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26 May 2018
Ancient history

According to Ariel David (at Haaretz, July 23rd 2017) the Philistines of the Bible may not have an origin in the Agean – and may not be a sea people at all, but native to northern Syria – or somewhere close to that region. He quotes a professor from the Israel Museum in Jerusalm, one Shirley Ben Dor Evian, whose reasoning is quite interesting – but no doubt some historians can find some odd threads she has woven and tug at the ends of them in order to disentangle the web she has weaved. Evian has said, 'we should not think of the Philistines and other sea peoples as a huge coalition who whooshed through the land and destroyed everything in their path …' which is the view of some ancient historians (admittedly those getting long in the tooth). However, her statement seems quite reasonable from a revisionist point of view – and that of a catastophist. She has an article in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology which has the intent of re-interpreting Egyptian records of the reign of Ramses III (such as the Harris Papyrus). In the latter papyrus (a biography of Ramses III written at the behest of his son, Ramses IV), the Pelaset are one of the sea peoples – or that is the way it has always been interpreted. Subsequently, looking for an Agean people with a similar name it has been suggested they are the Pelasgians, a shadowy group of people living in Greece (somewhere). However, Eric Aitchison has recently shown that the term was not necessarily Peleset – as l is not always interchangeble with r, and something like Purusa or Purasa is more proper (the same term applied to the Persians 600 plus years later). Funny enought Erian has Palasu (or Palastu) which could also read Parasu (or Parastu). In the Harris Papyrus the Peluset (the usual translation from hieroglyphic) are among the sea peoples – and mainstream has constructed a nice story in which a horde of barbarians from the Agean and western Anatolia rampaged through what is now Turkey (bringing the Hittite empire to an end) and storming into Syria and the southern Levant to threaten the very borders of Egypt. Now, if this clever reconstruction of what may have happened is true and then the Philistines would have to have had an origin somewhere outside the main areas of civiisation in the Late Bronze period (second half of second millennium BC). In contrast, if the site destructions are the physical remains of a massive natural disaster involving the 'star of Anat' (as recorded from the time of Merenptah in late dynasty 19) which we may assume was a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere over what is now Turkey and the Agean, accompanied by a wave of earthquakes that destroyed cities and villages in a wide area including Syria (but not Egypt) – but not of course every city as Athens, for example, was completely unaffected, and towns in the vicinity of Athens. It is therefore likely that an earthquake storm (as suggested back in 1948 by the French archaeologist, Claude Schaeffer) was the destructive force that released the hordes of refugees (rather than an actual invasion force of barbarian tribesmen) – which of course is not part of Evian's theory but worth bearing in mind as it is therefore quite possible the Peluset may not have an origin in the Agean but as Evian suggests, somewhere in North Syria. Evian is basically pushing at the mainstream song sheet – but catastrophists have been doing that for years (and Velikovsky famously claimed Ramses II was a contemporary of the Persians). Whilst I'm not arguing for anything as dramatic as that – and Evian is simply re-identifying the Pelaset as a people local to Syria  (as after all the Danites of the Bible may also have an Agean origin – but equally could also originate in what was Cilicia, near modern Adana, a name that goes back to the LB period. The fact that Danites were found on the coast and in what is now southern Lebanon, may indicate an origin from both localities, the latter one suggestive of a refugee status from earthquake activity in SE Anatolia.

Getting back to Evian the Medinet Habu temple reliefs (of Ramses III) list the Pelaset as one of a group of captive people (taken as prisoners of war). They were brought back to Egypt and installed in what became known as Philistia (but why Philistines rather than any other group of sea peoples is studiously ignored). The mainstream position is therefore that these captives were installed as mercenaries in SW Canaan. Th new interpretation of Evian viorously questions this pat explanation. She says they were taken back into Egypt proper rather than a region it controlled in the southern Levant. This makes sense as a group of sea peoples could easily have fomented rebellion in due course. She says it was general policy of the Egyptians to take prisoners of war back into Egypt proper – somewhere to the west of the Nile delta (employed as a defence against the Libyans). As the Harris papyrus says, they were pressed into military service. What Evian may ignore is that they could have been used as mercenaries to control restless elements in the southern Levant (such as the hill country). In the Bible the Philistines control five cities – Gath, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod and Ashkelon. David, with a band of Habiru mercenaries, is actually employed by the Philistines. Is it possible the Egyptians would have allowed that much independence to a group of prisoners of war – even if the likes of Saul and David, and their predecessors, were troublesome. Evian thinks not. She relies, however, on mainstream chronology and the dark age period following the collapse of the LB civilisations. She is saying, in effect, the Biblical Philistines cannot be the Pelaset of Ramses III, as there is too much blank space between the two. However, if the dark age is telescoped to a certain extent, and Ramses III was extent between 150 and 200 years later that mainstream allows, the two groups would have a common origin (Philistines and Pelaset) which would contradict some of Evian's thinking

(to be continued)

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