Delilah’s Betrayal and Samson’s Imprisonment by the Philistines

In Search of the Origins of the Philistines - Part 1

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They would be immortalized as ancient Israel’s worst enemy in the scriptures of the Old Testament. They are the Philistines. Much like the ancient Israelites, the Philistines were strangers to the foreign land of Canaan. Although to date, their origins still remain a mystery. From where did they originate prior to their settlement in Canaan?

The Old Testament may shed a bit of light on this question. It is recorded in both the books of Genesis and Amos that the Philistines were from Caphtor.

Gen. 10:14 ...the Pathrusim, the Casluhim, the Caphtorim, whence the Philistines came forth.

Amo. 9:7 ...But also the Philistines from Caphtor...

Caphtor, also known as Kaptaru or Kaptar in ancient Akkadian sources and Keftiu in ancient Egyptian sources has been generally accepted by modern scholars to be the island of Crete situated in the southern region of the Aegean Sea (Cline, 19). Despite these Biblical references providing us with an answer, it beckons the further question: “How credible of an answer is it?”

Some of our earliest references to the Philistines can be traced as far back as the 12th century BCE in ancient Egypt. It is from an inscription located at a mortuary temple in Medinet Habu, situated on the western side of Thebes in Egypt. Dating to approximately 1150 BCE and commissioned by the Pharaoh Ramesses III, the inscription speaks of the battle and defeat of a confederation of Sea Peoples. In the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the inscription specifically identifies an ethnic group from within this confederation and in opposition to the Egyptians called the P-r-s-t which phonetically renders to the Peleset (Dothan, People of the Sea, 22). This is synonymous to the Hebrew ethnic term given to these same peoples of Pelishtim; that is, the Philistines. The inscription continues to state that after their defeat in the battle that took place in Nile delta region, the Egyptian Pharaoh resettled the Philistines in the land of Canaan to the East. The Philistines would then thrive in this region and establish their Pentapolis; that is, the five sites of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath (Cline, 157). The inscription of Ramesses III provides yet another valuable resource to these Philistines and that is, a clear image of their appearance.

Wall relief of Philistines captives

Wall relief of Philistines captives, mortuary temple of Ramses III, Medinet Habu, Theban Necropolis, Egypt. Photo source: Wikipedia

The battle with Ramesses III took place at a time of great turmoil and change. It was marked by the end of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1200 BCE) and the beginning of the Iron Age. In this period of history, civilizations such as the Mycenaeans (of the Aegean) and the Hittites (of Anatolia) would disappear completely, paving the way for new ethnic groups that would eventually redefine the Western world. As part of the events that took place during this transition, mass migrations would occur as many ethnic groups searched for a new life and new opportunities. Parts of these migrations were recorded by the ancient Egyptians as they labelled these groups collectively as the Sea Peoples, again, the Philistines being one of them.

Ancient Egyptian portrayal of a Philistine

Ancient Egyptian portrayal of a Philistine dating to the reign of Ramesses III. Author’s image. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

So, before settling in Canaan and transforming into the rivals of the Israelites, we can archaeologically trace the Philistines back to Egypt. We still do not have a definitive answer to their origins prior to this. From whence did they come?

Part 2: Traces of the Philistines on the island of Crete

By Petros Koutoupis


Castleden, Rodney. Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete. London: Routledge, 2002. [Print]

Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B . New York: Cambridge UP, 1958. [Print]

Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed . Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014. [Print]

Dothan, Trude. "Queen of the Philistines. BAR Interviews Trude Dothan." Interview by Hershel Shanks. Biblical Archaeology Review Sep/Oct. 2010: 58-64. [Print]

Dothan, Trude and Moshe Dothan. People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines . New York: Macmillion Publishing Company, 1992. [Print]

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh . Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003. [Print]

Karageorghis, Vassos. “Exploring Philistine Origins on the Island of Cyprus.” Biblical Archaeology Review Mar/Apr. 1984: 16-28. [Print]

Ventris, Michael and John Chadwick. Documents in Mycenaean Greek . 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 1973. [Print]

Featured image: ‘Delilah’s Betrayal and Samson’s Imprisonment by the Philistines’ by Joos van Winghe (1544-1603). Image source: Wikipedia


You need to read up on the latest archeological news from the middle east - the ancient Hebrews were NATIVE to Canaan. They are known, from archeological findings for some time now, to have been part of the hodgepodge of peoples in the area. Please don't keep spreading traditional "stories" from the bible. It is woefully incorrect.

pkoutoupis's picture


Thank you for your comment. Although I must reply: Yes and No.

If you follow the work of Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, in his work he has noted inscriptions that identify a group of nomads from the land of YHW (probably Midian):

This nomadic group would eventually wander into the land of Israel and acclimate relatively well with the indiginous population. They would bring with them, their deity and tell their stories. These stories would eventually be adapted and interwovan with native stories to form what we would later refer to as the Torah.

Another point, when we read the following Biblical verses:

"Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel." (Genesis 49:16)

"Dan, why did he remain with the ships?" (Judges 5:17)

It has been suggested that the tribe of Dan may have been part of the coalition of Sea Peoples (people from the Aegean) in conflict with the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramesses III at ca. 1177 BCE. This explains the excerpt from Judges that they were a seafaring peoples. In fact, Professor Allen H. Jones of Montgomery College suggests that in the excerpt from Genesis, Dan will be treated as one of the tribes of Israel even though in fact he is not.

  Either way, archaeology and literary evidence does point that at least some portion of what was to become the Israelites were not native to the Levant.



Petros Koutoupis


Then I submit that the relevant sentence be either altered or deleted, given the complexities you've outlined. If part were native and some smaller part not, the statement is too simplistic to be correct. A direct statement of the Philistines' status as invaders would be simply more correct and more dramatic without involving this convoluted issue at all.

If I've noticed it, others have as well.

pkoutoupis's picture
Thank you again for your interest in my article and follow up comment. I continue to stand by my original statement for the following reasons:
When the Near Eastern world transitioned from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age (i.e. 1200 BCE), a lot of changes were occuring in the Levant; the most important of which was that Egyptian control over the land referred to as Canaan was no more. The Canaanite city-states centered around the palaces of the lowlands were either deserted or destroyed. Early interpretations of this archaeological evidence pointed fingers to Joshua's conquest but more recently this has been dismissed in favor of internal struggles/rebellions. Either way, there was a system failure and the population of the lowlands receded into more isolated communities in the highlands while others chose a more nomadic lifestyle out in the wilderness of the desert.
Our earliest historical reference to a nomadic peoples referred to as "Israel" comes from the Merneptah Stele. I bring this up only because the hieroglyphic text specifically writes of a "foreign peoples", that is nomads without a permanent home or land. Where these nomands originated is still unclear.
At some point after 1200 BCE and before the 10th century BCE (that is the Early Iron Age), these same nomands began to settle down and approximately 250 discovered sites displaying the characteristics and pottery style of early Israelite settlements began to appear in the highlands of Israel. These settlements were of an oval layout which also indicated the pastorial origin of its inhabitants. What was especially unique to these settlements is that they displayed many characteristics foreign to this region and unrelated to the earlier Canaanite settlements.
Anyway, if you haven't already, I highly recommend the works of Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, specifically the research titled: The Bible Unearthed. Here you will find an extremely scientific and thoroughly researched/analyzed approach to the history of the Old Testament. All that I am mentioning here can be found in this book.


Petros Koutoupis


Obviously with such an early date and the lack of many written records this is all very much up to interpretation. Turning it all into a coherent narrative must be difficult but you've done very well.


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