The origins of “Gefilte Fish”?

As Alex Zukerman, long-term senior member of the team (who is now, among other things, working on the analysis of the Iron I pottery from Area A), was looking through some of the Iron I pottery, a little fish on a sherd swam by him…

Turns out that this is an unfortunately incomplete depiction of a fish and some wavy lines on a bichrome Philistine sherd. We have had other depiction of fauna on Philistine pottery, and if I’m not mistaken, even a fish or two before, from the Safi materials. While this is known from other Philistine sites (and these figurative decorations have been the subject of Linda Meiberg’s [who also was on our team for a few years] recently completed dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania) – it nevertheless is nice to see this!

This brings me to my theory about the origins of Gefilte Fish. Perhaps, the etymology is actually “GePhilistine Fish” – and only in the middle ages, with the advent of Yiddish, did it turn into “gefilte”… :-)

I have clear supporting evidence for this. As you may know, it is customary to eat gefilte fish with horseradish, known as khreyn in Yiddish, and Hazeret (חזרת) in Hebrew. Now since we know that the Philistines ate pig – Hazir (חזיר) in Hebrew, the connection is quite clear… :-P

Now that’s rather fishy

Joking aside, the depiction of fish, birds and other fauna on Philistine pottery is quite interesting. This is due to its rarity, its connections with decorative traditions in other pottery families (whether Aegean, Levantine or other), and the possible implications it has for understanding the worldview and cultural backgrounds of the Philistines. For those interested, get your hand on Linda’s PhD where she develops many of these topics!


8 thoughts on “The origins of “Gefilte Fish”?


    Very interesting view, Aren. Makes perfect sense. I believe the more we understand the ancients, the closer to God we draw. Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work!


  2. Whenever I see a pair of zigzag lines on an artifact, I immediately think of the Zayit stone’s inscription. It looks like there’s not only 2 big ones along the right side of your photo, but also 2 broken portions at the top. Interesting.


  3. Achish Melek Gat

    Ha! So we finally have one! Great! i actually found two (TWO!) bichrome fish at Miqne, many years ago. They are indeed rare jewels.



    1. arenmaeir

      Jon – if you look at the left side of the bottom of the sherd, there is a painted decoration whose rights side ends in a darker triangular shaped part – which is the head of the fish. Behind it to the left is the body, and you can see the upper fins attached to the body.



Comments are closed.