Map of Ancient Israel

Courtesy of Biblical Archaeology Society

Most people assume that the name Palestine derives from “Land of the Philistines” (Peleshetin the Hebrew Bible; see Psalms 60-10; Isaiah 14-29, 31), via the Greek Palaistinê and the Latin Palaestina. But there is evidence, both philological and geographical, that questions this traditional attribution. The name Palestine, surprisingly, may have originated as a Greek pun on the translations of “Israel” and the “Land of the Philistines.”

Let us first consider the geographical problem. The Greek Palaistinê and the Latin Palaestina appear frequently in ancient literature, but for the most part, they appear to refer not to the Land of the Philistines, but to the Land of Israel!

The Philistines—called Pelishtim in the Bible—arrived on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean from Greece or Cyprus by way of Egypt at the end of the Late Bronze Age (in about the 13th century B.C.E.). We know this because Philistine material culture has close affinities with contemporaneous Mycenaean culture, especially their pottery. The earliest references to the Philistines are found in Egyptian inscriptions, where they are referred to as Prst, one of several Sea Peoples. Egyptian reliefs portray Philistines in distinctive headgear engaged in a sea battle aboard ships that clearly differ from those of the Egyptians.

Read the rest of When Palestine Meant Israel in the online Biblical Archaeology Society Library.