Philistine language

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Native toPhilistia
Extinctca. 9th century BCE
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
Philistine language.svg

The Philistine language (/ˈfɪləstn, ˈfɪləstn, fəˈlɪstən, fəˈlɪstn/)[1] is the extinct language of the Philistines, spoken and rarely inscribed along the coastal strip of southwestern Canaan. Very little is known about the language, of which a handful of words survive as cultural loanwords in Hebrew, describing specifically Philistine institutions, like the seranim, the "lords" of the Philistine five cities ("Pentapolis"),[2] or the ’argáz receptacle, which occurs in 1 Samuel 6 and nowhere else,[3] or the title padî.[4]


There is not enough information of the language of the Philistines to relate it confidently to any other languages: possible relations to Indo-European languages, even Mycenaean Greek, support the independently-held theory that immigrant Philistines originated among "sea peoples". There are hints of non-Semitic vocabulary and onomastics, but the inscriptions, not clarified by some modern forgeries,[5] are enigmatic:[6] a number of inscribed miniature "anchor seals" have been found at various Philistine sites.[7] On the other hand, evidence from the slender corpus of brief inscriptions from Iron Age IIA-IIB Tell es-Safi[8] demonstrates that at some stage during the local Iron Age, the Philistines started using one of the dialects (either Phoenician or Hebrew) of the local Canaanite language and script,[9] which in time masked and replaced the earlier, non-local linguistic traditions, which doubtless became reduced to a linguistic substratum, for it ceased to be recorded in inscriptions. Towards the end of the Philistine settlement in the area, in the 8th and the 7th centuries BCE, the primary written language in Philistia was a Canaanite dialect that was written in a version of the West Semitic alphabet so distinctive that Frank Moore Cross termed it the "Neo-Philistine script".[10] The Assyrian and Babylonian wars and occupations destroyed the Philistine presence on the coast. When documentation resumes, under the Persian imperium, it is in the Aramaic language, the empire's lingua franca.

Thus, to judge from the more numerous later inscriptions alone, it could misleadingly appear that the Philistine language is simply part of the local Canaanite dialect continuum.[11] For instance, the Ekron inscription, identifying the archaeological site securely as the Biblical Ekron, is the first connected body of text to be identified as Philistine. However, it is written in a Canaanite dialect similar to Phoenician.[12]

Philistine as an Indo-European language[edit]

There is some limited evidence in favor of the suggestion[13] that the Philistines did originally speak some Indo-European language, which would help explain the markedly Aegean Greek origin of Philistine pottery styles and decorative motifs, particularly Philistine Bichrome ware. A number of Philistine-related words found in the Hebrew Bible are not Semitic, and can in some cases, with reservations, be traced back to Proto-Indo-European roots. For example, R.D. Barnett[14] traced the Philistine word for captain, seren,[15] which may be related to the Neo-Hittite sarawanas/tarawanas[16] or the Greek word tyrannos (itself possibly borrowed from one of the languages of western Anatolia).[17][18][19][20][21][22][23] and Edward Sapir[24] made a case for kōbá, "helmet", used of Goliath's copper helmet.[25] Some Philistine names, such as Goliath, Achish,[26] and Phicol, appear to be non-Semitic in origin, and Indo-European etymologies have been suggested.[27] Recently, an inscription dating to the late 10th/early 9th centuries BC with two names, very similar to one of the suggested etymologies of the popular Philistine name Goliath (compare Lydian Alyattes,[28] Greek Kalliades, Carian Wljat) was found in the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath.


  1. ^ "Philistine"
  2. ^ The term is used as a military rank in contemporary Israel, equivalent to captain.
  3. ^ E. Sapir, "Hebrew 'argáz, a Philistine Word," Journal of the American Oriental Society (1936:272–281), found it to signify the box of a cart "a presumably non-Semitic word" (p. 274).
  4. ^ "Common IE property" asserts (Sapir 1936:279 note 23) noting Greek πόσις, Lithuanian –pati-s, –pats, and Tocharian A pats.
  5. ^ Joseph Naveh, "Some Recently Forged Inscriptions," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research" (Summer 1982:53–58).
  6. ^ I. Singer, "Egyptians, Canaanites and Philistines in the Period of the Emergence of Israel", in Finkelstein and Na’aman (eds.), From Nomadism to Monarchy, 1994:282–338.
  7. ^ Simcha Shalom Brooks, Saul and the Monarchy: A New Look (Ashgate) 2005:29, noting O. Keel, "Studien zu den Stempelsiegeln aus Palestina/ Israel IV." Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 135 (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag) 1994:21–34.
  8. ^ Maeir, A., Wimmer, S., Zukerman, A., and Demsky, A. 2008. A Late Iron Age I/early Iron Age IIA Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell es-Sâfi/Gath, Israel: Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 351: 39–71.
  9. ^ In the late 9th century BCE in Tell es-Safi, the West Semitic alphabet script was in use.
  10. ^ Frank Moore Cross, "A Philistine Ostracon From Ashkelon", BAR 22 (January–February 1996:64–65.
  11. ^ "Philister-Projekt: ""The Cultural Dynamics of the Philistine Culture: A Case Study in the Transformation of an Immigrant Culture"
  12. ^ Seymour Gitin, Trude Dothan and Joseph Naveh. "A Royal Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron." Israel Exploration Journal 48 (1997:1–18); Jaacob Callev, "The Canaanite Dialect of the Dedicatory Royal Inscription from Ekron".
  13. ^ First made by Arie Noordtzij, De Filistijnen (1905), noted by G. Bonfante, "Who Were the Philistines" American Journal of Archaeology 50.2 (April – June 1946:251–262) p. 252 note 4. Bonfante argued for an Illyrian origin for the Palaistinoi, in Palaeste, an Illyrian toponym in Epirus, supplied with the Illyrian -ino suffix for ethnic groups; the suggested connection was introduced by Hermann Jacobsohn, in Berliner Philologische Wochenschrift 34 (1914:483).
  14. ^ Barnett, "The Sea Peoples" Sect. IV "The Philistines", New Cambridge Ancient History p. 17, critically remarked upon in Michael C. Astour's review article in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 92.3 (July – September 1972:457f.
  15. ^ Only used in Hebrew in connection with Philistine princes; the Philistine etymology of seren, sranim was admitted by W.F. Albright in the New Cambridge Ancient History, vol. I, part I, p. 25, note 3.
  16. ^ Sandars, Nancy K., The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean, 1250–1150 BC, Thames and Hudson, 1978
  17. ^ "Tyrannos is not a Greek word. It comes from one of the languages of Asia Minor and may have affinities with Lydian words and names," Robert Drews suggested, "The First Tyrants in Greece" Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 212 (2nd Quarter 1972:129–144) p. 138. Greek tradition recorded Gyges as the first ruler to whom tyrannos was applied (ibid.).
  18. ^ Helck W., Ein sprachliches Indiz für die Herkunft der Philister, in: Beiträge zur Namenforschung 21, 1983, p. 31.
  19. ^ Meriggi, P. "Schizzo della delineazione nominale dell'eteo geroglifico (Continuazione e fine)", in: Archivio Glottologico Italiano, 38, 1953. pp. 36-57.
  20. ^ Chantraine, P. Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque. Histoire des mots, vol. 4.1, 1968, p. 1146.
  21. ^ Gusmani 1969: R. Gusmani, Isoglossi lessicali Greco-Ittite, in: Studi linguistici in onore di Vittore Pisani, Brescia 1969, Vol. 1, p. 511-12.
  22. ^ Cornil, P. "Une étymologie étrusco-hittite", Atti del II Congresso Internazionale de Hittitologia, Pavía, 1995, p. 84-85.
  23. ^ Rabin, C. "Hittite Words in Hebrew", Or NS 32, 1963, pp. 113-39.
  24. ^ Sapir, "Hebrew 'helmet,' a loanword, and its bearing on Indo-European phonology" Journal of the American Oriental Society 57.1 (March 1937:73–77).
  25. ^ 1 Samuel 17:5.
  26. ^ Achish has been connected to Greek (Ἀγχίσης) and Hurrian.
  27. ^ "Little is known of Philistine personal names, but the little we know seems to confirm Jacobsohn's Illyrian hypothesis", observes G. Bonfante (1946:254), who adduces Jacobsohn 1914 and Greek usages of Ἀγχίσης, the Greek rendering of Goliath.
  28. ^ This connection was made by Georg Hüsing, according to Ferdinand Bork in AfO 13 (1939–1941:227), noted by G. A. Wainwright, "Some Early Philistine History" Vetus Testamentum 9.1 (January 1959:73–84) p. 79 note 3.

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