Fausset's Bible Dictionary


See Palestine, which is the same word, and originally meant "the land of the PHILISTINES:" Psa 60:8; Psa 87:4; Psa 108:9.) Caphtorim; Amo 9:7, "the Philistines from Caphtor"; Jer 47:4; Deu 2:23. Gen 10:14 "Casluhim, out of whom came Philistine."  Both came from Mizraim, i.e. Egypt. As in Amos and Jeremiah the Philistines are traced to Caphtor, probably the Casluhim and Caphtorim were tribes which intermingled, the Caphtorim having strengthened the Casluchian colony by immigration; so the Philistines may be said to have come from either (Bochart). Philistia is derived from the Ethiopic falasa "to emigrate," Hebrew palash, "wander." (In the W. of Abyssinia are the Falashas, i.e., emigrants, probably Israelites from Palestine.) Successive emigrations of the same race took place into Philistia, first the Casluhim, then the Caphtorim from both of which came the Philistines, who seemingly were in subjection in Caphtor (the northern delta of Egypt), from whence "Jehovah brought them up" (Amo 9:7).

The objection to the Mizraite origin of the Philistines from their language is answered by the supposition that the Philistine or Caphtorim invaders adopted the language of the Avim whom they conquered (Deu 2:23). Their uncircumcision was due to their having left Egypt at a date anterior to the Egyptians' adoption (Herodotus ii. 36) of circumcision (compare Jer 9:25-26). The Cherethites were probably Caphtorim, the modern Copts. Keratiya in the Philistine country, at the edge of the Negeb or "south country," and now called "castle of the Fenish," i.e. Philistines, is related to the name Cherethites; so "Philistines" is related to "Pelethites." Their immigration to the neighborhood of Gerar in the south country was before Abraham's time, for he deals with them as a pastoral tribe there (Gen 21:32; Gen 21:84; Gen 26:1; Gen 26:8). This agrees with the statement (Deu 2:23) that the Avim dwelt in Hazerim, i.e. in nomadic encampments. By the time of the Exodus the Philistines had become formidable (Exo 13:17; Exo 15:14).

At Israel's invasion of Canaan they had advanced N. and possessed fully the seacoast plain from the river of Egypt (el Arish) to Ekron in the N. (Jos 15:4; Jos 15:47), a confederacy of the five cities (originally Canaanite) Gaza (the leading one), Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron (always put last). Each city had its prince (called seren or sar; Jos 13:3 "lords"): Amo 1:7-8. The opprobrious name given to the shepherd kings, Philition (Herodotus ii. 12) seems related to Philistine. Their plain was famed for its fertility in grain, vines, and olives (Jdg 15:5), so that it was the refuge from times of famine (2Ki 8:2; compare Gen 26:12). It suited war chariots, while the low hills of the shephelah afforded sites for fortresses. Philistia is an undulating plain, 32 miles long, and from nine to 16 broad, from 30 to 300 ft. above the sea. To the E. lie low spurs culminating in hog's backs running N. and S., and rising in places 1,200 ft. above the sea. To the E. of these the descent is steep, about 500 ft., to valleys E. of which the hill country begins.

The sand is gaining on the land, so that one meets often a deep hollow in the sand, and a figtree or apple tree growing at the bottom, or even a house and patch of ground below the sand level. It was the commercial thoroughfare between Phoenicia and Syria on the N. and Egypt and Arabia in the S. Ashdod and Gaza were the keys of Egypt, and the latter was the depot of Arabian produce (Pint., Alex. 25). The term "Canaan" ("merchant") applied to the Philistine land (Zep 2:5) proves its commercial character. They sold Israelites as slaves to Edom and Greece, for which God threatens retribution in kind, and destruction (Amo 1:6-8; Joe 3:3-8). They were skilled as smiths in Saul's days; at the beginning of his reign they had so subjugated Israel as to forbid them to have any smith.  1Sa 13:19-22.

Their images, golden mice, emerods, and armour imply excellence in the arts (1Sa 6:11; 1Sa 17:5-6). They carried their idols with them in war (2Sa 5:21), and published their triumphs in the house of their gods; these were Dagon (Jdg 16:23) , Ashtaroth (1Sa 31:9-10), Baalzebub (2Ki 1:2-6), and Derceto (Diod. Sic. 2:4). (See DAGON.) Their god Dagon was half man and half fish; Derceto was the female deity, with the face of a woman and body of a fish; our mermaid is derived from them. They had priests and diviners (1Sa 6:2), "soothsayers" (Isa 2:6). Their wealth in money was great (Jdg 16:5; Jdg 16:18). They had advanced military posts or garrisons in Israel's land (1Sa 10:5; 1Sa 13:3; 1Sa 13:17); from whence they sent forth spoilers, so that travelers durst not go by the highways (Jdg 5:6), and the Israelites hid from the Philistines in caves, or else fled beyond Jordan (1Sa 13:6-7).

Though the Philistine land was allotted to Israel, it was never permanently occupied (Jos 13:2; Jos 15:2; Jos 15:12; Jos 15:45-47; Jdg 1:18; Jdg 3:5; Jdg 3:31; Jdg 3:13-16). Neither Shamgar nor Samson delivered Israel permanently from the Philistines. The Israelites so lost heart that they in fear of the Philistines bound Samson (Jdg 15:12). The effort to deliver the nation from the Philistines was continued unsuccessfully under Eli (1 Samuel 4), successfully under Samuel (1Sa 7:9-14); Saul (Israel's desire for a king was that he might lead them in war: 1Sa 8:20), 1Sa 8:1 Samuel 13; 14; 17; David (after the disaster at Gilboa: 1 Samuel 31), 2Sa 5:17-25, when they dared to penetrate even to the valley of Rephaim, S.W. of Jerusalem, and to Bethlehem (1Ch 11:16-18; 1Ch 14:8-16), taking their images, and pursuing them to Gazer, then taking Gath and so wresting the supremacy from the Philistines (1Ch 18:1; 2Sa 8:1), so that encounters with the Philistines henceforth were in their own land (2Sa 21:15-22).

Solomon had them tributary (1Ki 4:21-24; compare 1Ki 2:39). The Egyptian Pharaoh took Gezer at the head of the Philistia plain, and gave it as his daughter's marriage portion to Solomon (1Ki 9:16-17); and Solomon fortified it and Bethhoron, to command the passes from the Philistia plain to the central region. At Israel's disruption Rehoboam fortified Gath, etc., against the Philistines (2Ch 11:8). But the Philistines laid hold of Gibbethon commanding the defile leading from Sharon up to Samaria; Israel had a long struggle for its recovery (1Ki 15:27; 1Ki 16:15). The tribute had ceased, only some paid presents to Jehoshaphat (2Ch 17:11). Under Jehoram they invaded Judah (2Ch 21:16-17). Uzziah inflicted a decisive blow on them, dismantling their cities Gath, Ashdod, and Jahneh, and building commanding forts in their land (2Ch 26:6; Amo 6:2).

But under the weak Ahaz the Philistines recovered, and invaded the cities of the low country and S. of Judah, taking Bethshemesh, Ajalon, Gederoth. Shocho, Timnah, and Gimzo: Isa 9:12, "the Syrians before (i.e. from the E., which quarter they faced in marking the points of the compass) and the Philistines behind," i.e. from the W. (2Ch 28:18.) Isaiah (Isa 14:29-32) warns Philistia, "rejoice not because the rod of him (Uzziah) that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent's (as the Philistines regarded Uzziah) root shall come forth a cockatrice," i.e. a more deadly adder, namely, Hezekiah (2Ki 18:8), "and the firstborn of the poor (i.e. the most abject poor, Hebraism; the Jews heretofore exposed to Philistia's invasions and oppression) shall feed in safety." Hezekiah had Egypt for his ally in resisting Assyria, possibly also in subduing the Philistines. Hence Sargon's annals (Bunsen, Eg. 4:603) term Gaza and Ashkelon "Egyptian cities." His general Tartan took Ashdod, as key of Egypt (Isa 20:1-5).

The Assyrians fortified it so strongly that it stood a 29 years' siege under Psammetichus (Herodot. 2:157). Sennacherib took Ashkelon, and gave part of Hezekiah's land as a reward to Ashdod, Gaza, and Ekron for their submission (Rawlinson 1:477). After the Babylonian captivity (Eze 25:15-17) the Philistines vented their "old hatred" on the Jews, for which God as He foretold "executed vengeance on them with furious rebukes, and destroyed the remnant," namely, by Psammetichus, Necho (Jer 25:20), and Nebuchadnezzar who overran their cities on his way to Egypt (Jeremiah 47), and finally by Alexander the Great, as foretold (Zec 9:5-6, "the king shall perish from Gaza"; Alexander bound Betis the satrap to his chariot by thongs thrust through his feet, and dragged round the city; the conqueror slew 10,000, and sold the rest as slaves: Zep 2:4-5). At Medinet Haboo there are sculptures representing Philistine prisoners and warriors and ships attacked by Egyptians (Rosellini). They used sometimes to burn their prisoners alive (Jdg 15:6; Psa 78:63). Their speech differed from the Jews' language (Neh 13:23-24).


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)