While there are several other sites in the biblical text called “Gath” (e.g., Gath-Hepher, Gath-Rimmon, Gittaim), the main biblical references to a site by this name refer to Gath of the Philistines, one of five major cities of the Philistine Pentapolis (along with Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ekron). While in the past its location was debated due to the lack of a site in Philistia preserving this ancient name (and quite a few identities were suggested), based on both textual analyses and the archaeological remains, it is clear that Gath of the Philistines should be placed at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi (Tel Zafit), a site in the northwestern Shephelah, on the southern bank of the Elah Valley, ca. 12.5 miles (20 km) north of modern Qiryat Gath and 5.6 miles (9 km) south of Tel Miqne-Ekron.

Textual References.

Predating its mention in the biblical text, Gath is known from the el-Amarna correspondence, with several letters relating to the site (gimti), mentioning two kings, Šuwardata and Abdi-Aštarti. This city played a central role in the geopolitical matrix of southern Canaan during the fourteenth century B.C.E. Petrographic analyses of these letters have demonstrated their relationship with Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi, supported as well by the abundant archaeological finds dating to the Late Bronze Age in the excavations.

In the biblical text, Gath of the Philistines is mentioned more often than any of the other Philistine cities. While figuring as one of the major Philistine cities in the ark narrative (1 Sam 5), most of the references in the biblical narrative relate to the early Israelite monarchy, in particular in the Davidic cycle. For example, David is accredited with dueling Goliath of Gath (1 Sam 17), he escaped to Gath from King Saul (1 Sam 21, 27), and Ittai the Gittite is the commander of trusted warriors (2 Sam 15). In later narratives, Gath plays a minor role, virtually disappearing in later biblical texts, save for a few significant mentions. In 2 Kings 12:17 Gath is captured by Hazael of Aram (ca. 830 B.C.E.), for which dramatic archaeological evidence has been found. Amos 6:2 mentions the state of destruction of Gath, apparently reflecting the mid-eighth-century B.C.E. abandonment of the site following the Hazael destruction. On the other hand, 2 Chronicles 26:6’s account of the destruction of the wall of Gath by Uzziah of Judah is not evidenced archaeologically. In later texts, when the Philistine cities are mentioned (e.g., Amos 1:6–8; Jer 25:20; Zeph 2:4), Gath is no longer mentioned, apparently reflecting that it was no longer an important Philistine site from the eighth century B.C.E. onward (as evidenced in the archaeological remains as well). In the Neo-Assyrian texts, Gath is mentioned as having been captured by Sargon II in his campaign to Ashdod in 712 B.C.E. and perhaps may be referred to in the “Azekah inscription,” dated to either Sargon II or Sennacherib.

Archaeological Exploration.

Although the site was visited by explorers from the mid-nineteenth century C.E. onward, prior to the twenty-first-century excavations at the site, the only significant exploration of the site was by Bliss and Macalister in 1899. Following a hiatus of a century, as of 1996 an extensive study of the site and its environs has been conducted under the auspices of Bar-Ilan University, directed by Aren Maeir. Remains dating from the late Protohistoric through the Modern periods have been uncovered, spanning the entire cultural sequence of this site. Of particular importance are the finds from the Early Bronze, Middle Bronze, Late Bronze, and Iron Ages, as well as remains from the Persian periods, the Middle Ages, and the Modern period. It is the finds from the Late Bronze and Iron Ages which are of particular significance for the study of ancient Gath as they provide material evidence for periods in which the site is mentioned in the biblical and ancient Near Eastern sources.

Although a large site during the Early Bronze Age (and most probably one of the larger polities in Canaan during the third millennium B.C.E.), during the first half of the second millennium B.C.E. (Middle Bronze Age), the size and significance of the site diminish. During the Late Bronze Age Gath becomes once more a large and prosperous city. Remains from both excavations and surface surveys indicate intense activity throughout the Late Bronze Age, including during the el-Amarna period (fourteenth century B.C.E.). Finds include abundant local material culture as well as two short Egyptian inscriptions and imported Cypriot and Aegean pottery. A well-constructed and relatively large structure dating to the final stages of this period was found on the eastern side of the site (Area E), and it appears that this structure was destroyed at the very end of the Late Bronze Age, perhaps evidence of the conquest and at least partial destruction of Canaanite Gath during the transition between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages.

With the end of the Late Bronze Age, there is a distinct cultural change, with evidence of the appearance of the Philistine culture. Clear stratigraphic evidence of the earliest phase of the Philistine settlement has been discovered. This is seen in Area A, on the eastern side of the tell; but, more importantly, domestic levels dating to the earliest Iron Age, with a selection of “Philistine-1” (Myc. IIIC:1b) pottery, have been uncovered in Area F, on the northwestern side of the upper tell. These finds clearly demonstrate that not only was Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath settled by the Philistines at this stage but it was a large site, most likely of urban nature. Interestingly, this confirms the observations regarding the large size of the site as seen from the survey results. Interestingly, the Early Iron Age is the only period in which both Gath and Ekron (the two sites are neighbors) are large, while in most other periods one of these two sites is larger—at the expense of the other.

Later stages of the Iron Age I are also represented in the finds from the site. From the survey and the residual finds in later Iron Age–I levels, it is clear that all the stages of the Iron Age–I Philistine culture are represented at the site, including, in addition to the Philistine-1 stage, the Philistine-2 (bichrome, mid-Iron Age I) and Philistine-3 (later monochrome, Late Iron Age I) stages.

Evidence of the Philistine-2 stage was excavated in several locations. In Area E, this included a few garbage pits and some domestic contexts. In Area A, evidence of the Philistine-2 stage includes domestic levels and a pit with several vessels and other finds, which appears to have been a foundation deposit below a stratum A6 (Early Iron Age I) wall. In Area F (near the summit of the site), domestic levels with Philistine-2 pottery were found just above the earliest Iron-Age phases. And finally, in Area P, to the west of Area A, portions of a well-built structure, perhaps a public building, were partially uncovered, with Philistine-2 pottery forms. This building has several rooms, including one with a large deposit of phytoliths, perhaps indicating that it served as a storage room for agricultural produce.

The Late Iron Age I is likewise well represented at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, both in the surveys and in the excavations. Extensive evidence of this stage (stratum A5) has been found in Area A. This includes mainly domestic remains, among which can be noted several interesting features. Quite a few of the round, pebble hearths, typical of many Philistine sites, were uncovered, in some cases built repeatedly, one on top of the other, in domestic courtyards that were used over a long period of time. In fact, it appears that this type of cooking/heating installation continues to be used at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath into the Iron Age IIA, indicating that this feature, appearing at the Philistine sites with their arrival in the Early Iron Age, is one of the cultural attributes of the Philistines that continue a long time after their initial arrival and that one can hardly argue that the unique, foreign traits/markers of the Philistine culture disappear after the end of the Iron Age I/Early Iron Age IIA. Rather, a selection of these traits (including specific dietary preferences such as pork and dog meat), seemingly of special importance in the continued self-definition of the Philistines, continued to be used well into the Iron Age IIA and IIB.

A partially preserved plaster floor comprised of a unique hydraulic plaster (a plaster that can harden under water) was found in Late Iron I/Early Iron IIA context in Area A. While this type of plaster has previously not been reported from the Levant prior to the Roman period, similar plasters are known from the Late Helladic Aegean, perhaps indicating that this is yet another technology that was brought to Philistia with the arrival of the Philistines.

Several finds relating to Philistine burial practices have been found in Iron-I contexts. At least two subsurface infant jar burials were found in the Late Iron Age–I levels at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath. These burials, of very young infants, were found under the floors in domestic contexts, similar to those found at Ashkelon and Ekron in the Early Iron Age I. An additional mortuary find is the Late Iron Age–I burial cave. This cave, one of several in a wadi to the south of Areas A and E (termed Area T), was previously robbed. The skeletal remains, which save for a very small sample were not articulated, indicate that over 70 individuals were interred in this tomb. In addition, while the sherds found in the tomb represent a wide range of periods, the overall majority of them and all the complete or restorable vessels date to the Late Iron Age I. Likewise, a very nice selection of metal objects, glyptics, and beads was found in the tomb. Analysis of the skeletal remains has indicated (1) a rather full representation of the entire age spectrum, from infants to adults, and (2) a very poor health profile, including indication that by and large the population buried in this tomb suffered from quite poor health, with evidence of poor nutrition and various diseases. This said, the poor state of preservation of this burial revealed much about Philistine mortuary customs at the time. Nevertheless, the very fact that a Philistine burial cave was discovered, which may be one of many in this region, the first reported at any of the major Philistine sites, may be indicative of future finds relating to this topic.

Since the commencement of the renewed excavations at Gath, many of what might be defined as the most important and groundbreaking finds have dated to the Iron Age IIA. This includes the very impressive remains of the city during this period, the well-preserved destruction level seen in various parts of the site, and the apparent siege system surrounding the site (associated with the siege and conquest by Hazael of Aram Damascus). In particular, because the very archaeology of Iron-Age Philistia during this time frame (tenth–ninth centuries B.C.E.) was quite poorly known prior to the results of the excavations at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, the finds relating to this period are of an importance that goes far beyond that of simply understanding the cultural history of this site.

From the results of the surface survey of the site, it was seen that the size of Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath during the Iron Age IIA was quite impressive, and the site apparently reached its largest size in its entire settlement history, encompassing perhaps as much as 16 to 20 acres (40–50 ha), making it one of the largest sites in the Iron-Age southern Levant. In addition to an intense occupation in the upper tell, clear evidence of the existence of a substantial lower city in the area to the north of the upper tell (up to the Elah Valley riverbed) could be discerned.

The results of the surface survey were confirmed by the excavations in Area D, in the lower city to the north of the upper tell, which demonstrated that an extensive settlement of the Iron IIA existed in this part of the site. Close analysis of architectural remains observable on the surface indicates the existence of additional structures for scores of meters both to the west and east of Area D, as well as an apparent fortification line observed on the slope between Area D and the Elah Valley riverbed.

Remains dating to the early stages of the Iron Age IIA were seen in Area A, below the extensively excavated and well-preserved destruction level of stratum A3, which dates to the second half of the ninth century B.C.E. In addition, in selected parts of Area A, Late Iron Age–I levels were reached at certain points; and the Iron Age–IIA finds above these Late Iron–I levels and below stratum A3 were related to earlier Iron Age IIA. As noted in the discussion of the stratigraphy of Area A, the stratigraphic phasing of the Early Iron IIA and Late Iron I in Area A is not consistent throughout the area, where one can discern various local phasing in the pre–stratum A3 levels. In addition, it is not always easy to define the exact differentiation between Late Iron–I and Early Iron–IIA finds, particularly in the pottery—so much so that one can argue for a strong continuation of traditions between these two periods, at least at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath. Nevertheless, in several locations in Area A, a clear pre–stratum A3 level, with typical Early Iron–IIA finds, could be discerned (including pottery typologically different and later than the Late Iron–I pottery assemblage). The pottery assemblage displays features typical of this period, such as the widespread appearance of hand-burnished surface decoration and the virtual, if gradual, disappearance of the Iron-I Philistine decorated pottery.

Some domestic contexts dating to the Early Iron IIA were excavated, in which various features, such as courtyards, hearths, pits, and other installations, were revealed. Ample evidence of the continued use of the round, pebble hearths of various types were seen in the Iron-IIA levels as well.

Cult-related finds have been found in the Early Iron–IIA levels as well. On the eastern side of Area A, below a cultic corner which was part of the stratum A3 destruction level, remains of an early Iron Age–IIA building which apparently served as a temple were revealed. This included two well-made round stone pillar bases and a related rectangular structure, quite reminiscent of the plan of the Philistine temple at Tel Qasile, stratum X. Although the finds from this structure were not well preserved, various cult-related finds were discovered in association with this structure. Just to the north of the northern wall of the temple, remains of a small area in which evidence of bronze and iron metallurgical production activities was found, whose function was most likely connected to the nearby temple.

Two additional finds dating to the Early Iron IIA merit special mention. The first is an inscribed sherd with an archaic alphabetic script, which was found in the stratified fill deposits in stratum A4. This inscription was incised on a fragment of a red-slipped and hand-burnished bowl, typical of the early Iron Age IIA. The inscription, inscribed in an archaic alphabetic script, reads “alwt| wlt[.” This is interpreted as two non-Semitic, Indo-European names, with parallels from various Bronze- and Iron-Age Indo-European languages (such as Mycenaean Greek, Iron-Age Luwian). This inscription is of importance for various reasons, including (1) it is the earliest decipherable Philistine text known; (2) it is the earliest clear evidence of the beginning of the use of alphabetic script by the Philistines, who seem, with their arrival in Canaan, to have originally used Aegean-style scripts; (3) the two Indo-European names appearing in the inscription serve as additional evidence for an Indo-European linguistic background of the Philistines' original language(s); and (4) the clear dating of this archaic alphabetic text, both the well-dated medium on which it was inscribed (a sherd clearly dating to the Iron Age IIA) and its clear archaeological context, is explicit proof that the archaic style of the alphabetic script was in use later than often suggested. Even if at some sites typologically more advanced versions of the alphabetic text already appeared at more or less the same time, earlier types of script continued to be used simultaneously. An important point to stress is that in the next stage at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, in the Late Iron IIA stratum A3, a limited group of alphabetic texts indicate that the archaic alphabet was not used anymore and a more formalized, Phoenician-style alphabet came into use, which is seen in several brief incised inscriptions from stratum A3.

The second find of note is an imported Greek sherd of late sub-Mycenaean/early Proto-Geometric date. This apparently is the earliest Iron-Age imported Greek sherd reported so far from the Levant. In addition, as opposed to most of the later Iron Age IIA–IIB Greek pottery from the Levant which usually originates from Euboea, this sherd was produced in the Argolid (a pattern more common in the Late Bronze Age). All told, this sherd is most probably evidence of the very beginning of trade between Iron-Age Greece and the Levant during the Iron Age II, most probably through Phoenician middlemen.

Perhaps the most impressive finds date to the latter part of the Iron Age IIA, including a well-preserved destruction level, discovered in several of the excavation areas on the site, but in addition the siege system, which is dated to this period. Extensive evidence of this destruction was found on the upper tell in Areas A, E, and F and in the lower city in Area D.

The finds from all these excavation areas provide a relatively coherent and consistent picture for the city of Gath during the Late Iron Age IIA. Wherever excavated, evidence was seen of a rich and well-developed culture, which had reached a rather sudden end in a site-wide destruction. This destruction, which is related to the conquest of the city by Hazael of Aram and dated to ca. 830 B.C.E., was evidenced in collapsed, burnt, and abandoned buildings throughout the site.

Gath

Early Philistine inscription. Zev Radovan/www.BibleLandPictures.com

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The size of Gath during the Iron Age IIA was ca. 16 to 20 acres (40–50 ha), making it one of the largest sites in the Iron-Age southern Levant. While it can be assumed that Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath was fortified at this time—because of both its large site and its predominant role during this period as well as the fact that if it had not been fortified, there would have been no need for a prolonged siege by Hazael—sections of the relevant fortifications have not yet been excavated. Nevertheless, several hints of these fortifications do exist, both on various sides of the upper tell and on the northern side of the lower city.

By and large, the structures excavated from this destruction level appear to be domestic. No clear evidence of the elite zones in the city has been excavated, perhaps largely because the very summit of the tell is inaccessible for excavations. While it is hard to conclusively define the architectural types seen in these domestic structures (few have been excavated in their entirety), several points can be noted. First of all, it is clear that these structures are not of the four-room house type, typical of Israelite/Judahite sites and, in fact, seen in the late eighth-century B.C.E. Judahite levels on Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath. Some similarity does exist in the plans of Building 23033 from Area A with the linear house type, which may originate in the Aegean Late Bronze Age, reflecting foreign, non-Levantine architectural influences in the Philistine culture.

Evidence of various types of household activities was uncovered, including household production activities such as grinding, oil production, weaving, and other functions. Interestingly, extensive evidence of cooking was not found, neither the various types of ovens nor a large number of cooking pots of the typical Iron-Age types. This latter point does not mean that cooking was not carried out in these houses; rather, the cooking jug was the predominant cooking vessel at this time.

A bone tool–production location was discovered in this destruction level in Area F. The finds from this production location, which apparently was meant to produce bone points or arrows, enabled the reconstruction of the entire chaîne opératoire of this production process. Evidence of olive oil production during the Iron Age IIA was found in Area A in the form of a large olive press.

In several of the structures uncovered in stratum A3, evidence of cultic praxis was discovered. While there is no clear-cut evidence for the existence of formal cultic structures in stratum A3, the repeated discovery of various cult-oriented objects, such as decorated chalices and phallus-shaped situlae, seems to indicate that these cultic objects were places in “cultic corners” within domestic contexts. As seen, for example, at Tel Miqne-Ekron, cultic corners are at times related to production contexts, often in domestic settings. From the prevalence of production activities in the stratum-A3 structures, this cultic activity might be related to such activities as well.

Two additional cult-related aspects should be mentioned. Several examples of a unique type of phallus-shaped ceramic situla were found in stratum A3. These vessels may be related to the cult of the Philistine goddess, perhaps relating to the biblical ophalim, mentioned in the context of the “ark narrative” in 1 Samuel 5—6. An additional cult corner was found in stratum A3, in which there were multiple plastered niches and a plastered stepped platform. Just in front of this platform, a rectangular, flattened, flint, “table-shaped” stone was uncovered, on which lay a collection of cultic objects, including a ring-shaped kernos (rounded pottery tube on which small vessels and/or figurines are placed, often used for libations), a pomegranate-shaped vessel, several painted ceramic situlae, two miniature ceramic figurines of a sitting deity, a painted platter, a base of a chalice, and several fragments of zoomorphic figurines. Interestingly, some of these vessels had small perforations or protrusions with perforations, as if to enable them to be attached to a hanging apparatus—in fact, a fragment of a bronze hook was found with these items. These may have been cultic objects that were used in this corner, some of which may have been used in the form of a “cultic mobile/candelabra.” Interestingly, right below this cultic corner, a stratum A4 cultic structure was discovered. Because of this earlier temple, this might be more than just a domestic cultic corner, possibly a more formalized cultic structure.

A cultic context was excavated in Area D in the lower city. In addition to a prodigious amount of diverse pottery finds from this area, the most interesting find was a large stone altar, 21 × 21 × 39 in (53 × 53 × 100 cm, or 1 × 1 × 2 cubits, as in the altar in the tabernacle described in Exodus 30), which, quite similar to altars known from other regions of the Levant (and from Late Iron-Age Philistia), had two horns. This latter feature might be related to the cultural origins of the Philistines as two-horned altars are known from Late-Cypriote Cyprus.

The pottery assemblage and other finds from the ninth-century B.C.E. destruction level provide a nice glance at the socioeconomic background of the site, as well as trade, technology, and other facets. From a regional point of view, it can be seen that the cultural affinity of this assemblage is with other sites in the coastal plain (Philistia), even if some similarities can be seen with more inland sites. In the pottery assemblage one can see a certain continuity, both in ceramic shapes and in decorations, from the Iron Age–I Philistine culture, as well as new forms and decorations that become more and more common in the Iron IIA and even IIB. Nevertheless, many of the characteristics typical of the Iron Age IIB, such as wheel burnishing, are completely absent from this assemblage.

Thus, a relative chronological placement between the Late Iron I/Early Iron Age IIA, on the one hand, and the Iron Age IIA, on the other, seems quite logical. This would place this assemblage somewhere in the second half of the ninth to the early eighth centuries B.C.E., based on comparison to other assemblages (such as Lachish, levels V–IV and Kuntillet עAjrud). On the basis of the 14C dates available from stratum A3, as well as the historical argumentation for the dating of the “Hazael destruction,” a date of ca. 830 B.C.E. for the end of this stratum is most likely. Since this late Iron Age–IIA assemblage from Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath dates to several decades before the end of the ninth century B.C.E., in order to enable one to take into account the full developmental time for both phases of the Iron Age IIA (early and late), it can be suggested that the Iron Age IIA most probably commenced no later than the mid-tenth century B.C.E., if not earlier, which is supported by 14C dates from the earlier Iron Age–IIA level at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath.

The expanding connections between Gath and other regions in the Levant during the Iron Age IIA as seen from various imported pottery types (Phoenician, inland, etc.) should be seen in the context of the large size and undoubtedly important regional role of Gath during this period, which be seen as the predominant polity in Philistia.

The large size of Gath during the Iron Age IIA should be seen in the context of the rise of the Judahite state. The very fact that a large polity existed in eastern Philistia might very well be as a counterpart to an emerging polity in Judah, which is supported by finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The very fact that Hazael of Aram focused so much effort on the siege, conquest, and destruction of Gath in the late ninth century B.C.E. can only be the result of its important role at this time. Following the destruction of Gath by Hazael, there is a significant shift in the geopolitical matrix in the southern Levant, in general, and Philistia, in particular.

One of the most interesting discoveries is that of a siege system which surrounds the site, particularly noticeable as a trench and berm on the eastern, southern, and western sides. In addition, at least two, and perhaps three, towers that are associated with the trench and berm have been noted, as well as hints of the possible existence of other features (such as camps) in other nearby locations. The trench itself was dug into the bedrock to a depth of ca. 16.5 ft (5 m), and the materials from the trench were consistently piled up on the side away from the city, forming a berm or embankment. All of these elements formed a siege system, similar to a Roman circumvalatio, constructed to enclose the besieged city, preventing the defenders from escaping, receiving supplies, and attacking the besieging forces. The system can be dated to the Late Iron Age IIA, is associated with the mid- to late ninth-century B.C.E. site-wide destruction, and is related to the siege, conquest, and subsequent destruction of Philistine Gath by Hazael of Aram (2 Kings 12:18). The mention of a similar siege by Bir-Hadad, Hazael’s son, in the Aramaic Zakur inscription from northern Syria strengthens this interpretation. Following its brief usage, the siege system was abandoned, and clear geomorphological evidence of a process of refilling as the result of erosion processes occurring already in the Iron Age IIB was seen.

The aftermath of the destruction of the city by Hazael has also been revealed. While it was originally thought that this destruction caused total destruction of the city and that all the houses collapsed during this event (completely burying all remains), excavation of the sediments above this destruction indicates that a more complex process occurred. While some structures did completely collapse, others were left (at least partially) standing. In both Areas A and F, one can see walls of buildings from the destruction strata (strata A3 and F9) that seem to have been left standing after the destruction. In addition, geomorphological analysis of sediments immediately above this destruction level reveals the presence of wind-blown sediments, indicating that, prior to reuse of these areas, they were left abandoned and windblown sediments accumulated on surfaces. To this one can add that analysis of some of the human skeletal remains found in the destruction indicates that these remains had been left exposed for a long enough time for the soft tissue to decompose, leaving the bones exposed to the atmosphere. It appears that skeletons were left unburied after this event, perhaps indicating that no one returned to bury the dead.

Following this period of abandonment, evidence of another major event can be seen on the site but this time of apparent geogenic, and not anthropogenic, origin. In Area F, immediately on top of the abandonment level (which was on top of the ninth-century B.C.E. destruction level) evidence of a ca. 65.6 ft (20 m) long, brick wall, which collapsed as a result of an earthquake, was discovered.

This collapse can be closely dated. On the one hand, it is above the ninth-century B.C.E. destruction and the subsequent abandonment level, while, on the other hand, it is situated directly under two late eighth-century B.C.E. Judahite levels. Thus, it can be dated, quite securely, to somewhere between the early part and the third quarter of the eighth century B.C.E. This being the case, one cannot escape the connection to the well-known seismic event dated to ca. 762 B.C.E., the so-called Uzziah earthquake. This event, explicitly mentioned in, for example, Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5, has been extensively discussed in the literature.

The next stages in the sequence of events, following this apparent earthquake, are distinct archaeological levels, dating to the late eighth century B.C.E. In Area A, a level (stratum A2) dating to the late eighth century B.C.E. was discovered. In this level, a structure with a plan quite similar to the four-room houses so typical of Iron-Age Judah was discovered, containing characteristically Judahite (noncoastal) finds. In addition, in Area F, immediately above the remains of the mid-eighth-century B.C.E. earthquake, two late eighth-century B.C.E. levels (strata F7 and F8), both with typical Judahite material culture, were revealed. It appears that during the eighth century B.C.E. the cultural affinity, and most probably the political affiliation, of Gath went through a transformation. If up until the Hazael destruction Gath was culturally affiliated with the coastal/Philistine culture, in these two levels it appears that the site might have been culturally and politically controlled by the late eighth-century B.C.E. Judahite Kingdom. It should be noted that both of these levels seem to have ended in destruction. Additional evidence, in particular Judahite finds, from this same period has been discovered (including LMLK-stamped handles), in Bliss and Macalister’s excavations, in M. Israel’s surveys on the site, and in the twenty-first-century surface survey of the site.

The most likely background for the change in the cultural affiliation seen in these two late eighth-century B.C.E. levels at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, from Philistine/coastal in the ninth century B.C.E. to Judahite/inland in the late eighth century B.C.E., is most probably the expansion of the Judahite Kingdom into the western Shephelah and eastern Philistia toward the end of the eighth century B.C.E. During the 712–711 B.C.E. campaign of Sargon II of Assyria to Ashdod, a site called gimtu, usually identified as Gath, was captured. While many have suggested that the fact that Gath was captured during the campaign against Ashdod indicates that Gath was under Philistine control, the Judahite, non-Philistine material culture does not seem to indicate this; and perhaps the site was captured as a result of its closeness to Philistia.

The destruction of the second, later level can also be related to an Assyrian military campaign. In the so-called Azekah inscription, a text often attributed to Sennacherib, there is a description of an Assyrian attack on a city, whose name is unclear, near the Judahite fortress of Azekah. According to the letter, this city was under Philistine control but had been taken over by the Judahite king Hezekiah (r. ca. 715–687 B.C.E.), an event which probably took place after the death of Sargon II in 705 B.C.E. The relative position of the city in terms of the historical geography of the region is very likely to have been Gath. The city was noted as being situated on a high mountain and seems to have been in some direct proximity to Azekah, both fitting in perfectly with Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath. While some have preferred to identify this city as Ekron, this is hard to accept. In the late eighth century B.C.E., Tel Miqne-Ekron was only ca. 10 acres (4 ha) large; in addition, it is situated on a very low-lying hill, hardly fitting the description in the text, as opposed the very befitting description if it is in fact Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath. Thus, two distinct destruction events of a Judahite-controlled city fit in very well with two historically attested Assyrian campaigns: the first by Sargon II in 712–711 B.C.E. and the second by Sennacherib in 701 B.C.E.

Following the end of the eighth century B.C.E., there is little evidence for settlement activity on the site until the end of the Iron Age. While some seventh-century B.C.E. pottery was found in the survey, no stratigraphic evidence of this phase has been revealed.

During the Persian period the site was resettled, as evidenced by the Persian-period finds from Bliss and Macalister’s excavations (including the rich finds from a cultic repository) and by scattered finds (from both the excavation and survey) from the twenty-first-century project. Following the Persian period, the site lost its importance until the medieval period, when the site was fortified by the crusaders. Throughout the classical periods, there is little activity on the site.

[See also ASHDOD; ASHKELON; EKRON; GAZA; KHIRBET QEIYAFA; and SHEPHELAH.)]

Bibliography

  • Bliss, Frederick Jones, and R. A. Stewart Macalister. Excavations in Palestine during the Years 1898–1900. London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1902.
  • Faerman, M., E. Boaretto, J. Uziel, et al. “‘…In Their Lives, and in Their Death…’: A Preliminary Study of an Iron Age Burial Cave at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel.” Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina Vereins 127 (2011): 29–48.
  • Maeir, Aren M. “The Historical Background and Dating of Amos VI 2: An Archaeological Perspective from Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath.” Vetus Testamentum 54 (2004): 319–334.
  • Maeir, Aren M., ed. Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath I: Report on the 1996–2005 Seasons. Ägypten und Altes Testament 69. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2012.
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