Excavation of Gath Backing the Bible

The news article In Israel, Diggers Unearth the Bible’s Bad Guys is another demonstration of how archeology is backing the Bible.  The Philistine city of Gath (home to the big man, Goliath) is being excavated and evidence is being unearthed that fits with the biblical accounts of the culture during the times of the judges and kings of Israel.  The full article is linked to above, but here are some of the interesting (to me) excerpts:

Close to three millennia ago, Gath was on the frontier between the Philistines, who occupied the Mediterranean coastal plain, and the Israelites, who controlled the inland hills. The city’s most famous resident, according to the Book of Samuel, was Goliath — the giant warrior improbably felled by the young shepherd David and his sling.  The Philistines “are the ultimate other, almost, in the biblical story,” said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation.

Diggers at Gath have also uncovered traces of a destruction of the city in the 9th century B.C., including a ditch and embankment built around the city by a besieging army — still visible as a dark line running across the surrounding hills.  The razing of Gath at that time appears to have been the work of the Aramean king Hazael in 830 B.C., an incident mentioned in the Book of Kings.

Gath’s importance is that the “wonderful assemblage of material culture” uncovered there sheds light on how the Philistines lived in the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., said Seymour Gitin, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and an expert on the Philistines.  That would include the era of the kingdom ruled from Jerusalem by David and Solomon… as described in the Bible. Other Philistine sites have provided archaeologists with information about earlier and later times but not much from that key period.  “Gath fills a very important gap in our understanding of Philistine history,” Gitin said.

The hero Samson, who married a Philistine woman, skirmished with them repeatedly before being betrayed and taken, blinded and bound, to their temple at Gaza. There, the story goes, he broke free and shattered two support pillars, bringing the temple down and killing everyone inside, including himself.  One intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars. Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath have also found shards preserving names similar to Goliath — an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites. These finds show the Philistines indeed used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.  The findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period, Maeir said — the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung at him, but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time,” Maeir said.

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