have come from ancient texts.1