Pentapolis—Joshua 13:3

A cluster of five cities united politically, commercially, militarily, and religiously, the Philistine Pentapolis of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza stretched along the Mediterranean coast from the Yarkon River in the north to the Wadi Gaza in the south. As mentioned in Joshua 13:3, five individual lords ruled the cities but cooperated in matters affecting all of them. The Bible regarded the Philistines as early Israel’s most dangerous enemy.

By the 12th century BC, an estimated 25,000 Philistines lived in and around the five major cities. Archaeological excavations reveal careful town planning that separated industrial zones from market places, temples, and dwelling houses. The olive industry of Ekron included about 200 olive presses. The sites also contain the remains of many breweries, wineries, and retail shops selling beer and wine. The Philistines adopted the worship of such local Canaanite deities as Baal, Astarte, and Dagon, but endowed them with different attributes and characteristics. First Samuel 5 relates how the Philistines brought the captured ark of the covenant to the temple of Dagon in Ashdod. But when they “arose early in the morning, there was Dagon fallen upon its face to the earth.” Worried by what had happened, the five rulers decided to send the ark to Gath and later to Ekron.

Ashkelon in the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1550 BC) had a vast semicircle rampart measuring 2.4 km long, 15 m high, and 46 m thick. The western edge of Ashkelon borders the Mediterranean Sea so that trading vessels could offload their cargo into smaller boats to bring them to land. Archaeologists have recently reconstructed the impressive mudbrick city gate and consider it the oldest barrel vault yet discovered. In 1991 excavators at the site found a small ceramic shrine containing a silver statuette of a bull calf of the type associated with the worship of the Canaanite gods El and Baal.

After the Philistines took over Ashkelon about 1150 BC, the pottery types changed. In 2016 the Leon Livy Expedition uncovered what a Philistine cemetery is. The possibly thousands of graves, with their distinctive Philistine pottery, had small juglets of perfume placed under the necks of the bodies or by the nostrils as well as two massive jugs containing wine or olive oil. Researchers hope that DNA testing of the bones may provide additional answers as to where the Philistines originally came from, though a distinctive type of loom weights found there suggests that its new inhabitants had an Aegean origin.

The tell, or mound of Ashdod consists of an acropolis and a well-planned lower city. One building terminates in a small apsidal structure and a large hall with two stone bases, apparently for columns supporting the roof as described in the Samson story of Judges 16:29. More recent excavations have focused on Ashdod Yam, a possible seaport from the Assyrian period.

The most significant find in Ekron has been a seventh-century BC Royal Dedicatory Inscription uncovered in 1996. It confirms the identity of the city and contains a king list. It also mentions the name of the goddess Patgayah, the Aegean mother goddess of Delphi, to whom the temple had been apparently dedicated. Her name may be another evidence for the Greek heritage of the Philistines.

Gath, now identified with Tell es-Safi, was a large city. In 2010 archaeologists uncovered a Philistine temple and evidence of the destruction by Hazael King of Aram around 830 BC.

The ruins of Gaza reveal that it has had a long and rich history. It served as an administrative capital when Egypt ruled the area. Unfortunately, at the moment any further archaeological research is nearly impossible because of the region’s current political situation.




“Ekron excavation and publication Project.”

Facebook, “Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project.”