Gath, Gaza, and Goliath
Perhaps the most distinguishing fact of Christianity is that our faith is rooted in history. Our faith is revealed to us on the basis of events that actually took place in space and time and in the region we call the Holy Land.
The apostle John highlights this at the beginning of his first epistle. “That which was from the beginning,” he writes, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. …We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard….”
John is referring specifically to the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But what he says applies equally to Samson, David and Goliath, Solomon, and the rest of the Old Testament.
This was brought into focus by a recent Associated Press article about an archeological dig at Tel El-Safi in Israel. It’s the site of the ancient Philistine city of Gath.
Gath in about 1200 BC was a border town on the frontier between Philistia and Israel. The Philistines, newly arrived settlers from modern-day Greece, controlled the coastal plains while Israel lived in the hill country beyond. The conflict between Israel and Philistia is recorded in Judges and 1 Samuel, and the Tel El-Safi dig sheds new light on the historicity of those texts.
For example, the book of Judges tells us that Samson, blinded and abused by the Philistines, knocked down the two pillars in the temple of the god Dagon, causing it to collapse and kill everyone in it. According to the AP article, at Gath archeologists uncovered ruins that chief archeologist Dr. Aren Maeir referred to as a match to that design described in the book of Judges.
Similarly, pottery shards have been found with names similar to Goliath written on them. Goliath in the Bible was from Gath and his name is not Semitic, but rather Indo-European and consistent with Philistine origins in Greece.
Dr. Maeir told AP that such a find “doesn’t mean that we’re going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone David slung at him, but it nevertheless it establishes that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time.”
Well, what they will or won’t find is uncertain. But this much is certain: the biblical narratives about life during the time of Samson, Saul, David, and Solomon are clearly rooted in history of that era. And while the AP article hems and haws about whether or not the biblical narratives are true, it strikes me as a hyper-critical approach to history and to the Bible to doubt them in light of the mounting evidence.
As I’ve said before about archeology that seems to support the veracity of the Bible: our primary faith is not in what we discover, but in the Bible itself.
Nonetheless, as historian Paul Johnson has written, recent archeological discoveries make it possible “to see much of the historical writings contained in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles as constituting the finest and most dependable history in all the ancient world, on a level with the best work of the Greeks, such as Thucydides.”
Which puts the burden of proof squarely on those skeptics who endlessly seek to cast doubt on the truth of the Word of God..