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When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon, Lawrence E. Stager, BAR 17:02, Mar-Apr 1991.

Canannite Fortifications of AshkelonAshkelon. The summer of 1990. The sixth season of the Leon Levy Expedition, sponsored by the Harvard Semitic Museum. In the waning days of the season, on the outskirts of the Canaanite city, we excavated an exquisitely crafted statuette of a silver calf, a religious icon associated with the worship of El or Baal in Canaan and, later, with the Israelite God, Yahweh. The calf lay buried in the debris on the ancient rampart that had protected the city in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1550 B.C.).

The calf was housed in a pottery vessel in the shape of a miniature religious shrine, which itself had been placed in one of the storerooms of a sanctuary on the slope shortly before the destruction of the seaport in about 1550 B.C. The date is secure. Other pottery found in the sanctuary dates to the terminal phase of the Middle Bronze Age (MB IIC, c. 1600–1550 B.C.).

A merchant approaching the Canaanite city from the Mediterranean on the road leading up from the sea would have been dwarfed by the imposing earthworks and towering fortifications on the northern slope of the city. About 300 feet along his ascent from the sea, he might have paused to make an offering at the Sanctuary of the Silver Calf, just off the roadway to the right—nestled in the lower flank of the rampart. Farther up the road to the east, the merchant would have entered the vast metropolis of Ashkelon through the city gate on the north.

The silver calf was nearly complete and assembled when we found it. Only one horn was missing, and only the right foreleg was detached from the rest of the body. Less than 4.5 inches long and 4 inches high, the calf nevertheless weighs nearly a pound (14 oz.). It is a superb example of Canaanite metalwork. The delicate and naturalistic rendering of the features leave no doubt about the quality of the craftsmanship—or about the age and sex of the small animal- It is a young male calf, yet old enough to have developed horns. The body is made of bronze; only 2 to 5 percent is tin, the rest, copper. It was cast solid, except for the horns, ears and tail and the right foreleg and left hindleg. These two legs were cast separately and joined to the rest of the calf by tenons (projections) and riveted in place. The sole surviving horn, the ears and the tail were made of forged coppera and inserted into the body. Tenons also extended below the hooves. These were obviously used to mount the statuette on a small platform or dais, which perished or disappeared in antiquity. The calf was once completely covered with a thick overleaf of pure silver. Deep grooves running along the back and underside of its bronze body and around its neck still contain remnants of the silver sheet. Some of the silver overleaf has also survived on the legs, head and tail.

The ceramic model shrine that housed the calf is a cylinder with a beehive roof. It has a knob on top of the roof and a flat bottom. A doorway raised slightly above the floor is just large enough for the calf to pass through. Hinge scars on the door jambs indicate where a separate clay door had once been fitted into place.

The silver calf was just one of the many splendors of Ashkelon during this period, the apex of Canaanite culture in the Levant. During the first half of the second millennium B.C., Askhelon was one of the largest and richest seaports in the Mediterranean. Its massive ramparts formed an arc of earthworks extending over a mile and a half and enclosing a city of more than 150 acres, with probably 15,000 inhabitants, nestled beside the sea. On the north side of the city, where we excavated, the gates and fortifications had been rebuilt at least four times during the 150 years of the Middle Bronze IIB-C periods (1700–1550 B.C.).

This magnificent city was probably destroyed by the Egyptians in the aftermath of the “Hyksos expulsion.” The Hyksos were an Asiatic people, probably Canaanites (some of whom might have originated in Ashkelon), who had imposed Canaanite hegemony over much of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650–1550 B.C.), until the Egyptians managed to expel them forcibly, pursuing them back into Canaan.

The silver calf from Ashkelon is a very early, rare example of bovine iconography in metal. Bull or calf symbolism expressed in metal and other media was associated with El or Baal, leading deities in the Canaanite pantheon. This tradition provided the progenitors of later Biblical iconography that linked Yahweh, the Israelite God, with golden and silver calf-images.

During their formative period (before about 1200 B.C.), the early Israelites borrowed heavily from Canaanite culture, even while, at the same time, they distanced themselves from their neighbors. When, in about 925 B.C. the kingdom split in two, with Israel in the north and Judah in the south, Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom installed “golden calves” in the official sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. The association of Yahweh with such images was obviously acceptable there. However, prophets like Hosea and rival priests from Jerusalem (the capital of the southern kingdom) condemned calf symbolism as idolatry. The words of Hosea not only provide us with a polemic against calf iconography, they also tell us how these images were made and how they were revered-
“Ephraim [the northern kingdom] was …guilty of Baal-worship; he suffered death. Yet now they sin more and more; they cast for themselves images; they use their silver to make idols, all fashioned by craftsmen. It is said of Ephraim- ‘They offer human sacrifices and kiss calf-images’” (Hosea 13-1–2, Revised English Bible).

With but this taste of Canaanite Ashkelon, let us pass on to Philistine Ashkelon. That is the Ashkelon of the Bible.

Both Biblical and cuneiform texts make it clear that Ashkelon was a Philistine city during most of the Iron Age (c. 1200–586 B.C.). During that time it was a member of the famous Philistine Pentapolisb that also included Ekron, Gaza, Gath and Ashdod. When the Philistines (or an earlier vanguard of their ethnic tradition) arrived in coastal Canaan is a hotly debated issue, to which we will return later.

In 604 B.C. Ashkelon, like its sister-city Ekron, was destroyed by King Nebuchadrezzar (also called Nebuchadnezzar) and his neo-Babylonian army. Less than 20 years later (in 586 B.C.) Nebuchadrezzar would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple built by King Solomon.

The last Philistine king of Ashkelon, Aga’, and his sons, as well as sailors and various nobles, were exiled to Babylon, just as many Jews were after the fall of Jerusalem. Unlike the Jews, however, we hear nothing about the return of the Philistines to their native land. Those that remained behind later lost their ethnic identity, although the region they once occupied and dominated culturally, was still identified as Philistia, or Palestine, by the Romans hundreds of years later; today, many Arabs call themselves Palestinians, echoing their Philistine namesakes of the distant past.

When my predecessor at Ashkelon, the British archaeologist John Garstang, readied his expedition in 1920, he supposed that Philistine Ashkelon was a comparatively small site, occupying only the south mound known as al-Hadra, a mere 15 acres. He had no idea that, even there, the Philistine cities lay buried under 12 to 15 feet of later civilizations. Digging from the top of the mound, Garstang soon despaired of ever reaching anything earlier than the Hellenistic period. After two seasons of excavation (1920–1921), he abandoned Ashkelon for a less complicated site.

During that same two-season period, however, Garstang’s young assistant, W. Phythian-Adams was rather more clever. He succeeded in locating both earlier Philistine and Canaunite levels.

Phythian-Adams nibbled away at the north (Grid 38) and west (between Grids 50 and 57) sides of al-Hadra with two step trenches. These small-scale excavations documented a continuous sequence of occupation from about 2000 B.C. (beginning of Middle Bronze IIA) to the modern era. Unfortunately, Phythian-Adams recorded the location of these two step trenches, one no bigger than a telephone booth, only by the designation of the plot number on the official Ottoman land registry. These numbers identify fields approximately 300 feet long. Nevertheless, it was our very good fortune to have established our two main trenches next to his during our opening season. Once we discovered this, we were reassured that here Iron and Bronze Age levels lay below later cultural remains.

What we did not know, until last season, was how big Philistine Ashkelon really was. Over 2,000 feet north of al-Hadra, we found Philistine fortifications—a massive mudbrick tower 34 feet by 20 feet and a huge glacis-typec rampart. These protected a Philistine seaport not of 15 acres, but of over 150 acres. These fortifications were built in about 1150 B.C. Ashkelon, like Ekron and Ashdod (also recently excavated), was a large, heavily fortified city of the Philistines. Farther north at Dor, a city of the Sikils (according to the Egyptian “Tale of Wen-Amon”), excavations have revealed not only the Sea Peoples’ harbor but also their fortifications and glacis of the 12th century B.C.1

In contrast to the Israelites, especially the rustic ridgedwellers of the central hill country, the Philistines of the plain appear to have been far more urbane and sophisticated, thus belying the dictionary definition of a Philistine as a person who is lacking in or smugly indifferent to culture and aesthetic refinement. This negative portrayal derives ultimately from the Bible, of course, written by bitter enemies of the Philistines. When the early Israelites were using coarse, unpainted pottery, for example, the Philistines were already decorating their pottery with imaginative bichrome motifs and figures, such as fishes and birds.

Our staff zoo-archaeologists, Dr. Paula Wapnish and Professor Brian Hesse of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, have begun to document a rather dramatic shift in domesticated species at the end of the Late Bronze Age (13th century B.C.) and the beginning of the Iron Age (12th century B.C.). The shift is from sheep and goats to pigs and cattle. This shift occurred at Ashkelon and other coastal sites, but not in the central highland villages of the same period dominated by Israelites—settlements like Ai, Raddana and Ebal.2 From a strictly ecological perspective, this seems surprising. The oak-pine-and-terebinth woodlands that dominated the central hill country of Canaan, where the earliest Israelite settlements of about 1200 B.C. are to be found, are ideally suited for pig production, especially because of the shade and acorns. One reason why such a hog-acorn economy did not thrive in the early Israelite environment must ultimately be rooted in very early religious taboos that forbade the consumption of pork. If so, these findings would nullify the hypothesis of anthropologist Marvin Harris that “kosher” rules can be explained primarily by ecological considerations.3 These findings would also contradict those scholars who argue for a much later date for the introduction of these dietary restrictions.

As noted earlier, when the Philistines arrived on the coast of Canaan is still a vexed question, although it is becoming increasingly clear where they came from. Two leading experts in the definition of Philistine culture, Professors Trude and Moshe Dothan, have argued that a generation before the Philistines themselves arrived, a pre-Philistine group of Sea Peoples landed on the coast of Canaan. The arrival of the Philistines is marked, in their view, by the appearance in Canaan of what has become known as Philistine bichrome ware, a distinctive red and black decorated pottery. An earlier monochrome pottery has been identified by them with an earlier generation of pre-Philistine Sea Peoples.4

Unlike the Dothans, I believe this earlier monochrome pottery indicates the earliest phase of Philistine settlement in southern Canaan, just as it serves as the hallmark of new groups of Sea Peoples settling all along the Levantine coast and in Cyprus in the first half of the 12th century B.C. Trude Dothan has provided us with a detailed typology of the hybrid pottery style known as Philistine bichrome ware. Her analysis leaves little doubt that this distinctive red and black decorated pottery, as well as many of its shapes and motifs, derives ultimately from the Mycenaean Greek world, with more limited inspiration from Cypriot, Egyptian and Canaanite sources. However, recent excavations at three of the five members of the Philistine Pentapolis—Ashdod, Ekron (Tel Miqne) and now Ashkelon—indicate the direct antecedent of this bichrome ware was a monochrome pottery even closer to Mycenaean Greek pottery prototypes than the bichrome ware.5 Moreover, the monochrome pottery was made in Canaan, as we know from the clays.

At Ashkelon in Grid 38 (lower) we have documented stratigraphically the sequence from monochrome ware (Mycenaean IIIC-1) to bichrome ware (Philistine). Beneath the floors of a large public building with thick stone column drums was an earlier building. On its floor lay the earliest Philistine pottery yet discovered at Ashkelon; carinated bowls with strap handles and bell-shaped bowls, decorated with monochrome antithetic spirals, horizontal bands, net-patterned lozenges and tongue and wing motifs on the exterior and with horizontal bands and spirals on the interior.

When did the Philistines arrive en masse on the shores of Canaan? An early contingent of Sea Peoples fought with the Libyans against the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (1212–1202 B.C.), as we know from the famous Merneptah Stele, but the Peleset, or Philistines, were not among them. Merneptah quelled another revolt in 1207 B.C., also recorded on the Merneptah Stele, led by the Canaanites of Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam and the Israelites. That there were Canaanites, rather than Sea Peoples, in Ashkelon at this time is shown by wall reliefs once assigned to Ramesses II—now properly dated to his son Merneptah—apparently depicting his Canaanite campaign.d The people inside the ramparts of Ashkelon are depicted in these reliefs as Canasnites, not as Sea Peoples. Moreover, at that time Mycenaean and Cypriot pottery was still being imported into the Levant. So the Sea Peoples apparently did not arrive in Canaan until after the reign of Merneptah.6

Not until the reign of Ramesses III (1182–1151 B.C.) do we find the locally made Mycenaean-style pottery in the Levant diverging from the earlier and purer Mycenaean prototypes. This reflects a change from trade items coming from comparatively few production centers in the Mediterranean world to locally manufactured pottery at a number of regional centers.

In his famous inscription known as the “War Against the Sea Peoples,” Ramesses III describes the Philistine approach to Canaan and his subsequent victory over them. He refers to the Philistines by their name as written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, “Peleset.” In accompanying reliefs on the walls of the temple at Medinet Habu, Ramesses III depicts the Philistines, as well as other well-armed Sea Peoples. These reliefs date to about 1175 B.C. These Philistines should be identified with the monochrome pottery that appears in Canaan at about this time.

In short, although Philistine bichrome ware was once thought to herald the arrival of the Philistines early in the reign of Ramesses III (c. 1180–1175), it now appears that the bichrome pottery was dated a bit too early. The monochrome pottery that appears a generation earlier actually marks the first appearance of the Philistines in Canaan, during the reign of Ramesses III.7

A closer look at this pottery will also help solve the riddle of Philistine origins.

When tested by neutron activation analysis,e the early monochrome Mycenaean IIIC pottery proved to have been made from local clays, whether at Ashdod and Ekron in Philistia or at Enkomi, Kition and Old Paphos on Cyprus.8 Almost none of it was imported. Although we must always be cautious about inferring new peoples from pots, I think it can be argued in this case that when this locally made Mycenaean pottery appears in quantity in the eastern Mediterranean, it indeed marks the arrival of the Sea Peoples. Their path of destruction along the eastern Mediterranean coast can be traced from Cilicia, in southwest Turkey, at such sites as Miletus and Tarsus, to the Amuq (or Plains of Antioch), south to Ibn Hani (the seaside resort of the kings of Ugarit in the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.), in Syria; farther south to coastal Canaan at Acco; and on down the coast through Philistia.9

As these groups of peoples migrated throughout the eastern Mediterranean coast, their potters no longer shared a common tradition. Thus, it makes little sense to try to put the Mycenaean IIIC styles into an interregional sequence, since local styles quickly diverged from a common template, influenced as they were by very different local surroundings.10

When the Philistines first arrived in southern Canaan (c. 1175 B.C.), they made Mycenaean-style pottery using the local clays. Later, in about 1150 B.C., they assimilated Canaanite, Egyptian and other motifs, making the hybrid that archaeologists have for years called “Philistine” pottery. Perhaps we should now call it second-generation Philistine pottery. In fact, the Philistines arrived on the coast and settled in the Pentapolis a generation or more before the production of the bichrome pottery that bears their name.

What we have outlined archaeologically and dated to the early part of Pharaoh Ramesses III’s reign is described in very vivid terms by Ramesses III himself in his “War Against the Sea Peoples”-
“Dateline- Year 8 under the Majesty of Ramesses III [c. 1175 B.C.]- …The foreign countries [Sea Peoples] made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode [Cilicia], Carchemish, Arzawa and Alashiya [Cyprus] on, being cut off at [one time]. A camp [was set up] in one place in Amor [Amurru]. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation [of Sea Peoples] was the Philistines, Tjeker [=Sikils], Shekelesh, Denye(n) and Weshesh lands united.”11

As a logical inference from the archaeological evidence, we may add the following- If the makers of the local monochrome Mycenaean pottery (IIIC-1) settling along the coast from Cilicia in Anatolia to Cyprus and Israel are not Mycenaean Greeks themselves, then we must conclude that they studied their potmaking in Mycenaean workshops. And then they somehow convinced all of their “barbarian” consumers that this pot tery was what they should use. Throwing caution to the wind, I am willing to reject these possibilities and state flatly that the Sea Peoples, including the Philistines, were Mycenaean Greeks.

I am willing to speculate even further- When we do discover Philistine texts at Ashkelon or elsewhere in Philistia (and it’s only a matter of time until this happens), those texts will be in Mycenaean Greek (that is, in Linear B or some related script). At that moment, we will be able to recover another lost civilization for world history.

We partially excavated two public buildings that were used in both the monochrome and bichrome phases of the Philistine occupation of Ashkelon. These two public buildings produced more than 150 enigmatic artifacts—thick cylinders of unbaked clay, slightly pinched at the waist. More than one row of these cylinders were found lying on the floors of both buildings. Whatever the function of these cylinders, it appears that the same type of activity was carried on in both the monochrome and bichrome phases of these 12th-century B.C. buildings.

As we were excavating these strange cylinders at Ashkelon, at nearby Tel Miqne (which the excavators identify as the Philistine city of Ekron) the diggers were finding the same strange objects at their site. Could they be tablets prepared for inscribing? Would we be able to find the first real evidence of Philistine writing? At both Ashkelon and Miqne, the dig directors eagerly tried to find the first signs of Philistine writings on these unbaked “tablets.” But, alas, not a trace was found!

We then shifted to a more banal reading of the evidence. The alignment of the clay cylinders next to walls suggested that they had been dropped from vertical looms. Yet they looked unlike any loomweights we had ever seen. They were unperforated; Levantine loomweights had holes through which the vertical strand of thread from the loom was attached.

Egon Lass, research associate and grid supervisor, finally solved the mystery. His job includes systematically collecting samples from every square yard of excavated floors or surfaces at Ashkelon, and then wetsieving them. In this way, Lass discovered that occupational debris from the floors with the strange, lined-up clay cylinders contained concentrations of fibers, fibers that could not be detected with the naked eye during excavation, but that appeared only after wet-sieving. Since these cylinders were associated with the weaving industry, they probably were loomweights. The thread was tied around the pinched waist, which was why they were not perforated with holes.

This homely clue looms (forgive the pun) large for determining the cultural homeland of the Philistines and other Sea Peoples.

To the pottery evidence, we can now add the even more persuasive evidence of the lowly loomweights found in abundance at both Ashkelon and Miqne-Ekron. Surely these artifacts made of unbaked clay, yet quite different from the local Levantine perforated type, were not imported from abroad, but were made and used by immigrant weavers.

In this same period (early 12th century B.C.), Achaeans or Mycenaeans are thought to have arrived en masse on Cyprus (Alashiya).f At two of the Cypriot settlements, Kition and Enkomi, this same type of unperforated loomweight (or “reels” as the excavators there called them) were found in abundance (along with the perforated Levantine ones) in rooms where weaving was being done. The most striking evidence for the origin of the Philistines and other Sea Peoples, however, is the appearance of cylindrical unperforated loomweights in the Mycenaean homeland itself, at centers such as Tiryns, Pylos and Mycenae. When the great archaeological pioneer Heinrich Schliemann was digging at Mycenae, he found numerous cylinders of unbaked clay, but was puzzled about what they were used for. By the time he finished work at Tiryns, where they were also quite common, he rightly surmised that “apparently they were used as weights for looms.”12 In this as in so many other instances, we have learned to take Schliemann’s hunches seriously.

Another clue to the Greek connection is the name of one of the Sea Peoples mentioned in Ramesses III’s inscription, the Denyen, who have often been equated with the Danaoi of Homeric tradition. The latter term, frequent in the Iliad, is used interchangeably in Homer with “Achaeans,” who were, of course, the Greeks.

Despite this Greek connection with Danaoi and the archaeological evidence of Philistines in Canaan, scholars have been hesitant to identify all the Sea Peoples with the Mycenaean Greeks. The Greeks are usually considered a minor constituent of the “barbarian” hordes that comprised the Sea Peoples. Modern connotations of “Philistine” (inspired, no doubt, by Biblical pejoratives) have not put scholars in a frame of mind that allows easy acceptance of these Sea People “barbarians” as elevated Greeks. But that is what the archaeology suggests. Nor has our uphringing in the classics helped; indeed it has probably hindered us from recognizing that the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey—the “good guys”—just might be akin to the “bad guys”—namely, the Sea Peoples.

According to Greek epic traditions, which give us the same story from the Greek perspective, some time after the Trojan War (the most widely accepted traditional date for the fall of Troy is about 1183 B.C.), several heroes were celebrated as shipwrecked wanderers trying desperately to return home to mainland Greece. The classic homecoming story is the Odyssey. Before Menelaus (who started the whole thing when he married Helen of Troy) returned to his native Sparta after the war, he wandered to Cyprus, Phoenicia, Egypt and Libya. During these difficult, but lucrative, wanderings, Menelaus accumulated much wealth, including such sumptuous items as “two silver bathtubs, and a pair of tripods, and ten talents of gold”—all given to him as “gifts” (however reluctantly) by an Egyptian from Thebes (Odyssey IV, 128–129).13

Odysseus himself, the hero of the Odyssey, got into trouble in Egypt, when Zeus “put it into [Odysseus’] head to go with roving pirates to Egypt.” Odysseus’ roguish companions plundered the fields of the Egyptians, captured women and children and killed the men. But the Egyptians did not sit idly by; they mounted a counterattack. According to the Odyssey, many of the Greek pirates were killed; others were led into captivity and made to work at forced labor. Luckily, Odysseus (for some unstated reason) was sent to Cyprus (Odyssey XVII, 425–445)

The adventures of Odysseus were still celebrated in Ashkelon in the Roman period, as I realized after piecing together what little remained of a pottery mold for making plaques. The mold depicted a warrior with spear and shield in hand standing before the mast. Below him were oarsmen and, to his right, a steersman. The key to the scene, however, is the tail of some kind of sea monster that whips up beside the defending warrior. The scene on the mold recalls the hair-raising episode of Odysseus and the six-headed sea monster Scylla (or Skylla) described in the Odyssey (Book XII, 80ff.). Shortly before six of his men were devoured by Scylla, Odysseus ordered his crew to “Sit well, all of you, to your oarlocks, and dash your oars deep into the breaking surf of the water, so in that way Zeus might grant that we get clear of this danger and flee away from it. For you, steersman, I have this order; so store it deeply in your mind, as you control the steering oar of this hollow ship…” The visual imprint of Homer’s words lay before us in this terra-cotta mold, with oarsmen and steersman clearly depicted but in Roman style of the first or second century A.D. The story was apparently celebrated in Ashkelon by people who still recalled their Greek heritage hundreds of years later.

Greek legends preserve many “homecoming” stories. In one of these epics (the fragmentary Nostoi14) some of the Greek heroes never make it back home after the Trojan War. Instead, they wander about the eastern Mediterranean, often with large followings of refugees, founding cities as they go. These founding legends have been preserved at local shrines dedicated to the founding hero.

Among the more remarkable founding stories dealing with what the German scholar Fritz Schachermeyr called the “Achaean Diaspora” are accounts of the colonization of Pamphylia and Cilicia in Asia Minor and Phoenicia on the coast of Canaan—from Colophon in the north to Ashkelon in the south.15

According to later legends, many Greeks left Troy for parts south under the leadership of one seer named Amphilochus and another named Calchas. At Clarus near Colophon, one Mopsus, who would become the founding hero of Ashkelon, defeated Calchas in a riddle contest. Tradition has preserved several different riddles that led to Calchas’ defeat; here is one of them-

“[Another] question propounded by Calchas was in regard to a pregnant sow, how many pigs she carried, and Mopsus said, ‘Three, one of which is a female’ …

When Mopsus proved to have spoken the truth, Calchas died of grief.”16

Riddles were very serious business indeed! Having replaced the original seer Calchas, Mopsus went on to lead his people across the Taurus Mountains into Pamphylia, where he founded two important cities- Aspendus and Phaselis. Mopsus then led other Achaeans on through Cilicia, founding Mallus and Mopsuestia (Mopsus’ hearth). From Cilicia, Mopsus marched down the coast all the way to Ashkelon, where, according to the fifth-century Lydian historian Xanthus, Mopsus threw the statue of the mermaid goddess Atargatis (=Tanit/Ashtarte/Asherah) into her own sacred lake. Mopsus, according to this tradition, died in Ashkelon.17

According to Richard Barnett, Mopsus is the “first figure of Greek mythology to emerge into historical reality.”18 He says this because a bilingual inscription from the eighth century B.C., written in hieroglyphic Luwian and in Phoenician, was found at Karatepe in Cilicia. In this inscription, Azatiwatas, servant of the king of the Danuniyim (Homer’s Danaoi), traces his lineage through the “house of MPS (=Mopsus),” indicating that there may have been a kernel of truth behind these Greek founding legends. I mentioned above that one of the cities Mopsus founded was Mopsuestia, which means Mopsus’ hearth. Hearths were well known in Aegean and Anatolian cultures, but not in Canaan. Recently however, Israeli archaeologist Amihai Mazar discovered a small raised hearth in a public building adjacent to a Philistine temple at Tel Qasile.19 Even more recently Trude Dothan and Seymour Gitin have found a sequence of circular, sunken stone-lined hearths in a monumental building at Philistine Miqne,g apparently another Greek element introduced into Canaan by the Philistines, or Sea Peoples.

This archaeological and textual analysis has led me to the inescapable conclusion that two very different cultures and peoples-one Semitic (comprised of Canaanites and Israelites); the other Greek-lived side by side in parts of Canaan.

In the context of these sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly neighbors, we are better able to understand some Biblical heroes as well as villains.

From this perspective it is not so fanciful to imagine Goliath (1 Samuel 17), the Philistine champion whom young David slew with his slingshot, as a mighty, wellarmed warrior, similar to Achaeans like Achilles and Odysseus. At the very least, Goliath was equipped much more like an Achaean warrior, complete with bronze greaves on his legs, than like a Canaanite or Israelite soldier (for whom greaves were totally alien).

The adventures of the mighty Samson also reflect a Greek connection. Although the Bible identifies him as an Israelite hero from the tribe of Dan, he does not fit the mold of a typical Biblical Judge of the period, nor is he a leader of Israelite armies like the other Judges. He is instead an individual champion about whom many a tale was told. As recognized by many 19th-century Biblical scholars, Samson is much more like a Greek hero—specifically like Herakles—than a Biblical Judge.20 In an insightful phrase in Paradise Lost, John Milton refers to our hero as the “Herculean Samson.”

Samson is the only riddle-teller in the Bible. At his wedding feast to an unnamed Philistine woman from Timnah, Samson propounded this rather bad riddle to the 30 young men at the feast-

“Out of the eater came something to eat,

Out of the strong came something sweet.”

Judges 14-14

To know the answer to the riddle you must know that a year earlier Samson had killed a lion with his bare hands. When he passed by the spot on his way to his wedding, he found that a swarm of bees had made their home in the lion’s carcass. He scooped out the honey and ate it with his hands.

The guests of course did not know this, so they could not guess the answer to the riddle. After much cajoling, however, Samson finally tells his Philistine bride the answer, which she promptly reveals on the last day of the feast to the male guests. And they answered-

“What is sweeter than honey,

And what is stronger than a lion?”

Samson then responded (with a trace of barnyard humor)-

“Had you not plowed with my heifer

You would not have guessed my riddle!”

Judges 14-18

Unlike the Greek seer Calchas, who died of grief when his riddle was answered, Samson simply pays off his bet of 30 linen tunics and 30 sets of clothing by going down to Philistine Ashkelon and killing 30 of its men. He strips them and gives their wardrobes to the guests who had answered the riddle.

Samson is also famous for his seven magical locks of hair. The Biblical writers transformed Samson into a Nazarite, a man dedicated to God. But, although he does not cut his hair, Samson hardly qualifies as the usual Nazarite- He drinks strong drink whenever he likes. Samson’s long locks endow him with superhuman strength, however. When shorn, he is, the Bible says, much weaker, “like any man” (Judges 16-17). There is a parallel in Greek epic- Scylla cut her father’s hair while he slept, thus removing his invincibility. The king was then captured by King Minos.21

The riddle, the magic locks and a hero of superhuman strength were not the stuff of Canaanite or Hebrew lore; they were, however, very much a part of the later Greek, and probably Mycenaean-Minoan, world.

The adventures of Samson took place in the foothills of Canaan, the Shephelah, an intermediate zone of economic, social and cultural exchange between Greeks and Israelites, between Philistines and Hebrews. This border zone with its hybrid cultural elements is reflected not only in the stories we have examined but in the archaeology as well. It is significant, I think, that archaeologists using material culture data have always been confused about the ethnic and cultural affinities of the inhabitants of this intermediate zone during Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.). Was Beth Shemesh, on the edge of the Shephelah, for example, an Israelite or a Philistine settlement during stratum III, the Iron I stratum? The signals are confusing and disagreement abounds.

The ancient inhabitants were probably no less confused, for this was taboo territory, the meeting-ground of alien cultures.

Indeed, there is some uncertainty and confusion about the very identity of Samson’s tribe, Dan. Were the Danites originally Israelites or did they trace their origins to the Danaoi, the Greeks of Homeric epic?

According to Yigael Yadin, Cyrus H. Gordon and Allen H. Jones, the Danites of the Bible were identical with the Homeric Danaoi, the Egyptian Denyen (in Ramesses III’s inscription), the Danuna (in the Amarna Letters of the 14th century B.C.) and the DNNYM (in a Phoenician inscription from Karatepe).22 According to Yadin’s reading of the Biblical text, Dan “dwells on ships” (Judges 5-17). Unlike other Israelite tribes, Dan lacks a genealogy (Genesis 46-23; cf. Numbers 26-42). Yadin therefore concludes that Dan was not one of the original Israelite tribes in the early confederation; nevertheless, “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49-16). Yadin went even further and attempted to locate the Denyen/Danaoi/Danites in the area around Tel Aviv in the 12th century B.C., where he specifically identified the earliest settlement at Tel Qasile, stratum XII, with these immigrants. Eventually the Danites migrated north and established themselves at Laish/Dan in the north (Judges 18), by which time they were thoroughly integrated into the Tribal League of Israel during the period of the Judges.

While at first glance this hypothesis is extremely appealing, there are many reasons for rejecting it upon further reflection. First and foremost, texts relating to the Sea Peoples give us no indication about the location of the Denyen in the Levant. In the Amarna letters the Danuna seem to be somewhere north of Ugarit in modern Syria. By the time of the Egyptian “Tale of Wen-Amon” (about 1050 B.C.), the Tjeker (or Sikils), occupied the seaport of Dor and surrounding territories.23 Slightly earlier, the Onomasticon of Amenope (about 1100 B.C.) lists Philistines (Peleset), Sikils and Sherden—all Sea Peoples—living on the coast of the Levant. If this list is in geographical order, then the Philistines represent southern Canaan; the Sikils, the Dor region; and the Sherden, the Acco area.24 In none of these texts are the Denyen even mentioned; however, this might be expected if in fact they migrated to Laish/Dan before 1100 B.C., as Avraham Biram, the excavator of Laish/Dan, believes they did. Unfortunately, for the Danite=Danaoi hypothesis, the earliest settlement at Laish/Dan which could plausibly be linked to the Danites (stratum VI) has yielded very little Philistine pottery; rather it is characterized by collared-rim store jars and pits—artifacts and features commonly associated with the early Israelites.25 Furthermore, the Biblical texts relating to the Danites are open to other interpretations. The key text for Yadin—“And Dan, why did he remain in ships?” (Judges 5-17)—can also be interpreted to mean those Danites who served as clients on the ships of the Phoenicians or even the Sea Peoples.h In other words, the Danites were in a client/patron relationship with one of the seafaring peoples of the Levant, but this does not imply that the Danites themselves were Sea Peoples, or Phoenicians. As the Samson story indicates, the Danites were an Israelite tribe located on the western periphery of early Israel even before they moved north to Laish/Dan but were probably under the heavy influence of their coastal Sea Peoples neighbors.

The Samson saga represents a literary genre that Harvard Professor Frank Cross has labeled a “border epic” where two very different cultures early Greek and Israelite-met on the coast of Canaan. The historical milieu, as I have reconstructed it first from archaeology and then assisted by texts, is a dynamic one in which these two very different cultures encounter each other, interact and transform their respective traditions.

This is the first of a two-part article. Part II, covering the Phoenician, Graeco-Roman and later periods, will appear in our next issue, as will a report on the vote on publication of the erotic lamps (“Why Were Hundreds of Dogs Buried at Ashkelon?” BAR 17-03).

a. Forged copper is heated, hammered and cooled until the desired shape is attained.

b. See Trude Dothan and Seymour Gitin, “Ekron of the Philistines, Part 1- Where They Came From, How They Settled Down and the Place They Worshiped In,” BAR 16-01 and “Ekron of the Philistines, Part 2- Olive-Oil Suppliers to the World” BAR 16-02, respectively.

c. See Neil Silberman, “Glossary- A Question of Defense,” BAR 15-03.

d. See Frank J. Yurco, “3,200-Year-Old Picture of Israelites Found in Egypt,” BAR 16-05.

e. Neutron activation analysis can detect some of the rarest elements present in pottery. By comparing the chemical “fingerprint” of the potsherd to that of various clay sources, it is often possible to determine the provenance of pottery. See Maureen F. Kaplan,“Using Neutron Activation Analysis to Establish the Provenance of Pottery,” BAR 02-01.

f. See translation of Ramesses III inscription, in which Alashiya is one of the countries overwhelmed by the Sea Peoples.

g. See photo in [[“Ekron of the Philistines, Part 1- Where They Came From, How They Settled Down and the Place They Worshiped In,” BAR 16-01.

h. See Lawrence E. Stager, “The Song of Deborah—Why Some Tribes Answered the Call and Others Did Not,” BAR 15-01.

1. Personal communication from Ephraim Stern, Professor of Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University.

2. See Brian Hesse, “Animal Use at Tel Mique-Ekron in the Bronze Age and Iron Age,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) 264 (1986), pp. 17–27; also his report on the 1985 faunal remains from Ashkelon in Ashkelon 1, forthcoming, Harvard Semitic Museum Archaeology and Ancient History series (Cambridge, MA- Harvard Univ. Press).

3. Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches- The Riddles of Culture (New York- Random House/Vintage, 1975), pp. 35–57.

4. Trude Dothan, The Philistines and Their Material Culture (New Haven, CT- Yale Univ. Press, 1982); for their most recent statement, see Trude Dothan, “The Arrival of the Sea Peoples- Cultural Diversity in Early Iron Age Canaan,” pp. 11–22, and Moshe Dothan “Archaeological Evidence for Movements of the Early ‘Sea Peoples’ in Canaan,” pp. 59–70, both in Recent Excavations in Israel- Studies in Iron Age Archaeology, ed. Seymour Gitin and William G. Dever Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 49 (Winona Lake, IN- Eisenbrauns, 1989).

5. We need not imagine, as some scholars once did, that non-Mycenaean motifs of Philistine bichrome ware were acquired during the peregrinations of the Philistines around the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., Cyprus and Egypt) before landing in Canaan. All of these sources of inspiration were right at hand in Canaan itself. Even bichrome decoration itself was known in Phoenicia during the 13th century B.C. and has been found at Ashkelon (this LB IIB bichrome should not be confused with the earlier LB I bichrome, which originated in Cyprus).

In her most recent assessment, Trude Dothan (“The Arrival of the Sea Peoples”) has made a fine typological distinction between the Mycenaean IIIC-1 decoration, which she characterizes as Simple Style, and the Philistine bichrome decoration, which she associates with the Elaborate Style known in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. With this distinction she implies in a more subtle way than before two “waves” of Sea Peoples- The pre-Philistine group makes and uses Simple Style, they are then either augmented or replaced by the later group, the Philistines, who produce Elaborate Style pottery.

It would be an extraordinary development, indeed, if a pre-Philistine group of Sea Peoples preceded in establishing new and impressive cities and then were displaced at each of the Pentapolis sites by the Philistines a decade or two later. It seems much more likely that the relatively minor developments in style from monochrome simple to bichrome elaborate represent changes within the potting tradition of the same people and culture as the second generation of Philistine potters assimilate some of the local Canaanite and other traditions. In other words, Philistine bichrome pottery represents a regional style that developed in south Canaan. It seems likely that other immigrant groups of Sea Peoples settling in the northern coastal Levant, in Cyprus and in the central Mediterranean—for example, Sardinia, Sicily and Italy—might develop distinctive regional styles as they come in contact with different indigenous cultures.

6. Lawrence E. Stager, “Merenptah, Israel and Sea Peoples- New Light on an Old Relief,” Eretz-Israel 18 (1985), pp. 61–62.

7. See Stager, “Merenptah, Israel and Sea Peoples.” Using other lines of reasoning, both Amihai Mazar (“The Emergence of the Philistine Material Culture,” Israel Exploration Journal 35 [1985], pp. 95–107) and Itamar Singer (“The Beginning of Philistine Settlement in Canaan and the Northern Boundary of Philistia” Tel Aviv 12 [1985], pp. 109–122) reached similar conclusions.

8. F. Asaro, Isadore Perlman and Moshe Dothan, “An Introductory Study of Mycenaean IIIC-1 Ware from Tel Ashod,” Archaeometry 13 (1971), pp. 169–175; Asaro and Perlman, “Provenience Studies of Mycenaean Pottery Employing Neutron Activation Analysis,” in The Mycenaeans in the Eastern Mediterranean, Acts of the International Archaeological Symposium (Nicosia, Cyprus- Department of Antiquities, 1973), pp. 213–224; Jan Gunneweg, Trude Dothan, Perlman and Seymour Gitin, “On the Origin of Pottery from Tel Miqne-Ekron,” BASOR 264 (1986), pp. 3–16.

9. See Stager, “Merenptah, Israel and Sea Peoples,” p. 64, n. 37 for bibliography of sites through 1985. To this list we should add Dothan, 1989.

10. See Dothan, 1989.

11. John A. Wilson, transl. in Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET), ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton- Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), p. 262.

12. Heinrich Schliemann, Tiryns- The Prehistoric Palace of the Kings of Tiryns (New York- Scribner’s, 1885), pp. 146–147. For Kition, see Vassos Karageorghis and M. Demas, Excavations at Kition- The Pre-Phoenecian Levels, vol. V- Part 1 (Nicosia- Cyprus Dept. of Antiquities, 1985), for example, pl. 20-1087; pl. 34-1020, 1024; pl. 57-1024; pl. 117-5150–5156; pl. 195-5149–5156.

13. All references to Homer’s Odyssey follow the translation of Richard Lattimore, The Odyssey of Homer (New York- Harper & Row, 1965).

14. Stubbings, “The Recession of Mycenaean Civilization,” Cambridge Ancient History, (CAH), eds. I.E.S. Edwards, C.J. Gadd, N.G.L. Hammond and E. Sollberger (Cambridge, UK- Cambridge Univ. Press, 3rd edition 1975), vol. II, part 2- History of the Middle East and the Aegean Region c. 1380–1000 B.C., pp. 354–358.

15. Fritz Schachermeyr, Griechische Fruhgeschichte- ein Versuch, fruhe Geschichte wenigstens in Umrissen verstandlich zu machen (Vienna- Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1984), pp. 181–190.

16. Strabo, The Geography, XIV, 1.27.

17. Schachermeyr, Griechische Fruhgeschichte, pp. 183–185.

18. Richard D. Barnett, “The Sea Peoples,” CAH, vol. II. part 2, pp. 363–365, and “Phrygia and the Peoples of Anatolia in the Iron Age,” CAH, vol. II, part 2, pp. 441–442.

19. Amihai Mazar, Excavations at Tell Qasile- Part One, The Philistine Sanctuary- Architecture and Cult Objects, Qedem 12 (Jerusalem- Hebrew Univ. Press, 1980).

20. See citations and discussion in George Foote Moore, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges (International Critical Commentary) (New York- Scribner’s, 1895), pp. 364–365.

21. Othniel Margalith, “Samson’s Riddle and Samson’s Magic Locks,” Vetus Testamentum (VT), 36 (1986), pp. 225–234.

22. Yigael Yadin, “‘And Dan, why did he remain in ships?’” Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology 1 (1968), pp. 9–23; Cyrus Gordon, “The Mediterranean Factor in the Old Testament,” VT, Suppl. 9 (1962), pp. 19–31; Allen H. Jones, Bronze Age Civilization- The Philistines and the Danites (Public Affairs Press- Washington, D.C., 1975, Hershel Shanks, “Danaans and Danites—Were the Hebrew Greek?” BAR 02-02.

23. See John A. Wilson, ANET, p. 28, for Wen-Amon, where Dor is called a “town of the Tjeker (=Sikil).” Recently Dr. Avner Raban, of the Center for Maritime Studies at Haifa University, has discovered the remains of the ancient harbor used by Wen-Amon in the 11th century B.C. at Dor (see Raban, “The Harbor of the Sea Peoples at Dor,” Biblical Archaeologist 50 (1987), pp. 118–126.) The terrestrial archaeologist at Dor, Professor Ephraim Stern, considers the fortification system with glacis to have been built initially by the Sea Peoples, and specifically by the Sikils (personal communication). Shortly before the fall of Ugarit at the hands of the Sea Peoples, the Sikalayu, “who live on ships,” were raiding and kidnapping along the coast, according to one Akkadian letter found at Ugarit (RS 34.129). Among the last tablets written there the last king of Ugarit despairs, saying- “The enemy ships are already here, they have set fire to my towns and have done very great damage in the country” (RS 20.238). These seafarers and pirates (the Sikalayu = “Sikils”) later moved down the coast and settled in the region of Dor.

Several scholars misidentified the Sikalayu with the Sea Peoples group known as Shekelesh (e.g. G.A. Lehmann, “Die Sikalayu—ein neues Zeugnis zu den ‘seevolker’—Heerfahrten im spaten 13 Jh. V. Chr. [RS 34. 129],” Ugarit Forschung 11 [1979], pp. 481–494).

Anson Rainey was the first scholar to identify correctly the Tjeker of Egyptian sources with the Sikalayu of Ugarit. The tj of Tjeker should be phoneticized s (samakh); and of course, Egyptian r can equal r or l in Semitic. The gentilic Sikalayu actually masks the ethnicon Sikil (see Rainey, “Toponymic Problems,” Tel Aviv 9 [1982], p. 134; for the best interpretation of the text, see Gregory Mobley, “The Identity of the Sikalayu [RS 34.129],” BASOR [forthcoming]).

Thus the Sea Peoples, who established themselves at Dor in the early 12th century B.C.—namely, the Sikils—closely resemble the Sikelor of later Greek sources, the people who gave their name to Sicily, just as the Sherden, another group of Sea Peoples, bequeathed their name to Sardinia, and the Teresh/Tursha to first Tarsus and later to the Etruscans of Italy. According to the dispersal of proper names and the evidence of immigrant Mycenaeans, it would appear that during the “colonization” of the coastal Levant and Cyprus, fissiparous groups of Sea Peoples bearing the same ethnicons settled the coastal regions of the central Mediterranean and bequeathed their names to several peoples and places there.

24. Moshe Dothan, “Archaeological Evidence for Movements” and his “Sardine at Akko?” in Studies in Sardinian Archaeology- Sardinia in the Mediterranean, vol. 2, ed. Miriam Balmuth (Ann Arbor- Univ. Of Michigan Press, 1986), pp. 105–115.

25. Avraham Biran, “The Collared-rim Jars and the Settlement of the Tribe of Dan,” in Gitin and Dever, Recent Excavation, pp. 71–96.

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