|18 March 2007
Philistines, but less and less Philistine
In recent years, excavations in Israel established that the Philistines had fine pottery, handsome architecture and cosmopolitan tastes. If anything, they were more refined than the shepherds and farmers in the nearby hills, the Israelites, who slandered them in biblical chapter and verse and rendered their name a synonym for boorish, uncultured people.
Archaeologists have now found that not only were Philistines cultured, they were also literate when they arrived, presumably from the region of the Aegean Sea, and settled the coast of ancient Palestine around 1200 BCE.
At the ruins of a Philistine seaport at Ashkelon in Israel, excavators examined 19 ceramic pieces and determined that their painted inscriptions represent a form of writing. Some of the pots and storage jars were inscribed elsewhere, probably in Cyprus and Crete, and taken to Ashkelon by early settlers. Of special importance, one of the jars was made from local clay, meaning Philistine scribes were presumably at work in their new home.
The discovery is reported by two Harvard professors, Frank Moore Cross Jr. and Lawrence E. Stager. In the report, the two researchers said the inscriptions "reveal, for the first time, convincing evidence that the early Philistines of Ashkelon were able to read and write in a non-Semitic language, as yet undeciphered. Perhaps it is not too bold to propose," they wrote, "that the inscription is written in a form of Cypro-Minoan script utilized and modified by the Philistines — in short, that we are dealing with the Old Philistine script." Dr. Cross said the script had some characteristics of Linear A, the writing system used in the Aegean from 1650 BCE to 1450 BCE. This undeciphered script was supplanted by another, Linear B, which was identified with the Minoan civilization of Crete and was finally decoded in the mid-20th century.
The two researchers and other scholars said it was not surprising that the Ashkelon inscriptions were in an Aegean type of writing. The biblical Philistines are assumed to have been a group of the mysterious Sea Peoples who probably originated in the Greek islands and migrated to several places on the far eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
The locally made storage jar, bearing seven signs, was found several years ago buried under debris of a mudbrick building, which appeared to date to no later than 1000 BCE. After the 10th century, the Philistines borrowed their Israelite neighbors' Old Hebrew script and alphabet then evolving from Phoenician writing. By then, the Philistines and Israelites had been in such close contact that they appeared to have reached some degree of amity, though tradition never forgot Goliath as the bad Philistine.
Source: The New York Times (13 March 2007)
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