Philistine temple found at Tell es-Safi/Gath

We have commented several times about discoveries from the Tell es-Safi/Gath project. One reason for this is that Prof. Aren Maeir keeps us informed about significant developments  during the excavation season. He also posts good photos suitable for use in teaching.

Gath is important because of several significant biblical accounts.

  • The ark of the covenant was taken to this place by the Philistines – 1 Samuel 5:8.
  • It, along with Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron, was one of the five major cities of the Philistines – 1 Samuel 6:17.
  • Goliath was from Gath – 1 Samuel 17:4.

Prof. Maeir is now confident that he has found a Philistine temple. Let him tell the story:

The first [photo] is a working view of the structure which I believe we can now firmly claim to be a temple! The structure, which has at its center two large pillar bases, and some of the exterior walls, had various cult related objects found in its vicinity. In addition, a metallurgical working area was found right next to it. It should be noted that it is located right under a cultic “corner” of St. A3 (9th cent. BCE). Of interest of course is the similarity to the Philistine temple at Qasile, St. X, with the two pillars in the center of the structure. As noted in the past, this floor plan might be reflected in the Samson story, where the architectural imagery of an Iron Age Philistine temple with two pillars might have served as the background for narrative of Samson standing between two pillars etc. And just to make sure that this is not mis-understood: 1) This does not mean that this story occurred here (in the Bible it occurs in Gaza); 2) And this in itself is not proof that the story happened! Rather, this might reflect a cultural awareness on the part of the biblical story of what a Philistine temple of the early Iron Age might have looked like.

I am including a small photo from the Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavation weblog. You may read the full report and find a hi-res photo here.

Tell es-Safi/Gath Philistine temple with pillar bases. Photo: Bar Ilan U.

The Philistine temple with pillar bases at Tell es-Safi/Gath. Photo: Bar Ilan University.

Perhaps, for the benefit of those who do not read much about archaeology, I should explain that the “St.” above refers to the stratum or layer in which the discovery was made. Stratum A3 is dated to the 9th century B.C.

The discovery of a Philistine temple is exciting because it may provide another illustration to help with a better understanding of the biblical account of Samson in the temple of Dagon at Gaza (Judges 16:23-31). Note these verses:

Samson took hold of the two middle pillars that supported the temple and he leaned against them, with his right hand on one and his left hand on the other. Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” He pushed hard and the temple collapsed on the rulers and all the people in it. He killed many more people in his death than he had killed during his life. (Judges 16:29-30 NET)

We already have one illustration from Tel Qasile where three Philistine temples were found in the first excavation after the founding of the state of Israel. Tel Qasile is situated on the north side of the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv. These temple are said to belong to the 12th-11th centuries B.C. Here is a photo of a portion of the Philistine temple at Tel Qasile.

Philistine Temple at Tel Qasile - Eretz Israel Museum at Tel Aviv U.

Philistine Temple at Tel Qasile. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This temple at Tel Qasile is located on the grounds of the Eretz Israel Museum at Tel Aviv University. More about Tel Qasile at a later time. A photo suitable for teaching is available here.

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