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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.

Urban Imposition

As we have seen, soon after the arrival of the first generation of new immigrants, the Philistines successfully sited their five major cities, taking maximum advantage of their military, economic, and political potential. The urban tradition embodied in their cities differed from the Canaanite patterns they replaced, and the details of their urban planning provide additional reasons for concluding that the Philistines were not a small military elite who garrisoned the indigenous population but a large and heterogeneous group of settlers who brought many aspects of their old way of life and culture into their new landscape. Behind the archaeological residues of the pentapolis one can detect, however faintly, the activities of a diverse community of warriors, farmers, sailors, merchants, rulers, shamans, priests, artisans, and architects.

Weaving industries were often found in major centers. At Ashkelon more than 150 cylinders of unfired clay, slightly pinched in the middle, were found lying on the superimposed floors of two successive public buildings, some still aligned along the walls as if they had been dropped from vertical weaving looms. The floors themselves had concentrations of textile fibers. Common Levantine pyramidal loom weights have perforated tops, but these were unpierced and were probably spools around which thread was wound and hung from the loom. Similar clay cylinders have been found at Ekron and Ashdod, on Cyprus in temple precincts at Enkomi and Kition (the Sea Peoples' emporia there), on the Mycenaean mainland, on Thera (in the Cyclades), and in Crete. At Ashkelon, Ekron, and Ashdod these spool weights are found in abundance in stages 1 and 2. They were made from the local clays, but the Aegean parallels further indicate the origin of the new immigrants.

The best example of urban planning comes from another pentapolis city, Ekron. Over the ashes of the Late Bronze Age city was built a much larger Philistine one, about 20 hectares (50 acres) in size, with perhaps five thousand inhabitants. Even during stage 1 at Ekron there are signs of urban planning: industry was located along the perimeter of the city, just inside its fortification walls. Next were houses for ordinary citizens, and in the center of the site were public buildings, including a palace-temple complex, which was rebuilt several times in the more than two centuries of its use.

In the long, pillared main hall of this complex was a large circular sunken hearth. Such a hearth was characteristic of Mycenaean palaces, and the same feature is found at several sites in Cyprus during stage 1, as well as at Tell Qasile, a Philistine settlement north of the pentapolis founded in the mid-twelfth century.

Three rooms of the stage 2 public building at Ekron opened onto its central hall. In the northernmost room dozens of spool weights were found, suggesting that it was for weaving, perhaps by religious functionaries who were making vestments for the statue of the great Mycenaean mother-goddess. (An analogy, perhaps, is the notice in 2 Kings 23.7 of women weaving garments for Asherah in the precincts of the Jerusalem Temple.)

A plastered platform, perhaps an altar, stood in the middle room, identifying it as the primary place of worship. Nearby was an ivory handle of a knife for sacrifice, identical to the complete example in the southernmost room. There were also three bronze spoked wheels, part of a mobile cult stand with parallels in Cyprus and in the Jerusalem Temple. In the third room, next to another small platform or altar, archaeologists found a complete bimetallic knife. Knives with iron blades and bronze rivets are also a rarity in the Levant, occurring more frequently at Aegean and Cypriot sites.

Thus, at the beginning of the twelfth century, some groups within Aegean society transplanted their urban life and values to the similar ecological setting of the eastern Mediterranean coast and Cyprus. This event, sketched above as a mass migration of Sea Peoples during the period 1185–1150 BCE, may have been precipitated by the dissolution of the highly articulated, finely tuned, hierarchical polities and economies of the Aegean and Anatolia, sometimes called the “palace economy.”

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