🔼The name Philistine: Summary
- Griever, Burrower, Weakener
- From the verb פלש (palash), to burrow or to grieve loudly.
🔼The name Philistine in the Bible
The Philistines were an immigrant people who lived under five kings in six Canaanite cities or regions: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, Ekron and Avva (Joshua 13:3, Judges 3:3). They dominated the region during the reign of Saul (1 Samuel 13:19), and even defeated him on mount Gilboa, killed his sons and drove him to suicide (1 Samuel 31:6). The Philistines were subdued and decimated by king David (2 Samuel 8:1), most famously in the valley of Elah where David killed Goliath of Gath, and it should be noted that the name Goliath doesn't mean giant but refugee (1 Samuel 17:51). By the time of Solomon, the Philistine cities had been largely destroyed or annexed by Israel although pockets of Philistine populations appear to have perpetuated until the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:8).
The ultimate end came for the Philistine culture when they were taken to Babylon, but prior to the exile a substantial Philistine remnant had been absorbed into Jerusalem's population and subsequently survives to this day, namely the Gittites from Gath (2 Samuel 15:18). A related tribe, the Cherethites, who were possibly a rejected class of the Philistines, had even worked their way up into David's military elite and is therefore also still with us (2 Samuel 20:7).
Since the Biblical account of the building of the temple of YHWH obviously allegorizes the formation of the Hebrew-Phoenician alphabet, the Biblical reports on the frictions between Israel and the Philistines deal with the competition between cultures and their writing systems rather than the kind of political and financial battles that modern nations fight. We moderns operate in an arena where scarcity of resources is the main motivator but in the time of David, people had very little need for scarce materials, and national efforts were focused much more on the perpetuation of legacies.
Said otherwise, if a narrator tells of an Italian invasion, he would be speaking of Roman soldiers if he were a Celt, but if he were the owner a local German restaurant, he would be talking about pasta and pizza. Should pasta and pizza wholly overtake the German restaurant business, the entire evolution of German cuisine — all those centuries of finding the right ingredients, the right technologies; all stories involving German food and all culinary achievements and heroisms — would be erased from memory and might as well never have occurred at all. Should the pizza ever eradicate the Brötchen, all German effort would have been a complete waste of everybody's time.
Stories have never been just fun. Cultures store their living souls in their literary corpus, and finding the perfect alphabet was literally a matter of life and death. Israel's national identity stemmed from the desire to "know God's Name" (Genesis 32:29), and Israel's core mission was to formalize natural law in a perpetual human standard (Romans 1:20, Hebrews 1:2-3, Colossians 2:2-3). It's the invention of the alphabet that made David exclaim that YHWH's Holy One would not see decay (Psalm 16:10, 49:9, Acts 2:27).
🔼A battle of tiny titans
Speech arises from our human DNA, and developing a fitting writing system required as much (a) an external technological odyssey as (b) an internal spiritual one. The alphabet emerged on the intersection of (a) the scientific explanation of observable reality plus the technologies this yielded, and (b) the artistic interpretation of dreams and subconscious thought. The cultural landscape in which this happened appears to have been self-similar to that of the early biosphere, with national literary identities self-similar to DNA — hence the two tablets in the Ark in Moses' tabernacle; one tablet relating to Father Creator and the other one to Mother Society. Later these two tablets would evolve into the Torah scroll, which represents the double helix.
In the late Bronze and early Iron Age, humanity was organized in city states, and a city state was a large agricultural estate centered on its governing city, which in turn was centered on its royal court. These independent city states commonly federated into loosely homogenous cultures, comparable to colonies of related but individual single-celled eukaryotes.
The endomembrane system of those eukaryotes coincided with the general population and internal economy of the city states. Their cattle herds and industries were its mitochondria and related organelles. And the royal court of the city functioned as the cellular nucleus, with the king embodying the legal code upon which the whole of society operated (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). The queen represented the actual dynamic society, the people, and the function of the queen was to try and provoke the king, so that he would continuously contemplate the relation between law and society and either make amendments to the law or corrections in society, as he saw fit.
Some kings of old had multiple wives, who each represented a distinct demographic group, which added to the king's portfolio the task of maintaining peace among the wives, and thus these people groups. Stories from Jacob's four, to Solomon's thousand, to Ahasuerus' Vashti and Esther and even Herod's courtiers Joanna and Susanna are all about that.
Cultures were federations of independently governed city states — the mental equivalent of colonies of single-cellular eukaryotes — until in Persia the postal service was invented and any development in the legal dialogue between emperor and empress could be proclaimed simultaneously to multiple centers of government. Where Solomon's temple allegorized the alphabet and the accumulation of formalized wisdom, Zerubbabel's temple allegorized synchronicity between synagogues and the courts they served.
Synchronous correspondence allowed the cultural equivalent of a multi-cellular organism and ultimately the sexual reproduction that was spoken of by Isaiah and which was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth (Isaiah 7:14). In that sense, Jesus was the cultural equivalent of a gamete (who had genes only from his mother); his death coincided with ovulation, his resurrection with conception (see for more on this our article on the name Nicodemus) and the outpour of the Holy Spirit with the beginning of the embryo's cardiovascular function.
🔼How city-state cultures procreated
Cultural procreation in the days of the city states wasn't very spectacular and was done in three main ways that are self-similar to procreation at the cellular level:
- Mitosis: During cellular mitosis the national identity is duplicated into a near identical foundational corpus, and is outfitted with a vast library ranging from literary masterpieces that were directly derived from the foundational text to the whole bustling economy of living literary expressions: from drama to comedy and detectives to tabloids. Then the whole unit is packed and sent on its way as an independent daughter colony. The Greeks and Phoenicians were big fans of cultural mitosis, although sometimes a daughter culture became sick and even died (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 5:23).
Sometimes the daughter hadn't been sufficiently equipped with a properly functioning literary market of writers and readers, and lost social cohesion before she could naturally grow one. Sometimes the daughter suffered from a poor copy of the foundational text, a poorly functioning royal couple, a sick king, a sick queen, or a compromised dynamic reaction from the cellular realm. Sometimes the realm had poor borders and too many neighbors, and a massive influx of foreign material destabilized the equilibrium between king and people. Sometimes the realm had too tight borders or not enough neighbors and the cell got bored, fell asleep and slowly expired. But even if the daughter died, her elements might still continue via cellular apoptosis:
- Apoptosis: A previously functioning cellular nucleus might start to disintegrate for many reasons. Perhaps it wasn't very profound to begin with, or inherently inconsistent or flawed and becomes overwhelmed when the cell naturally grows too large and complex. Perhaps it functioned fine but cosmic or synthetic radiation throws it in disarray. Perhaps a disease or contamination alters the cell's dynamic into a form that is beyond the natural compass of the foundational material and the nucleus simply can't follow the economy it attempts to govern.
The disintegration of a nucleus is heralded by "blebbing," when the normally smooth cellular membrane begins to show bulges and the cell assumes the form of a star fish. In cultural terms, this would be manifested in certain extreme subcultures that very much need their main culture to exist within but deliberately move as far away from the founding norms as possible. In literary terms this would be described as a wayward queen (Hosea's Gomer) or lazy king (Abigail's Nabal). When the nucleus disintegrates the DNA fractures and bits of it drift into the blebs, together with whatever organelles had hid there. The cellular membrane won't rupture but folds in on the blebs until several separate apoptotic bodies pinch off and continue as little independent creatures. If these little guys have the right amount of the right cellular elements, they might actually self-organize and survive, and that appears to have happened on occasion in the Bronze and early Iron Ages. If these apoptotoids are not viable, which is most likely, they will suffer necrosis:
- Necrosis: Whether an entire cell or an apoptotic remnant, whether due to bad or incomplete management from within or a disease or famine from without, when the elements that make up a living cell lose their ability or desire to relate to one another, and all elements together lose interest in the nucleus, the elements will fall apart and the living cell will lose its life. As with apoptosis, the cellular membrane will form blebs but the cellular organelles don't drift into them. That causes the legs of the star fish to extend ever further away from what remains of the disintegrating nucleus and its confused chorus of pseudo-loyal organelles, until the membrane ruptures and the cell's contents violently spill out (Eglon of Moab, Judas Iscariot).
When a cell's contents spill out into the open, they will either continue to disintegrate and turn into inorganic dust, or they may be absorbed by neighboring cells. This too happened often in antiquity, when cities opened their doors to disheveled refugees who had no social order left between them, only their individual memories and language of the city they once belonged to. Apparently, on rare occasions neighboring cells were able to salvage functioning organelles that could not have survived without a cellular nucleus to serve, but which were spewed out into the open upon the death of their original home court. On a cellular level this is called endosymbiotic eukaryosynthesis, and on a cultural level appears to explain how, for instance, the Jewish wisdom elite could survive the destruction of its native temple in Jerusalem, and reemerge as the wisdom elite of the court of Persia (Daniel, Esther, Ezra). The absorption of the Philistine Gittites into Jerusalem appears to have been accomplished via the same process after the decapitation of Goliath.
🔼The origin of the Philistines
Although the Philistines get a lot of screen time in the Bible, they essentially were an intermediate state or proto-form of the Gittites of Gath who were ultimately absorbed by Judah and are therefore still with us (the name Gath is also the same as the first part of Gethsemane).
In the table of nations, we read that from Noah came Ham, and from Ham both Mizraim (Egypt) and Canaan (Genesis 10:6). In Genesis 10:14 and 1 Chronicles 1:12 we are told that from Mizraim came the Casluhim and that the Philistines in turn originated in the Casluhim, as did the Caphtorim, who ultimately displaced the original Avvim (Deuteronomy 2:23). The prophet Jeremiah calls the Philistines the remnant of Caphtor (Jeremiah 47:4), which in modern times is called the Minoan culture. And they had invented a writing system that remains undeciphered to this day, called Linear A.
All this seems to say that the Philistines emerged from the Minoan civilization of Crete (Caphtorim), which in turn had emerged from a class of Egyptian dreamer-astronomers (Casluhim). The Minoan civilization lasted for three millennia but ultimately grow weak and petered out and was displaced by Mycenaeans from mainland Greek. This social pressure caused by an influx of Mycenaeans from the north probably caused waves of Minoan refugees toward the south. When the Minoan refugees reached the coats of Canaan they found their familiar cousins, with whom they merged or whom they culturally overwhelmed in the case of the Avvim. From their invasion of Canaan's coast they began to be called Philistines.
🔼Etymology of the name Philistine
The name Philistine comes from the verb פלש (palash), which originally described the digging of burrows in river banks by rodents such as rats. By doing so, these creatures weaken the shore and may ultimately cause it to collapse. This is a concern that dominates the debate about refugees to today. In Hebrew, however, this verb came to denote the verbal expression of intense grief brought about by a sudden destruction:
The verb פלש (palash) mostly means to roll around in ashes or dust due to intense grief. In cognate languages it describes the digging of tunnels or burrows.
The ethnonym פלשתי (Philistine) occurs predominantly in reference to Goliath of Gath (1 Samuel 17) and his descendants (2 Samuel 21). The proper plural, פלשתים (Philistines), occurs all over the Bible, but in two cases a special plural, פלשתיים (Philistinians) is used: 1 Chronicles 14:10 and Amos 9:7.
Also note the accidental phonetic proximity to the familiar Latin word filius, which may have been significant in the time of the early church. The noun filius, son, comes from a broad root that has to do with being fruitful, hence words like fecundus and felix, which describe fruitfulness and the happiness that comes from that (hence our verb "to felicitate" and the name Felix).
The Hebrew word for happy fruitfulness is פרה (para), which is the source of the name Ephraim, whose father Joseph came to rule Egypt during a famine in Canaan because he had been able to explain the dream of the Pharaoh (Genesis 37:5, 40:8, 41:16). Something similar and to comparable effect was performed by Daniel in Persia (Daniel 2:30). The Persian Magi, in turn, were able to identify the Christ by looking at the stars (Matthew 2:2), and keep themselves out of harm's way by understanding dreams (Matthew 2:2). The legal father of Jesus was named Joseph too, and his essential role in protecting Jesus in Egypt relied likewise on his fluency in oneiromancy (dream-understanding) during four separate dream sequences (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22).
The verb פרה (para) is also the root of the name Euphrates, and since in the Bible rivers always represent cultures, the Euphrates refers to the culture of Babylon and Persia, where the Jews survived the persecution of Haman. This victory is celebrated with the feast called Purim, whose name derives from the related noun פור (pur), lot. That noun's sibling noun פורה (pura) denotes a winepress, which is a synonym of גת (gat), from whence comes the name Gath:
The verb פרר (parar) means to split, divide and usually make more, expand or multiply. This root belongs to an extended family that also contains פרץ (paras), to break (through), פרש (paras and parash), to spread out or declare, פרס (paras), to break in two or divide, and פאר (pa'ar) means to branch out or to glorify.
The Bible is not concerned with political goings on and only with the evolution of the wisdom tradition, and thus with the rise of information technology (from cave paintings to blockchain). That said: our word "science" comes from the Greek verb σξιζω (schizo), which means to split, divide and make more.
Verb פרה (para) means to bear fruit or be fruitful. Noun פרי (peri) means fruit in its broadest sense. Noun פר (par) means young bull and פרה (para) means young heifer. Note that the first letter א (aleph) is believed to denote an ox-head, while its name derives from the verb אלף (aleph), to learn or to produce thousands. The second letter, ב (beth) is also the word for house (or temple or stable). The familiar word "alphabet," therefore literally means "stable of bulls" or "house of divisions" or "temple of fruitful learning".
Noun פרא (para') is a word for wild donkey. The young bovines were probably known as fruits-of-the-herd, but donkeys in the Bible mostly symbolize lone wanderings and humility.
Noun פור (pur) means lot (hence the feast called Purim). Noun פורה (pura) denotes a winepress and פרור (parur) a cooking pot.
The name Philistine means Grievers, Burrowers, Weakeners, but it is obviously a part of the larger story that begins with the rebel Abraham, who departed from his home in Babylon where the art of astronomy and other sciences of the external natural world dominated. After also rejecting Assyria and Egypt, Abraham settled in Canaan, where his grandson, Jacob became the house of Israel. Significantly, not only Jacob's grandfather Abraham and grandmother Sarah hailed from Babylon, so did his mother Rebekah and his own two wives Leah and Rachel and their maids Zilpah and Bilhah; the four arch-mothers of Israel's twelve tribes.
The art of oneiromancy emerged as the penultimate subdiscipline of the house of Israel, namely in the eleventh son Joseph, whose inaugural dream concerned sheaves of terrestrial grain and whose second dream was similar but featured the celestial sun, moon and eleven stars (Genesis 37:5-11, Matthew 6:10; this principle became later known as the Hermetic aphorism). Joseph the oneiromancer was ultimately rejected and sold to Midian who introduced it to Egypt. After a rocky start, the Egyptians learned to appreciate oneiromancy and made it one of the main elements of their worship of the sun in Heliopolis. During a famine in Canaan, the whole of Israel moved in with Egypt and was saved by their own rejected oneiromancy. Four centuries later, Israel escaped Egypt and returned to Canaan.
Probably around the time of Abraham (note that Biblical chronology follows complexity and does not correspond to our calendar) a sort of cultural pattern of interference emerged between the realms of influence of Egypt and Mesopotamia, which manifested in the northeastern Mediterranean coasts and islands. It gave rise to the Egyptian-leaning Minoans in the Aegean (Linear A) and the Mesopotamia-leaning Hittites in Anatolia (cuneiform), which were displaced by the Greek Mycenaeans (Linear B and Greek) and the Semite Phoenicians and Israelites.
The Latin alphabet we have today evolved from the Greek one, which evolved from the Semitic one, which was based on the Phoenician abjad (consonantal alphabet), crucially amended with the vowel notation that was invented by the Jews. The consonantal letters that the Jews assigned the double duty of also representing vowels were י (y) and ו (w) and ה (he). Together these letters form the name יהוה or YHWH.
Since Linear A hasn't been deciphered yet we don't know if it had vowel notation. But an exclamation of grief is basically a long series of vowels (AAAEEEIIIOOOUUU), so that would perfectly match the verb פלש (palash). And since vowels are the letters that are aspirated, they sit in the solid mass of consonants like airy tunnels in a river bank. So that would match as well.
By the time of David, the term Gittite had become a musical term of unclear meaning. It occurs in the Bible only in the title of three Psalms, namely Psalms 8, 81 and 84, but note that in Biblical times the Psalm weren't numbered but known after their first line. The first line of Psalm 8 is: "O YHWH, our YHWH, how majestic is your name in all the earth." The first line of Psalm 81 is: "Sing for joy to God our strength, shout joyfully to the God of Jacob." The first line of Psalm 84 is: "How lovely are your dwelling places, O YHWH Sabaoth."
All this indicates that the name Gittite refers to vowel notation, and suggests that the name Philistine refers to an earlier element of Linear A, namely symbols that represented syllables consisting of a specific consonant and a specific vowel sound. We don't know how Linear A worked so we can't begin to guess why the world at large didn't adopt it and thus what ultimately destroyed it. But from what the above suggests, it may be that Linear A was essentially vowel-based, and that the ratio of vowels to consonants wasn't viable.
Every culture builds their house from the bricks that are the writings that have spent their due time in the furnace of public scrutiny (Psalm 12:6). The layout and design of the house is a manifestation of the concerns and interests of the people, but the governmental art of architecture is a tricky one. It appears that the Minoans made the old mistake of not letting a lack of substance get in the way of a good party. They probably started out by using inferior clay by adding too few consonants to too many vowels. Then they probably allowed for too many windows (unverified hypotheses) and built enormous parties on the roof.
The Philistine lords of Gaza decided that they and their god Dagon deserved a feast to celebrate their capture of the Israelite judge Samson. A whopping three thousand Philistine lords and their wives and children were on the roof of the house of Dagon and were still able to see Samson chained up below, which demonstrates that the roof was rather open and the superstructure of the house barely there. All Samson had to do was flex and bow between the two central pillars of the house of Dagon to bring the whole thing down and kill the Philistine lords and their families (which, we shall repeat, was the Philistine literary legacy; Judges 16:23).
The error the Minoans and Philistines made is not an obvious one, however. Vowel-sounds are really part of a huge spectrum and there are dozens (or hundreds) of different vocal intonations that one could represent with a separate symbol. The miracle of the Hebrew alphabet is that it has letters that appear to represent the same consonant with multiple symbols: ת and ט both represent T. Letters כ and ק represent K and Q respectively. Letters ש and ס both represent S. Letters א and ע both represent a glottal stop for which English has no symbol. The Hebrew alphabet is a true miracle and we can only guess how many houses collapsed until a working alphabet was found.