For centuries, the Philistines featured prominently in the Bible have been often considered as the villains in the stories. But a new DNA study reveals that the “bad guys” migrated from Europe to Israel in the 12th century BCE.
Genetic studies have revealed a lot of information about our ancestors and have particularly shed new light on human migrations because DNA allows us to trace origins. For instance, a recent DNA study found previously unknown ancient humans from Siberia who are related to Native Americans, suggesting that their ancestors are the ones who crossed a land bridge into North America thousands of years ago and gave rise to various tribes we know today.
DNA studies give us the ability to find out who we are and now it is being used to decipher biblical history as well.
We all know the story of David and Goliath from the Book of Samuel. David, an Israelite is pitted against a Philistine giant of a man. Most believe it is impossible for David to win the battle but he fells Goliath with nothing more than a stone hurled from a sling and then beheads him.
The Philistines are often portrayed as the enemy of the Israelites in the Bible. And many people view the Philistines as villains and assume they were just a Middle Eastern enemy of the Jews. However, DNA studies now show that the Philistines came from Europe.
In 2016, archaeologists uncovered a Philistine cemetery in the ancient city of Ashkelon containing 150 skeletons.
“For 30 years, we excavated at Ashkelon, uncovering Canaanites, early Philistines and later Philistines – and now we can begin to understand the story that these bones tell,” said Daniel M. Master, director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, told The Jerusalem Post.
See more about the Philistine cemetery below from Harvard University:
It had been previously suggested that the Philistines originated from Europe but the idea was disputed. With the advent of genetic coding, scientists were able to actually test the hypothesis.
“When we found the infants – infants that were too young to travel… these infants couldn’t march or sail to get to the land around Ashkelon, so they were born on site,” Harvard Semitic Museum assistant curator Dr. Adam Aja said. “And their DNA revealed [that] their parents’ heritage was not from the local population.”
“All the work of previous scholarship was pointing in that direction,” Aja continued. “The DNA answered that definitively for us. The DNA gave us the opportunity to let these people speak for themselves.”
Basically, the “villains” of the Bible migrated from Europe to settle in Israel and had multiple violent confrontations with the Israelites, who eventually exiled them to Mesopotamia, located in modern-day Iraq, in 604 BCE. The victors then wrote the history, which has not been kind to the Philistines, who may have migrated to the region for the same reasons most humans migrate to other places: to seek a better life.
“This timing is in accord with estimates of the Philistines’ arrival to the coast of the Levant, based on archaeological and textual records,” Michael Feldman of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said of the European gene being introduced to the region around the same time the Philistines arrived.
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Other tests such as radio-carbon dating also support the timing.
“Not only do we have radio-carbon dating that demonstrates the antiquity of the samples, but we also have stratigraphic evidence,” Masters said. “These samples come from carefully-excavated contexts, connected to artifacts that can be precisely dated.”
However, the European genes eventually disappeared over the centuries as the Philistines expanded their gene pool in the region.
As the Jerusalem Post explains:
[W]ithin two centuries or less, the genetic footprint introduced during the early Iron Age is no longer detectable and seems to be diluted by the local Levantine gene pool, which researchers say suggests intensive admixture between local and foreign populations.
“The Philistines stayed Philistines,” Masters explained. “Later people who called themselves Philistines looked very much like the people around them. Their ethnicity did not change even though, as we look at their genome, we see a lot of Levantine influence than we did before. It is an interesting way of looking at how genetics and ethnicity operate in different ways under different principles.”
By studying the skeletons, researchers have been able to piece together the lives of the Philistines in Ashkelon, even finding that the food they ate in sandy conditions gave them horrible tooth problems that caused much pain. They even found evidence of broken bones that had healed along with artifacts such as pottery.
But the DNA results are much more fascinating and more genetic data is needed to provide an even more accurate picture.
“We need more genetic samples from this region to pinpoint more precisely where this population is from,” Aja said.
“When we found the cemetery and could get DNA evidence from this, it was as if someone handed us a picture. And now, we can see that the puzzle we are putting together actually matches what we thought it was going to be.”
So the next time you read stories about the Philistines in the Bible, you’ll do so with the knowledge of where they came from thanks to modern-day technology that continues to rewrite history.
More from ILTV ISRAEL DAILY below:
Featured Image: Philistine captives at Medinet Habu via Wikimedia Commons