Gath, Gat, or Geth (Hebrew: גַּת, Winepress; Latin: Geth), often referred to as Gath of the Philistines, was one of the five Philistine city-states, established in northwestern Philistia. According to the Bible, the king of the city was Achish, in the times of Saul, David, and Solomon. It is not certain whether this refers to two or more kings of the name 'Achish' or not. Gath was also the home city of Goliath and his brothers, as well as of Itai and his 600 soldiers who aided David in his exile from Absalom. David, while running from Saul, escaped to Gath, and served under its king Achish. During Solomon's reign, Shemei goes to Gath to return his escaped slave (I Kings). In II Kings, the city of Gath is mentioned as being captured by Hazael of Aram Damascus. Recent excavations at the site have produced dramatic evidence of a siege and subsequent destruction of the site in the late 9th century BC, most probably related to this event, although a stone inscription disclosing the name of the city has yet to be discovered.
While scholars who have studied historical geography are still divided about the location of the biblical city known as Gath, and although the active archaeological site at "Tel Zafit" in Tel Tzafit National Park has been given the name "Gath" by modern archaeologists, there still exists a prevalent view amongst other scholars today that the biblical Gath was located where Ramlah is now built, based on a medieval Jewish tradition passed down by Ishtori Haparchi.
The 19th-century scholar Edward Robinson proposed that Gath be identified with Tell es-Safi, and this identification was generally accepted until the early 20th century. In the 1920s, famed archaeologist W. F. Albright disputed this identification, writing that "The archaeological exploration of Tell el-Safi did not yield a shred of evidence for the identification with Gath". Albright suggested another site, Tell 'Areini (now close to the city of Kiryat Gat) which, despite some opposition, was accepted to the point that the Israel Government Names Committee renamed it as Tel Gat in 1953. However, excavations at Tell 'Areini starting in 1959 found no Middle Bronze Age traces and the excavators proposed instead that Gath be identified with a third site Tell en-Nejileh (Tel Nagila), a possibility that itself was abandoned after excavations in the 1980s. Attention then returned to Tell es-Safi, and it is now again the most favored site as the location of Gath.
Gath, Tell es-Safi and Tel Zafit (Arabic: تل الصافي, Tall aṣ-Ṣāfī; Hebrew: תל צפית, Tel Tzafit) are Arabic and Hebrew names for the ancient mound now identified as Gath, one of the five cities in the ancient Canaanite and Philistine Pentapolis (along with Gaza, Ekron, Ashkelon, and Ashdod). It is a large multi-period site that is located in central Israel, approximately half way between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, on the border between the southern Coastal Plain of Israel and the Judean foothills.
Although first noted by explorers in the mid-19th century AD, and subsequently briefly excavated in 1899 by the British archaeologists F.J. Bliss and R.A.S. Macalister, extensive exploration of the site was not conducted until 1996, when a long-term project was commenced at the site, directed by Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, Israel. Since 1996, excavations, surveys and other studies have been conducted at the site, focusing on various cultures, periods and aspects relating to the site, its culture and history, and its surroundings.
The site was inhabited from Proto-Historic through Modern times. The earliest evidence for settlement is from the Chalcolithic Period (c. 5th millennium BC), after which there is continuous occupation until the modern Palestinian village of Tell es-Safi, abandoned during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
During the Early Bronze Age there is evidence of a large urban site, apparently similar to other EB III urban sites in southern Canaan, such as nearby Tel Yarmut.
Scant evidence of this period was found on the tell in the form of stray sherds. In the vicinity of the tell (to the east, in Area C6) evidence of tombs and possible domestic activities were found.
Finds from the MB IIB (and a few MB IIA) were found on various parts of the tell in the survey (including a scarab of Khyan, found in the 1960s). Recently, in the 2006 season, evidence of an impressive MB IIB fortification was found in the vicinity of the summit of the tell, comprising a stone wall/tower and a packed earth rampart/glacis.
The Late Bronze remains at the site are impressive as well, evidence of the Canaanite city of Gath, which is mentioned in the El-Amarna letters. Finds from this period include a large, apparently public building, cultic-related finds, and a small collection of Egyptiaca, including two Egyptian Hieratic inscriptions, both inscribed on locally-made vessels. This city was apparently destroyed at the end of the Late Bronze Age, most probably with the arrival of the Philistines.
During the Iron Age, the site becomes a major Philistine site, "Gath of the Philistines," one of the five cities of the Philistine "Pentapolis," known from biblical and extra-biblical sources. Settled from the earliest phases of the Philistine culture (ca. 1175 BC), evidence of the various stages of the Philistine culture have been found. In particular, finds indicating the gradual transformation of the Philistines, from a non-local (Aegaean) culture, to a more locally-oriented culture abound. This process, which has been termed "Acculturation" or "Creolization" can be seen in various aspects of the Philistine culture, as the Iron Age unfolds.
Of particular importance are the strata dating to the 10th-9th century BC, in which rich assemblages of finds were uncovered. These strata enable the study of the entire sequence of the Philistine culture, since at other Philistine sites (such as Ekron, Ashdod, and Ashkelon) these phases are not well represented.
According to the Jerusalem Post archeologists have uncovered a Philistine temple and evidence of a major earthquake in biblical times, during digs carried out at the Tel Tzafit National Park. Other major finds there were evidence of the destruction of Gath by Hazael King of Aram- Damascus around 830 BCE, and evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan.
A very impressive, site-wide destruction is evidenced at the site during the late Iron Age IIA (c. late 9th century BC). Throughout the site there is evidence of this destruction, and well-preserved assemblages of finds. The dating of this destruction to the late 9th century BC is a strong indication that it can be related to the conquest of Gath by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus, as mentioned in II Kings 12:18. Evidence of a large-scale siege system that was found surrounding the site, is apparently related to this event. This siege system, which comprises a man-made siege trench, a related berm (earth embankment) and other elements, is currently the earliest archaeological evidence "on the ground" for an ancient siege system. It could also be in relation to the conquest of Gath by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6);coinciding well with the siege technology described in 2 Chronicles 26:15.
Among the numerous finds from this destruction level, one can note the impressive pottery assemblage, various cultic objects, a bone tool workshop, and assorted other finds.
In the 2005 season, below the late 9th-century BCE destruction level, in a stratum dating to an earlier phase of the Iron Age IIA, an important inscription was found. Scratched on a sherd typical of the Iron Age IIA, two non-Semitic names written in Semitic "Proto-Canaanite" letters were found. These two names, "ALWT" (אלות) and "WLT" (ולת), are etymologically similar to the name Goliath (גלית), the well-known Philistine champion, who according to the biblical text, was a native of Gath.
These two name fragments might indicate that names similar to the name Goliath were in use in Philistia during the Iron Age IIA, approximately the same time as Goliath is described in the Bible. Although not proof of Goliath's existence, the ostracon provides evidence of the cultural milieu of this period. In any case, they provide a useful example of the names used by the Philistines during that time, and the earliest evidence for the use of an alphabetic writing system in the Philistine culture.
Following the destruction of the site by Hazael, Philistine Gath lost its role as a primary Philistine city. Although the site was settled during later periods, it never regained its role as a site of central importance. During the Crusader period, following the conquest of the land during the First Crusade, a small fortress, named "Blanche Garde" for the dramatic white chalk cliffs that guard its western approach, was built at the site as part of the Crusader encirclement of Fatimid Ashkelon. This site was subsequently captured by the Ayyubids, and served the basis for the Medieval and Modern village of Tell es-Safi, which existed until 1948. The ruins of the castle and the village can be seen on the site today. Portions of the exterior fortifications of the castle have been excavated in recent years.
Gath was a common place name in ancient Israel and the surrounding regions. Various cities are mentioned in the Bible with such names as Gath of the Philistines, Gath-Gittaim, and Gath Carmel, and other sites with similar names appear in various ancient sources, including the Amarna letters. A Gittite is a person from Gath. Some scholars hold the view that the biblical Gath was located where Ramlah is now built, based on a medieval Jewish tradition passed down by Ishtori Haparchi.
- Ishtori Haparchi, Kaphtor u'ferach, vol. II, chapter 11, s.v. ויבנה בארץ פלשתים, (3rd edition) Jerusalem 2007, p. 78 (Hebrew)
- "Temple found in Philistine home of Goliath, Kiryat Gat discovery sheds light on Samson," Ben Hartman, July 29, 2010, Jerusalem Post.
- Michael Avi-Yonah, The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, p. 63; See also William, of Tyre, Archbishop of Tyre, A History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, 1976, vol. 2, p. 130
- Horton Harris (2011). "The location of Ziklag: a review of the candidate sites, based on Biblical, topographical and archaeological evidence". Palestine Exploration Quarterly 143 (2): 119–133.
- Looking for a wider view of history, Israeli archaeologists are zooming in, Haaretz
- For the editio princeps and an in-depth discussion of the inscription and its significance, see: Maeir, A.M., Wimmer, S.J., Zukerman, A., and Demsky, A. 2008. An Iron Age I/IIA Archaic Alphabetic Inscription from Tell es-Safi/Gath: Paleography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
- "Gittite". WebBible Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-02-26.
- Ishtori Haparchi, Kaphtor u'ferach, vol. II, chapter 11, s.v. ויבנה בארץ פלשתים, (3rd edition) Jerusalem 2007, p. 78 (Hebrew)
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