Pigs as Philistine Protein Factories

In Deuteronomy 14, Israel is given a set of dietary restrictions. “Do not eat any detestable thing. These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep. You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. However, of those that chew the cud or that have a divided hoof you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the hyrax. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a divided hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.”

One of the factors that archaeologists study in analyzing a habited site is the makeup of the diet. The types of animals consumed can be seen through animal bone remains, and human bite marks in animal bones.

During the Late Bronze Age, pigs formed part of the Canaanite diet in the southern Levant. But in the subsequent Iron I period, during 12th and 11th centuries, Israelite sites in the central hill country of Canaan are notable for their lack of pig bones, indicating that pig was not part of these settlers’ diets. This practice of pig avoidance extends into Canaanite and Aramean sites. The reason for the pig taboo is unclear. Some have argued that the pig taboo could relate a biblical prohibition of eating pork, but that would not entirely explain why the practice appears in non-Israelite sites.

The lack of pig in the Israelite diet stands in sharp contrast to the Philistine cities along the southwest coast of the Levant during the Iron I period. In the major Philistine population centers, pigs made up a larger portion of the local diet than the sheep, goats and cattle that were more typical of the region.

There may be a number of reasons for this. The Philistines are believed to have migrated to the southern coastal Levant during the Late Bronze Age collapse. Pigs are a good source of protein. They reproduce quickly, are omnivorous and gain weight quickly. Pigs have robust digestive systems and can eat foods not fit for human consumption. These factors allow pigs to survive a sea voyage and make them ideal for traveling with and settling in a new region.

Studies of DNA extracted from pig bones demonstrate the Philistines’ foreign origins. In the Late Bronze Age, pig DNA in the Levant demonstrate that the pigs were of local origin. But in the Iron Age, European pigs came to dominate the landscape, a feature consistent with modern day wild pigs in Israel. This shift is likely a remnant of the Philistine migration and diet choices.

A modern day example of pigs’ usefulness in converting food waste into protein can be seen just outside of Las Vegas:

Philistine Idol

In Deuteronomy 7, Israel is commanded on how to the treat the nations they will conquer in Canaan. “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

While the Philistines are not listed in Deuteronomy, they were a nation that Israel contended with in Canaan, and they too had their own gods. Judges 16 is specific about one Philistine god: Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.”

There are different theories as to the nature of the Philistine god Dagon. Some have suggested that Dagon is related to the Hebrew word for fish, and is connected to a ‘fish-god’ figure. Others claim it is connected to Dagan, the word for grain, a West Semitic god of crops. A temple to Dagan was unearthed at Ras Shamra in Syria.

Other figures have been unearthed in Iron I Philistine territory that point to their Aegean roots. “Psi-type” figures are standing figures with their arms out to the side. They are called “Psi-type” for their resemblance to the Greek letter “Ψ,” or Psi. Their purpose is unclear, and they are thought to either be toys or represent a goddess.

Another figure discovered in Philistine context is the “Ashdoda.” It was given this name for where it was first discovered in Ashdod. The image above is of “Ashdoda,” on display at The Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod.

Ashdoda is a seated goddess. It has a number of elements to point to an Aegean or Cypriot connection, including the long neck, its head shape and lack of a mouth. The painted design is similar to the designs found on Philistine bichrome ware. It has small breasts, unlike the more full figured Judean Pillar Figurines later found in the central hill country in Judean territory.

While Israel was commanded to destroy idols, here are some examples of Simon Cowell destroying American Idols:

Trading Places

After striking the rock, God punished Moses by not allowing him to enter Canaan. In Deuteronomy 3, Moses requested the opportunity to see the land that lay beyond the Jordan River. God told Moses to “Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.”

Later, in Deuteronomy 7, Moses tells the nation that God will drive out the nations residing in Canaan before them, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.

Judges 3 explains that the Israelites did not expel all the nations. The Israelites instead lived amongst the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, along with the five rulers of the Philistines, and the Canaanites, Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

Archaeology demonstrates that the early Israelites settled in the Samarian and Judean hills along the central hill country of Canaan. The Israelites of the period are generally identifiable in the archaeological record by the presence of features such as four-room houses, collared rim-jars, a lack of pig bones, a lack of iconography, simple pottery design, an egalitarian society lacking royal architecture and simple burials.

In the southwest corner of the southern Levant, the Philistines established themselves in cities such as Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The pottery unearthed at these sites remains a standout feature of these settlers. Beyond the “Philistine Pentapolis,” the Philistines managed to extend their control further north.

 A Philistine city was discovered at the archaeological site of Tell Qasile, on the northern side of the Yarkon River. The location is roughly a mile away from the mouth of the Yarkon River, where it spills into the Mediterranean Sea. It would have served as a port city.

This city was active in the 12th and 11th centuries. At the site, archaeologists unearthed three temples, built one on top of the other. The last temple, built on top of the others, contained cultic vessels and animal bones, signs of ritual activity. It had plastered benches along the walls, and a raised platform, a ‘bamah’ in the main hall. It also had two central pillars to support a roof.

Across from the temple building were the Philistines’ square homes, with just over 1000 square feet in floor space.

The greatest irony is the location of the site. Today, the Samarian and Judean hills represent the Palestinian Arab heartland, while the Yarkon River runs through Tel Aviv, which with its suburbs is the largest concentration of Jews in the world. In the late 2nd millennium, Israel’s heartland was in Samaria and Judea, and it was the Philistines who were settled along the coast in Tel Aviv. It was not just Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy who traded places.

Where Did I Wander?

In Deuteronomy 1 Moses begins to recount the nation of Israel’s travails and travels. The account of Israel’s travels starts in Deuteronomy 1 and continues through chapters 2 and 3.

The actual route of the exodus in the Bible is unknown. The locations of the places named are not known. Nomadic wanderers are hard to find in archaeology. And the Sinai Desert has not been dug up to the degree that Israel has.

In Deuteronomy 1, Israel’s travelogue begins with the nation setting out from Horeb, where God made a covenant with his nation, and going to Kadesh Barnea. One possible suggestion for Kadesh Barnea is in the northeastern Sinai Desert, in the vicinity of ‘Ain Qudeirat and ‘Ain Qadis. Names tend to be sticky and continue in use throughout history, and the name Qadis bears a similarity to Kadesh.

But complicating any attempt to retrace the biblical route is that the account in Deuteronomy reads very differently than the account of Israel’s travels listed in Numbers 33.

Whereas Deuteronomy’s path begins at Horeb, Numbers 33 begins with Israel exiting Egypt. Israel set out from Ramesses and traveled to Sukkoth, then Etham at the edge of the desert. From there they went to Pi Hahiroth, Marah, Elim and into the Desert of Sin. Then it was on to Dophkah, Alush, Rephidim and into the Desert of Sinai. From there it was off to Kibroth Hattaavah, Hazeroth, Rithmah, Rimmon Perez, Libnah, Rissah, Kehelathah, Mount Shepher, Haradah, Makheloth, Tahath, Terah, Mithkah, Hashmonah, Moseroth, Bene Jaakan, Hor Haggidgad, Jotbathah, Abronah, Ezion Geber, then Kadesh in the Desert of Zin.

The listing in Numbers notes that at Elim there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and at Rephidim there was no water for the people to drink, but surprisingly, Numbers neglects to mention anything about Israel receiving the Ten Commandments or entering into the covenant with God during this part of the journey.

In Numbers 33, from Kadesh the nation went to Mount Hor, bordering Edom, where Aaron ascended the mountain and died, in the 40th year after Israel exited Egypt. However, in Deuteronomy 10, Aaron died at Moserah, which in the Numbers list is seven stops before Mount Hor. Further, in Numbers, Israel traveled from Moserah to Bene Jaakan. In Deuteronomy, Israel traveled from Bene Jaakan to Moserah and then on to Gudgodah before Jotbathah.

In Numbers 33 the nation departed from Mount Hor to Zalmonah, then Punon, Oboth and Iye Abarim on the Moab border. In Deuteronomy, from Kadesh Barnea, they went back toward the wilderness, around the hill country of Seir, then along the desert road of Moab, and crossed the Zered Valley, which is just south and east of the Dead Sea.

In Numbers 33, from the Moab border they traveled to Dibon Gad, Almon Diblathaim, and into the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo, then camped on the plains of Moab, from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. In Deuteronomy, Israel passed by the region of Moab at Ar.

Further confusing matters, in Deuteronomy 9, Israel angered God at Taberah, Massah and Kibroth Hattaavah, but only Kibroth Hattaavah is listed in Numbers.

The photo above is of Wadi Rum, in southern Jordan desert, heading into Edomite territory. For the rest of Israel’s travels, it is still a question that could be taken from this Ozzy Osbourne song: Where did I wander?

The Tribes’ Sheepish Request

In Numbers 32, two of the Israelite tribes expressed their desire to stay on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon, the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel, are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your eyes,” they said, “let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.”

Later in the same chapter, Moses grants the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half of Manasseh territories east of the Jordan. The territories granted are described differently here and in Deuteronomy 3. But in sum, Reuben and Gad received the territory from the River Arnon gorge, opposite the middle of the Dead Sea, which was earlier described as the northern border of Moab, north to the region of Gilead, opposite of the Jordan River. Reuben’s territory lay to the south of Gad’s territory. Manasseh received territory from Gilead north to Bashan, an area stretching opposite the Sea of Galilee running north to include the Golan Heights region.

A look at the climate and geography of the region can explain the tribes’ choice. Israel and Jordan are located in the subtropical region, between the tropical zone to its south and the temperate zone to its north, where cold winters and hot summers predominate. Starting at the Mediterranean coast of Israel, and moving west to east, the coastal zone of Israel experiences wet winters and dry summers. The rainfall amounts are higher in the north, while the south is drier. East of the hill country, the lands falls into the arid Jordan Rift Valley, also known as the Syro-African Depression. There, the Dead Sea shore is the lowest point above water on the surface of the earth.

Continuing east, the land rises sharply to a plateau that is cut by river gorges, such as the Arnon River and the Jabbok River. This plateau has a Mediterranean climate, and just as in Israel, the north receives more precipitation than the south, which explains why the southern range of this promised territory ends at the Arnon River gorge. The land then turns drier as it moves east into the Syrian desert and northern Arabian desert.

The photo above, taken in the Jordanian plateau, shows why the tribes of Reuben and Gad would have felt that the land they were presently in was “suitable for livestock.”

To get a feel for this land and lifestyle, feel free to enjoy nine hours of relaxing sheep watching:

Early Moabite Royalty

In Numbers 26, Israel found itself on the plains of Moab, east of the Dead Sea: After the plague the Lord said to Moses and Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by families, all those twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army of Israel.” So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said, “Take a census of the men twenty years old or more, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Running from south to north, the path the Israelites took, the Jordanian plateau is cut by a series of rivers that all flow west into the Jordan Rift Valley between Israel and Jordan. The Bible’s Zered River is today’s Wadi al-Hasa, opposite the southern end of the Dead Sea. The Arnon River, Wadi al Mujib, flows into the center of the Dead Sea. To the north, the Jabbok River flows into the Jordan River, which then drains into the Dead Sea.

For archaeologists, Moab lies in the region directly to the east of the Dead Sea. The land rises from the valley to a plateau. Moab is bisected by the Arnon River, as evidenced by inscriptions in the region.

In Numbers 21, Moab’s northern border ends at the Arnon River, opposite the center of the Dead Sea. “The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says ”…Zahab in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon and the slopes of the ravines that lead to the settlement of Ar and lie along the border of Moab.”

An early sign of royal control of Moab is in evidence on the Balua’ Stele. It is so named due to its discovery at Balua’, a southern access point to the Arnon River.

Dating of the Balua’ Stele is inexact, with a timeframe ranging from 1400 BCE to 800 BCE, but more likely from the Late Bronze to Early Iron Age, between the late 14th century and mid-12th century.

The stele shows an image of three characters. The image is of an Egyptian style god and goddess separated by what appears to be a king. This unknown king is shown wearing a Shasu headdress, a head covering associated with the Shasu, a nomadic group with possible connections to the Israelite God. The god is handing the king his scepter, indicating that the king ruled by divine right. The language on the stele is indecipherable, limiting what can be known from it.

The photo above is of the Dead Sea, as seen from the Jordanian side. An image of the Balua’ Stele can be seen via the link below:

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-Balua-Stele-from-Jordan-Note-the-crescents-above-the-shoulders-of-the-central_fig5_303157891

Tech Savvy Philistines

In Numbers 19, God gives the Moses and Aaron instructions for how to purify someone who has come in contact with a dead body.

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke… the heifer is to be burned: its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer…A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp…For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them.” The water containing the ashes would then be sprinkled on the ritually impure individual.

The Bible recognizes that the Philistines were more technically advanced than the Israelites. In 1 Samuel 13, the Philistines controlled metal production: Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two-thirds of a shekel for sharpening plow points and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.

Archaeology bears out the Philistines’ technical superiority. Pottery is an important artifact in archaeology. It can be used for relative dating across different locations. It can point to origins of a group of settlers. And it can be used to indicate how technically advanced a society was.

The Israelites who inhabited the central hill country of Canaan in Iron Age I, between roughly 1200 BCE and 1000 BCE, were poorer than the Philistines who lived in the southern coastal plain of Canaan. Israelite jars, such as the one referenced in the purification ceremony  of the ashes of the red heifer, were typically Canaanite in form, but of lower quality.

Philistine jars by contrast were more ornate and came in a wider variety of shapes and forms. It points to their being richer and more technically advanced than the early Israelites. The Philistine pottery in Iron Age I marked a peak in Philistine artistic and technical ability in pottery design.

The Philistines appear to have arrived in the coastal plain in the first half of the 12thcentury BCE. Their early sites are in part identifiable by their use of Philistine 1 pottery, also known as Philistine Monochrome.

By roughly 1150 BCE, the Philistines began to use even more ornate pottery, known as Philistine 2 or Philistine Bichrome. This pottery predominated in Philistine cities until roughly 1000 BCE.

The Philistines’ greater technical and artistic skills relative to the Israelites are on display in the Philistine Bichrome ware. Philistine Bichrome typically featured a decoration in red and black on a white slip or darker background. The designs were a blend of lines, geometric shapes, vegetation, animals, fish, and sailing vessels. The designs reflected a mix of Aegean, Egyptian and Cypriot influence.

A common Aegean theme that appeared on the pottery was birds. These bird figures also appeared at Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu in Thebes. In the scene of the battle between Ramesses III and the invading people of the sea in 1175 BCE, the invaders’ ships feature figures of birds.

Philistine Bichrome was used in a variety of forms that resembled those of Philistine Monochrome, including in bowls, jars and jugs, but it also appears in newer forms of jars and bottles.

The technical skill is on display in the jar shown in the image above. It features a mix of colors, is narrow, with a tilted spout, all of which would require greater technical skill to produced than a simple cooking pot. The photo was taken at the Corinne Mamane Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod.

New People, New Home, New Pots

In Numbers 16, Korah, Dathan and Abiram contested Moses’ role as leader, and Moses responded to the challenge with a test of pots.

Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him. You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the Lord. The man the Lord chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”

A censer is a container in which incense in burned in religious ceremonies. In archaeology, censers and other pottery are an important part of determining ethnicity.

At the end of the Late Bronze Age and into early Iron Age I, two new population groups appeared in the southern Levant, the region of Canaan. The Peleset, the Sea Peoples who gave us the name Philistines, settled in the southwestern corner, in Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod and in cities running north and east of there. The Israelites settled in the Central Hill Country, along the spine of the mountainous chain running from north to south, in the area of Judea and Samaria, today’s West Bank. In the Bible, the border zone between the two became the site of conflicts.

In the archaeological layer linked to the first half of the 12th century at Philistine sites along the southwestern coastal plain, archaeologists unearthed locally produced “monochrome pottery” or Mycenaean IIIC:1b pottery. The pottery is a major cultural marker for the first wave of Philistine settlement.

The monochrome pottery is typically white, light brown or pink in color, with either a brown, red or black design on it – a design in one color as indicated in the name monochrome. Most of the monochrome pottery that has been found from the early 12th century is in various forms of bowls and jugs. These bowls differ in design and make from the Canaanite pottery found outside of the Philistine areas.

The exact origin of the Philistines is disputed. They appear to have migrated during the Late Bronze Age Collapse in either the late 13th century or early part of the 12th century. Monochrome pottery bears similarities to pottery found in the eastern Mediterranean, including pottery found in Cyprus, Crete and western Anatolia. Its similarities to other Aegean pottery is the source for its identification as Mycenaean IIIC:1b. As the Philistines would likely be producing pottery similar in design to where they originated, this does not help pin down their exact origins, but does indicate that the Philistines were not indigenous to Canaan. So with their move of these new residents, to a new home, they brought their new pottery design with them.  

The image above is of Philistine monochrome pottery, light brown with a design in a monochrome, a single color.

Eilat, Alot of Miles from Canaan

In Numbers 13, God tells Moses to send spies to scout Canaan before Israel would enter the land. The land the spies traversed does not entirely match the map of modern day Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In Numbers 12, Israel left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran. The exact location of the Desert of Paran is not known today. Some place it in the modern northeastern Sinai Desert, others place it further east in the Transjordan, southeast of the Dead Sea.

In the Book of Joshua, God performs a miracle and holds the waters of the Jordan River so that Israel can cross into Canaan. South of the Dead Sea, no such miracle is required. The Sea of Galilee spills out into the Jordan River. The Jordan River is further fed by the Yarmouk River and the Zarqa River, which is identified with the Jabbok River in the Bible. These waters run south and empty into the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. While water may drain into the Jordan Rift Valley, no water from the Dead Sea flows south and uphill to the Red Sea. Thus there is no miracle needed to cross the Rift Valley.

Later in the biblical account, Israel traveled from the Sinai and crossed into Edomite territory, then headed north to the territories of Moab and Ammon, eventually crossing back west with Joshua across the Jordan River.

In Numbers 13, the Israelite spies took the following route: “So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.”

In Numbers 14, when the spies declared the land to be too difficult to conquer, the Israelites angered God by complaining. So God punished them: “as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times, not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” Moses was later punished similarly for striking the rock, and was also denied the right to enter Canaan. But both Moses and the nation of Israel crossed from the Sinai through the territory between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea, an area that is part of modern day State of Israel, in order to reach Transjordan, while still under God’s punishment that they would never enter Canaan. Thus the biblical land of Canaan did not extend as far south as the areas Israel crossed and certainly the biblical land did not include a city on the Red Sea. 

To get a clear sense of the geography, the following map of the tribes of Israel from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs should make it clear that the land south of the Dead Sea, especially the modern city of Eilat, was outside of Israel’s ancient borders:

https://mfa.gov.il/MFA/AboutIsrael/Maps/Pages/The-Twelve-Tribes-of-Israel.aspx

Ark Support

Numbers 8-10 centers around the Israelites’ desert Tabernacle. It addresses setting up the lamp in the Tabernacle, the Levites who would serve in the Tabernacle, the cloud that shielded the Tabernacle and the silver trumpets that would be sounded before travel with the Tabernacle. In Numbers 10, the Israelites departed from the Sinai, and they led with the ark of the covenant from the Tabernacle for their protection.

In 1 Samuel, the Israelite tribes sought to use the ark of the covenant for their own protection in battle, but the plan backfired. The Philistines captured the ark and took it back to Philistine territory. The inhabitants of the Philistine cities were struck with hemorrhoids, and to remove the source of the problem, they sent the ark to Beit Shemesh.

In 1 Samuel 6, “the Levites, meanwhile, had taken down the ark of God and the box beside it, with the golden articles, and had placed them on the great stone…The golden mice, however, corresponded to the number of all the cities of the Philistines belonging to the five leaders, including fortified cities and open villages. The large stone on which the ark of the Lord was placed is still in the field of Joshua the Beth-shemite at the present time.”

The Philistines pentapolis of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath were all situated on the coastal plain. The Israelite strongholds were in the central hill country of Judea and Samaria. Beit Shemesh was situated in the Shephelah, the Judean Foothills, along the border between to the two rival groups. This would have made it a natural location for delivering a captured ark. 

Digging in the 12th century layers at the Tel Beit Shemesh archaeological site did not reveal Philistine pottery, marking the site as either Canaanite or Israelite, but not Philistine. Archaeologists did unearth a 12th century BCE temple structure. The building was identifiable as a temple based on its dimensions, orientation and prevalence of animal bones.

Within the structure, there was a large rock slab resting on two smaller rocks. The placement of a large stone on top of two stones is rare for the region. But it hints at the description of 1 Samuel 6, of the ark being placed on the great stone. This stone alone does not confirm the biblical account, but does place it within the realm of possibility.

The stone placement at Beit Shemesh is significant for its relation to the biblical story of supporting the ark, but it is less impressive than a similarly designed stone structure in England, pictured above.