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The Oxford History of the Biblical World An in-depth chaptered work by leading scholars providing a chronological overview of the history of biblical times.

Philistine Pottery

The most ubiquitous and most distinctive element of Philistine culture, and a key in delineating the stages summarized above, is their pottery. The Myc IIIB pottery of the Late Bronze Age was imported into the Levant, whereas all the Myc IIIC wares found in the pentapolis in the early Iron Age were made locally. When Myc IIIC (stage 1) pottery from Ashdod and Ekron in Philistia or from Kition, Enkomi, and Palaeopaphos in Cyprus is tested by neutron activation, the results are the same: it was made from the local clays. This locally manufactured pottery was not the product of a few Mycenaean potters or their workshops, brought from abroad to meet indigenous demands for Mycenaean domestic and decorated wares, as the large quantities found at coastal sites from Tarsus to Ashkelon demonstrate. At Ras Ibn Hani in Syria and at Ekron, locally made Mycenaean pottery constitutes at least half of the repertoire, at Ashdod about 30 percent. Local Canaanite pottery, principally in the forms of store jars, juglets, bowls, lamps, and cooking pots, makes up the rest of the assemblage in the pentapolis.

The appearance in quantity of Myc IIIC in Cyprus and the Levant heralds the arrival of the Sea Peoples. At Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron new settlements characterized by Myc IIIC pottery were built on the charred ruins of the previous Late Bronze Age II Canaanite, or Egypto-Canaanite, cities. These Philistine cities were much larger than those they replaced. This new urban concept and its impact on the landscape will be discussed further below.

Stage 2 Philistine pottery is a distinctive bichrome ware, painted with red and black decoration, a regional style that developed after the Philistines had lived for a generation or two in Canaan. To the basic Mycenaean forms in their repertoire they added others from Canaan and Cyprus, and they adapted decorative motifs from Egypt and a centuries-old bichrome technique from Canaan.

This bichrome ware was once thought the hallmark of the first Philistines to reach the Levant, early in the reign of Rameses III. An earlier contingent of Sea Peoples had fought with the Libyans against the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah, but the Philistines were not among them. This pre-Philistine or first wave of Sea Peoples supposedly brought the Myc IIIC potting traditions to the shores of Canaan, where they founded the first cities on exactly the same sites later identified with the Philistine pentapolis.

But the battle reliefs of Merneptah make it clear that Ashkelon, the seaport of the pentapolis, was inhabited by Canaanites, not Sea Peoples, during that pharaoh's reign. The simplest explanation is that the confederation of Sea Peoples, including the Philistines, mentioned in texts and depicted in reliefs of Rameses III were the bearers of Myc IIIC pottery traditions, which they continued to make when they settled in Canaan. The stylistic development from simple monochrome to more elaborate bichrome was an indigenous change two or three generations after the Philistines’ arrival in southern Canaan. The eclectic style of bichrome pottery resulted not from a period of peregrinations around the Mediterranean during the decades between Merneptah and Rameses III, but from a process of Philistine acculturation, involving the adaptation and absorption of many traditions to be found among the various peoples living in Canaan. This acculturation process continued among the Philistines throughout their nearly six-hundred-year history in Palestine.

As one moves from core to periphery in the decades following stage 1, the material culture of the Philistines shows evidence of spatial and temporal distancing from the original templates and concepts. Failure to understand the acculturation process has led to the inclusion of questionable items in the Philistine corpus of material culture remains, such as the anthropoid coffins (or worse, to a denial of a distinct core of Philistine cultural remains) just two or three generations after their arrival in Canaan at the beginning of stage 2 (ca. 1150 BCE).

Shortly before the final destruction of Ugarit, a Syrian named Bay or Baya, “chief of the bodyguard of pharaoh of Egypt,” sent a letter in Akkadian to Ammurapi, the last king of Ugarit. Bay served under both Siptah (1194–1188) and Tewosret (1188–1186). His letter arrived at Ugarit while Myc IIIB pottery was still in use. At nearby Ibn Hani, however, the Sea Peoples built over the charred ruins of the king's seaside palace, which contained Myc IIIB ware. More than half of the ceramic yield from their new settlement was Myc IIIC pottery, a proportion comparable to that of stage 1 settlements in Philistia. The final destruction of Ugarit, as well as of many other coastal cities in the eastern Mediterranean, occurred only a decade or so before the events recorded by Rameses III (1184–1153) in his eighth year:

The foreign countries [Sea Peoples] made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Kode [Cilicia], Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya [Cyprus] on, being cut off at [one time]. A camp [was set up] in one place in Amor [Amurru]. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation [of Sea Peoples] was the Philistines, Tjeker [Sikils], Shekelesh, Denye(n) and Weshesh, lands united. (Trans. John Wilson; p. 262 in James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969)

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