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Uncovered walls and gate, Tel Zafit National Park, Israel (Archaeology )

Massive Gate May Have Been the Entrance to Biblical City of Gath

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Archaeologists have discovered the tops of fortified walls and a massive entrance gate in Tel Zafit National Park dating back to the Iron Age and may have been the entrance to the biblical city of Gath, the home city of Goliath. The remnants of the large settlement were found within a large mound called Tell es-Safi, which is the largest such mound in Israel. Other buildings have also been discovered at the site, including a temple and a facility used to produce iron implements. Pottery found near the entrance gate resembles that known to have been used by the Philistines but also shows influence of Israeli culture.

The team of archaeologists, led by Professor Aren Maeir of the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition, were digging a trench at the site, seeking the city’s fortifications, when they found the top of the massive gate. It may take several more seasons for the scientists to uncover it all completely due to the size. Only the top surface is visible at present, but the team believes the walls were huge judging by the size and shape of stones.

 “We knew that Philistine Gath in the tenth to ninth century BC was a large city, perhaps the largest in the land at that time” said Professor Maeir speaking to Live Science. “These monumental fortifications stress how large and mighty this city was.”

Illustration depicting the tomb of Jonas at ancient Gath (Wikimedia Commons)

Illustration depicting the tomb of Jonas at ancient Gath (Wikimedia Commons)

Gath was occupied until the 9th century BC and Tell es-Safi for nearly 5,000 years, being finally abandoned in 1948 when the Palestines left the village. Archaeologists have been investigating the site since 1899 but it’s only been during the last few decades that experts have started to realize just how large these ancient remains are. The city gate at Gath is mentioned in the biblical book of Solomon:

“That day David fled from Saul and went to Achish king of Gath. But the servants of Achish said to him, ‘Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands?’ David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So he pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

1 Solomon 21:10-12

The Philistines were constant enemies of the Israelites, according to biblical stories. Their country bordered Israel and Judah. Goliath was the giant Philistine warrior killed by the legendary David with a sling stone.

David with the head of Goliath, Andrea Vaccaro (1635) (Wikimedia Commons)

David with the head of Goliath, Andrea Vaccaro (1635) (Wikimedia Commons)

A statement released by the university says that the team has found evidence of Philistine temples dating to the 11th through 9th century BC. There is also evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BC, possibly related to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos 1:1.

There is also a decipherable Philistine inscription which may be the earliest yet uncovered and featuring two names similar to that of Goliath. There are remains of a siege system which may also be the earliest yet discovered, constructed by King Hazael of Aram Damascus who destroyed the city in 830 BC. Finally, there is also the remains of the crusader castle “Blanche Garde” which is known to have been visited by King Richard the Lion Heart at one point.

Professor Maeir said that the team still has a lot of cleaning, defining, digging and measuring to do but that there are really good chances of quite an astounding find.  

Featured Image: Uncovered walls and gate, Tel Zafit National Park, Israel (Archaeology)

By Robin Whitlock



We should not make the mistake of thinking (as some researchers have done) that Just because Gath was thriving that this is an indication that David's kingdom was puny. In fact, it could be argued that a flourishing Gath was evidence of the United Kingdom of Israel's greatness. The Scriptures seem to show that the prosperity of Gath was dependent upon King David's benevolence.

Before David fought Goliath, they made a pact, whoever would win the fight would earn the loyalty of the loser's warriors:

"And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, ... And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, ... choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants:" (1st Samuel 17:4-9).

Upon Goliath's defeat, the Gittite soldiers that fought for him, became David's servants. David found asylum among the Gittites as he fought against Saul. Saul would have destroyed Gath if he could but, David used Gittites as his ally in the civil war against Saul. When Saul was killed David owed a debt to the Philistines (It's true that the Scriptures seem to go out of their way to downplay this fact but, it is apparent.).

When David took Jerusalem, Gittites made up a large part of the city's aristocracy and, they were very loyal to King David. When the Saul faction tried to make a comeback and revolted backing David's son Absalom, the Gittites helped David to regain his supremacy:

"And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; ... And all his servants passed on beside him; ... all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king. Then said the king to Ittai the Gittite, Wherefore goest thou also with us? ... And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be." (2nd Samuel 15:14-21).

No doubt the relations between the kingdom of David and the city of Gath were not so inimical as later Scriptural editors made it seem and, it really is no surprise that Gath was allowed to thrive during the period. The size of the city probably is no reflection on the might of David's kingdom, all things considered.

Robin Whitlock's picture

Robin Whitlock

Robin Whitlock is a British freelance journalist with numerous interests, particularly archaeology and the history of the ancient world, an interest that developed in childhood. He has numerous published magazine articles to his credit on a variety of subjects, including... Read More

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