Philistines and Palestinians – Noah 5781

D'var Torah | Genesis

The earliest chapters of the book of Genesis are devoted to origins: the origin of the universe, the origins of life, the origins of civilization, and the origins of the nations of the world. It is this last type of origin that is the special subject of the biblical narrative following the Flood. And it is in this context that the Philistines (plishtim) are mentioned for the first time in the text (Genesis 10:13).


The earliest Greek translation of the Bible known as the Septuagint renders Plishtim as allophuloi, that is, strangers (Joshua 1). In Assyrian, the Philistines are called palastu, invaders. Accordingly, some historians have speculated that the Philistines were a sea people who invaded from the west, probably the island of Crete, and settled on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. (Philistine pottery and weaponry closely resemble that which was current in Greece at the time.)


At one time the Philistines dominated Israel. But by the reign of King David, they were defeated and subdued. Unable to adapt to new political and cultural realities, they ultimately disappeared. Yet while the people themselves disappeared, the name Philistia as the area much a part of contemporary Israel, survived. Philistia was rehabilitated by the Romans to rename the province of Judaea Palastinei as the final retribution for Jewish rebelliousness. And in an attempt to establish their own identity, some Arab residents of Israel and the territories administered by Israel have followed suit, calling themselves “Palestinians.” Some Palestinians would go even further, claiming themselves to be descendants of the extinct Philistines (both anthropologically and historically absurd) and insisting that Jerusalem is their ancient capital!


The Roman de-Judaization of Israel never pretended to be anything other than a crass political act. Rome never considered the Jews living in this area to be Philistines. But Palestinian historical revisionism sees things otherwise. The self-attribution of Philistine ancestry is ludicrous. Rather than affirming origins, it shows the Palestinians who make this claim to be the Philistines defined by Matthew Arnold as “ignorant and doggedly unenlightened.”


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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