November 10, 2005
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Elana Oberlander, Office of the Spokesman, Bar-Ilan University
Has the Biblical Goliath Been Found?
Bar-Ilan University Archaeologists
Unearth Earliest Philistine Inscription
in Which Names Similar to Goliath Appear
Ramat Gan - A very small ceramic sherd unearthed by Bar-Ilan University
archaeologists digging at Tell es-Safi, the biblical city "Gath of the
Philistines", may hold a very large clue into the history of the well-known
biblical figure Goliath. The sherd, which contains the earliest known
Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, mentions two names that are
remarkably similar to the name "Goliath". Tell es-Safi/Gath is located in
the southern coastal plain of Israel, approximately halfway between Ashkelon
The discovery is of particular importance since the Bible attributes Gath as
the home town of Goliath. "Gath of the Philistines," was one of the major
cities of the Philistines, the well-known arch-enemies of the Israelites in
the biblical text. The archaeological find may also be seen as the first
clear extra-biblical evidence that the well-known biblical story of the
battle between David and Goliath (and, in particular, the very existence of
a figure such as Goliath during the biblical period) may be more than just a
legend, according to Prof. Aren Maeir, Chairman of Bar-Ilan University's
Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, who has
been directing the excavations since they began in 1996. Prof. Maeir will
present his findings next week at the conference of the American Schools of
Oriental Research in the U.S. city of Philadelphia.
Other recent findings uncovered at the recent excavations at Tell es-Safi
include a large assortment of objects of various types which are linked to
Philistine culture. Additional remains relating to the siege system
constructed by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus around 800 BCE, were revealed,
along with extensive evidence of the subsequent capture and destruction of
the city by Hazael, as mentioned in Second Kings 12:18. Remains of the
Crusader period fortress, Blanche Garde, built after the first Crusade in
the mid-twelfth century CE, were also discovered.
Written in archaic "Proto-Canaanite" letters, the inscription found on the
sherd, dating to the 10th or early 9th century BCE, contains two non-Semitic
names: Alwt and Wlt. Most scholars believe the name Goliath, of non-Semitic
origin, is etymologically related to various Indo-European names, such as
the Lydian name Aylattes. Following intense examination of the inscription,
Prof. Maeir (along with his colleagues Prof. Aaron Demsky, an expert in
epigraphy at Bar-Ilan University, and Dr. Stefan Wimmer, of Munich
University) has concluded that the two names which appear in the inscription
are remarkably similar to the etymological parallels of Goliath.
"It can be suggested that in 10th-9th century Philistine Gath, names quite
similar, and possibly identical, to Goliath were in use," says Prof. Maeir.
"This chronological context from which the inscription was found is only
about 100 years after the time of David according to the standard biblical
chronology. Thus, this appears to provide evidence that the biblical story
of Goliath is, in fact, based on a clear cultural realia from, more or less,
the time which is depicted in the biblical text, and recent attempts to
claim that Goliath can only be understood in the context of later phases of
the Iron Age are unwarranted."
While the letters are Semitic, the names appearing in the inscription are
Indo-European (the linguistic family of ancient Greek and related
languages). It is assumed by most scholars that the Philistines migrated to
the Levant from somewhere in the Aegean region. On their arrival, they
brought with them assorted Aegean cultural facets. With time, their culture
became more and more effected by the local cultures, slowly incorporating
local elements. This inscription, with Semitic script and Indo-European
names, is among the earliest hard evidence showing this process.
The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project is a long-term investigation
aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important
sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi is one of the largest tells (ancient ruin
mounds) in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th
millennium BCE until modern times.
Continuous excavations of the site are planned for at least the next decade.
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