the "holy land" - quarterly published by the franciscan custody of the holy land

winter 1998 - online version

THE FIRST PHILISTINE INSCRIPTION FOUND IN ISRAEL

IS THAT OF AKISH, "PRINCE OF EKRON"

By Peter Kaswalder, O.F.M.
Professor at the Franciscan Biblical Studium (Translation: Fr. James Heinsch, OFM)

In the 1996 excavations made at Tel Miqne (Kh. El-Muqanna), they discovered a very interesting dedication inscription. (Cf. S. Gitin-T. Dothan-J. Naveh, A Royal dedication Inscription from Ekron, IEJ 47 (10997): 1-16.)

The inscription spoke of a king by the name of Akish. He had built a temple (bayt) for the Philistine divinity PTGYH. She was the protectress of the city. The name of the king, or rather ... the prince of Ekron, corresponds to the King of the Philistines, Gath, (Akish) who was mentioned by David (1 Sam. 21:11-15; 27), and to a king named twice in Syrian inscriptions of the 8th and 7th centuries BC.

The two cities Ekron and Gath, along with Gaza. Ashkelon and Ashod, listed in Gen. 13:2-3, were the Five Cities (the Pentapoli) of the Philistines. The Philistine Pentapoli were found in the region just west of the Judean mountains which covered the greater part of Biblical Shephelah. Ekron remained a Philistine city until the Syrian conquest in the 8th century BC. An interesting note is that this region of Philistine, called PA-LA-ASH-TU in Syrian, is the origin of the name Palestina which appeared in the Roman period. From this time onward, "Palestine" is used.

Some 35 kms. south-west of Jerusalem, Tel Miqne was just on the edge of the coastal plains. It is situated strategically at the cross-roads of all communication between Ashod, Gazer, Hebron and Bet Shemesh. Trude Dothan of the Hebrew University began the excavations of Tel Miqne in 1981. He collaborated with Seimur Gitin of the Albright Institute of Jerusalem. These particular excavations yielded an enormous wealth of information about the culture and the history of Philistine.

By studying the ceramics, they hope to learn much about the religion of the time as well as the origin of the non-Canaanite people in Philistia. It is quite possible that these people actually came from the Greek culture. The two archeologists especially emphasized one fact: these excavations have, in part, justified the negative words found in the Bible regarding to the Philistines. In the Old Testament, the Philistines were known as the terrible enemies of Samson, Saul and David.

A Brief History of Ekron.

The story of Ekron, portrayed in the Old Testament and in Assyrian and Babylonian sources, is rich in detail. The Philistine inscription adds some fresh insights. According to Gen. 13:2-7, the city was not conquered by the Israelites at the time of Joshua. Only when we read the text of Judges 1:18 do we find out the reason: Judah was not able to expel the Philistines from the plain, because they had chariots made of iron. Before the Tribe of Dan migrated to the region of Mount Hermon, Ekron marked the boundaries between them and the Tribes of Judah and Ephraim. Following this, Samuel, Saul and David conducted wars against the Philistines (cf. 1 Sam. 5-7). The city of Ekron passed through many hands, but in the end remained the property of the Philistines. After all this, on many occasions the Old Testament tells us: Ekron had a Philistine king. (Cf. 2 Kings 1:1-6, and Amos 1:8.)

At Ekron, the god Baal-Zebub was venerated. This god was known also in New Testament times as Baal-Zebul (Matt. 10:25). In effect, this was the real name of the Philistine divinity, and it meant "Baal is the Prince." However, the name mentioned in 1 Kings 1:16, is a deliberate slurring of the meaning of the word into "The patron of the flies". There is an interesting biblical account found in 2 Kings 1:1-6) told of Ahaziah, king of Israel in the time of Elijah (836-852 BC). He had sent an ambassador to the king of Ekron to interrogate this god, Baal-Zebub, seeking if he might be heal his (Ahaziah’s) wounds. At this point, the prophet Elijah intervened. He went to find the ambassadors of the King of Samaria, and said to them: Is it that there is no God in Israel, that you go and interrogate the Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Thus says the Lord: From the bed from which you have arrived here, do not bother yourself to arise as you shall surely die.

Ekron’s political independence came to an end with the Syrian invasion. King Sargon II (712 BC.) and Sennacherib (701 BC.) conquered Ekron. It now belonged to a new province called Palaashtu, and was ruled by a king or governor who was faithful to the King of Syria. The conquest of Ekron was found written in the survey of the palace of Sargon II at Khorsabad.

The Annals of Sennacherib inform us that the Assyrian king remained on the throne as the legitimate king Padi, the one deposed by Hezekiah, the King of Judah. He was deposed because he refused to intervene in the rebellion against the Assyrians. After this, Asharraon asked Ekron, then governed by a vassal king Ikausu (Akish), to contribute materials and men toward the construction of the new Assyrian capital Nineveh. Assurbanipal (667 BC.) asked another king Ikausu (Akish) to contribute toward the military expedition against Egypt.

Ekron was again destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 603 BC, in his campaign against the rebelling cities of the Mediterranean coast. In the Greek period, Ekron was called Accaron. Alexander Epiphany, called Ballas, King of Syria, assigned the Toparchy of Accaron to Jonathan Maccabeo as a prize for his faithfulness. (Cf. 1 Mac. 10:89.)

The Philistine Inscription.

This is the first publication of a Philistine dedication inscription found in Israel. The script is Phoenician-Canaanite, which was a local language of the time and area. A language very similar to epigraphic Hebrew of the 8-6th Centuries BC. We deduce that the Philistines arrived in Canaan from Greece. It seems that they adopted the indigenous language they found used here. This fact was already noted at Gaza and Deir El-Balah. Egyptian and Philistine ceramics mentioning funeral customs showed evidence of Egyptian-Canaanite influence.

This inscription was found inscribed on a rock in a cell in the temple. It must have fallen when the temple was destroyed in 603 BC. It is five lines long, and contains 72 letters. The text is complete and reads as follows:

1. The temple (that) built ‘KYSH, son of PDY, son
2. Of YSD, son of ‘ADA’, son of YA’R prince of "EK-
3. RON, for his patron PTGYH. That you may bless it, and pro-
4. tect it, and prolong his days, and to bless
5. His land.

The details and the innovation which this inscription yields to us are manifold. Above all, it is the first and principal Philistine inscription left to us by the Philistines themselves. In fact, until now, there had been news of these people from the Bible, as well as from sources outside the Bible (Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians). At Tel Miqne, in previous excavations, there were found some inscriptions on jars, with commercial or religious words, such as: "oil, fig cakes, sanctuary, holy, of Asherat, of Ben’anat, "Ahimelek". However, this new dedication inscription adds much to the historical and linguistic consequences of the Philistines of Ekron.

Line 1. The term which is used to indicate the sanctuary is the same term used in Biblical Hebrew (bayt, house).

The absence of the relative pronoun is seen in other Phoenician inscriptions.

The name of the king of Ekron is Achish, as we find in Sam. 21:11-15. The continuity of the use of this name is no surprise as it is easy to find the same name for a king many centuries later. The name Akish is not Semitic. The LXX transliterates it in Greek as This allows us to see that the name corresponds to the Greek and Latin Anchise, the father of Enea. The Hebrew expression also allows us to suppose another interpretation: Acheo, which is the Greek version. These remarks about the name Akish confirm the Greek origin of the People of the Sea. The name of the ancestor of Akish, Padi, is known in the Annals of Sennacherib, and also in a certain economic document where it is stated that a Pidi of Anqaruna paid the King of Syria ... the names of the other ancestors of AKISH, that is YSD, ‘ADA’, YA’R are Semitic names known to the Old Testament (Ya’ir), or as in the texts of Ugarit and the Phoenician inscriptions.

Line 2. The title of ‘Akish is Sar, is used in Hebrew to indicate either a prince or an administrator, (Cf. the name of Sarah, the mother of the people of Israel.) However, we do not quite understand if the term Sar, may be equivalent to that of king, or in the Assyrian period to that of vassal. It may only indicate some title given to a governmental official as given by the king of Nineveh. The expression "Prince of Ekron" confirms the identification of Tel Miqne with Ekron of the Philistines.

Line 3. The name of the goddess PTGYH has been hitherto unknown to us. From the Old Testament, we know that the principal deity of the Philistines was Dagon (dg = fish, or grain). This deity was also venerated in the temple of Gaza, Ashod, and Bet Shean. We know from 1 Kings 1:1-6, that at Ekron only the god Baal-Zebul was venerated. Therefore regarding this new female divinity, we as yet know nothing. The termination in YH has been found in a list of Philistine names in Tel Jemmeh, however this cannot be taken randomly as a contemporary port of Ekron. The god was venerated as the protector of the city and the royal dynasty. Perhaps we are looking at an incarnation of the divinity Ashtarte/Asherah which was very much diffused among the ancient Canaanites. The word ‘adth’, woman, is known as an appellate for the god Ashtarte from some Phoenician inscriptions from the 10th to 7th centuries AC.

This inscription was found in the cell (Sancta Sanctorum) of a temple built after the Assyrian conquest of Sennacherib (703BC). The sanctuary in its time was part of an enormous public complex in Assyrian style. It comprised: The palace of the governor and the temple. The measurements were 38 by 57 meters. In the temple of the inscription, there was found a great quantity of objects and statuettes in ivory, seals, amulets, beetles, and an Egyptian cobra in gold of some 23cm. Long. There was an urn and some other liturgical objects. One of the objects which was of particular interest was a tusk of ivory with the image of a figure of a female divinity and on the back, the seal of the Pharaoh Merneptah.

(SBF -Jerusalem, August 22, 1997)

© copyright 1998


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