Gath of the Philistines was one of the five principal cities of the Philistines, the “Philistine Pentapolis” (along with Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza & Ekron). In the biblical text, and in particular in the portions relating to the early stages of the Judean and Israelite kingdoms, Gath is portrayed as the most important city (at least in relation to the Israelites). In fact it is mentioned in the Bible more often than any of the other Philistine cities. The prominence of Gath is seen as well through the mention of various figures originating from Gath (“Gittites”) in the biblical narratives relating to the Davidic cycle. Suffice to mention Goliath who fought David (I Sam 17), the King Achish, to whom David escaped from Saul (I Sam 21;27;29), as well as several of David’s heroes (II Sam 15:18-23). In addition, Gath is portrayed as a city of the legendary “Anakim”, a race of giants, remnants of the early Canaanite population of the land (Josh 11:22). This earlier tradition may relate to the Gath/Gimti mentioned in the El-Amarna correspondance (EA 290) dating to the 14th cent. BCE (LBII), possibly the town of the Canaanite king Shuwardata.
Throughout the Iron Age, Gath apparently passed from Philistine to Judean hands and back several times. It apparently was captured by David (I Chr 18:1), may have been fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chr 11:8, though the date of this text is far from clear), was apparently captured by Hazael of Damascus (2 Kgs 12:18), and recaptured by Uzziah (2 Chr 26:6). Nevertheless, it was still considered a Philistine city to late in the Iron age (Amos 6:2). In 711 BCE, Gath was conquered by Sargon II of Assyria, and apparently forever lost its independence.
The identification of Gath has been extensively discussed in the literature. In the mid-19th cent., it was already suggested to identify Tell es-Safi as Gath (e.g. Porter and others). For many years though, following Albright, this identification was not favored and various other sites were suggested, such as Tell Sheikh Ahmed el-’Areini (near modern Kiryat Gath) by Albright itself, Tell esh-Sharieh (by Wright), and even recently at Tell Abu Hureira (by Stager). These identifications though are problematic, and as Rainey demonstrated (and recently reiterated by Schniedewind), the only site which fits in well with the various mentions of Gath in the Biblical and post-Biblical sources is in fact Tell es-Safi. With the renewal of the new excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, we have not, as of yet, found incontrovertible proof of this identification. Nevertheless, the finds from the excavations lend strong support to this thesis. This is particularly seen in light of the extensive finds dating to the Late Bronze and Iron Age I-II, and in particular, the wide range of Philistine material culture, all of which fits in very well with the proposed identification. In addition, the few finds dating from the late 8th and 7th centuries BCE (the Iron Age III) corresponds nicely with the lack of reference to Gath of the Philistines in the biblical and extra-biblical sources during the latter part of the Iron Age.
Albright, W.F. 1923. “Contributions to the historical geography of Palestine”, AASOR 2-3:1-46.
Mazar, B. 1954. “Gath and Gittaim”, IEJ 4:227-235.
Rainey, A.F. 1975. “The Identification of Philistine Gath”, Eretz Israel 12:63*-76*.
Schniedewind, W.M. 1998. “The geopolitical history of Philistine Gath”, BASOR 309:69-77.
Seger, J.D. 1992. “Gath”, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, New York: Doubleday: 908-909.
Biblical References to Gath
Josh 11:22 There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.
1 Sam 5:8 They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither.
1 Sam 6:17 And these are the golden emerods which the Philistines returned for a trespass offering unto the LORD; for Ashdod one, for Gaza one, for Askelon one, for Gath one, for Ekron one;
1 Sam 7:14 And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.
1 Sam 17:4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
1 Sam 17:23 And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them.
1 Sam 17:52 And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou come to the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron.
1 Sam 21:10 And David arose, and fled that day for fear of Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath.
1 Sam 21:12 And David laid up these words in his heart, and was sore afraid of Achish the king of Gath.
1 Sam 27:2 And David arose, and he passed over with the six hundred men that were with him unto Achish, the son of Maoch, king of Gath.
1 Sam 27:3 And David dwelt with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal’s wife.
1 Sam 27:4 And it was told Saul that David was fled to Gath: and he sought no more again for him.
1 Sam 27:11 And David saved neither man nor woman alive, to bring tidings to Gath, saying, Lest they should tell on us, saying, So did David, and so will be his manner all the while he dwelleth in the country of the Philistines.
2 Sam 1:20 Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
2 Sam 15:18 And all his servants passed on beside him; and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men which came after him from Gath, passed on before the king.
2 Sam 21:20 And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant.
2 Sam 21:22 These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.
1 Ki 2:39 And it came to pass at the end of three years, that two of the servants of Shimei ran away unto Achish son of Maachah king of Gath. And they told Shimei, saying, Behold, thy servants be in Gath.
1 Ki 2:40 And Shimei arose, and saddled his ass, and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants: and Shimei went, and brought his servants from Gath.
1 Ki 2:41 And it was told Solomon that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath, and was come again.
2 Ki 12:17 Then Hazael king of Syria went up, and fought against Gath, and took it: and Hazael set his face to go up to Jerusalem.
1 Chr 7:21 And Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son, and Ezer, and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in that land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle.
1 Chr 8:13 Beriah also, and Shema, who were heads of the fathers of the inhabitants of Aijalon, who drove away the inhabitants of Gath:
1 Chr 18:1 Now after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them, and took Gath and her towns out of the hand of the Philistines.
1 Chr 20:6 And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot: and he also was the son of the giant.
1 Chr 20:8 These were born unto the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.
2 Chr 11:8 And Gath, and Mareshah, and Ziph,
2 Chr 26:6 And he went forth and warred against the Philistines, and brake down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod, and built cities about Ashdod, and among the Philistines.
Psa 56:1 To the chief Musician upon Jonathelemrechokim, Michtam of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath. Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me.
Amos 6:2 Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border?
Micah 1:10 Declare ye it not at Gath, weep ye not at all: in the house of Aphrah roll thyself in the dust