The Philistines and the Old Testament
A Review by Kevin T. Bauder
Edward E. Hindson. The Philistines and the Old Testament. Baker Studies in Biblical Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971. 184 pp with index.
While my main reading consists of systematic and historical theology, I try to read regularly outside my discipline. Outside reading includes ministry technique, general history, philosophy, poetry and criticism, fiction, the social sciences, and the hard sciences. Typically, I try to make sure that about a fifth to a quarter of my reading is devoted to biblical studies of some kind.
That is how I stumbled across Hindson’s little volume on the Philistines. Of course, the Philistines are recognizable as a major opponent of national Israel during the time of the Judges and the early monarchy. Yet they are distinct from the Canaanites. Who were they, and where did they come from?
Hindson believes that the word Philistine could be used to denote any of a variety of sea peoples that migrated to the eastern Mediterranean, mainly during the 11th and 12th centuries BC. They came primarily from Crete and Cyprus, though those islands were not their original home. Hindson speculates that they were European in origin, perhaps the descendents of the Pelasgians who inhabited the region of the Aegean Sea before the Greeks came to prominence.
Critical scholars have speculated that Pentateuchal references to the Philistines during the time of the patriarchs must be anachronisms that require post-Mosaic authorship. Hindson, however, shows that the sea peoples were known to the Egyptians during this period. These “proto-Philistines” almost certainly had outposts on the southeastern Mediterranean from a very early date. Thus Hindson argues that Abimelech was a Semitic title adopted by Philistine rules, while Phicol was a non-Semitic title (perhaps originally Philistine) for a subordinate office. Hindson adequately shows that the early references to Philistines are entirely plausible.
The major contact between Israelites and the Philistines, however, occurred during the time of Joshua, the judges, and the early monarchy. Hindson’s treatment of this history is simply fascinating. He devotes extended consideration to the ways in which conflict with the Philistines shaped the careers of Samson, Saul, and David.
With their five-city alliance, the Philistines were more socially and technologically advanced than the Israelites. They had mastered the art of working iron, leaving the Israelites largely defenseless against them. As Hindson tells the story, they had the Israelites thoroughly cowed until the uprising of Samson.
When Saul opposed the Philistines, he had to command a ramshackle army, using farm tools for weapons. Evidently few soldiers had armor—perhaps only Saul and Jonathan. According to Hindson, this may explain why Saul offered his armor to David in his combat with Goliath. At any rate, when the Philistines defeated Israel at Mount Gilboa, they had reason to believe that they had crushed the Israelite opposition. Saul and his sons were dead, and as far as they knew, David was one of their mercenaries.
While parts of Hindson’s book deal with archeological detail, most of it is written in language that an intelligent church member can understand. This is not a difficult book, but it will help readers to make sense out of certain portions of the Old Testament. For a pastor who is planning to preach about Samson, Saul, or David, Hindson’s book is mandatory reading.