Few nations play as dominant a role in biblical history as do the Philistines. Settled in the lands along the Mediterranean coast (the area of contemporary Gaza), they were a continual presence in early Israelite history. The origins of the Philistines are linked to Crete, thus distinguishing them from the notorious seven nations of Canaan.
Throughout the Books of the Prophets, after the Children of Israel already settled in the Land of Canaan, the Israelites and Philistines are frequently at war. Some of the most famous Philistine villains were Delilah and, most notorious of all, Goliath of Gath, the giant defeated by King David in his youth.
The first mention of the Philistines in the Bible occurs long before the Children of Israel’s return from Egypt. In order to avoid famine in Canaan, first Abraham and Sarah, and later Isaac and Rebecca, relocate to the Philistine city of Gerar. In both instances, the Philistine ruler (titled Avimelech) desired to wed the respective matriarch after being told that her husband was her brother. Isaac had additional dealings with the Philistines shortly after leaving Gerar when he was forced to negotiate with Avimelech, his friend Achuzzat, and his general Phicol, over a series of disputed wells (a means of claiming territory for shepherds).
Like most parts of this region, the area once known as Philistia and ruled by the Philistines, was conquered and controlled by a succession of empires. The most noted ancient reference to the entire region, including Judea, under the name Palestine, is in the 5th century B.C.E., when the Greek historian Heodotus referred to the region as the “district of Syria, called Palaistine.” It was the Romans, however, who truly established the use of the name Palestine for the entire region, including Judea, when they merged Roman Syria and Roman Judea to form Syria Palestina shortly after the Bar Kochba rebellion.
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