[b-hebrew] Hebrew-speaking Philistines

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Oct 20 19:43:19 EDT 2007

A lot has been written about the Philistines' presumed acculturazation. On 
one hand, we know that the Philistines arrived together with other so-called 
"Sea Peoples", from the Aegean Sea area and there are aspects of their 
material culture and even the little we knw of some of their names and 
language which do signify an Aegean origin. The Bible also ties them to 
Kittim or Chaphtor - Crete or maybe Cypress.

On the other hand, those Aegean immigrants were a minority who settled among 
a largely Canaanite population, and quickly began assimilating Canaanite 
influences. For example, some of the Philistine cultic artifacts are 
different from Canaanite ones. On the other hand, "Dagon" and "Baal Zebub" 
(or, more probably, "Baal Zebul") are Canaanite divine names. SO, did the 
Philistines begin worshiping Canaanite gods, or did they identify their old 
gods with equivalent Canaanite gods (such syncretism was very common), or 
was it just the writers of  the Bible who did the identifying? Remember, 
neither god is known from any Philistine inscription.

So yes, chances are that Philistines and Israelites could understand each 
other, even if the Philistine "upper classes" also had their own Aegean 
language. But that's really not the point that interests the author of 
Judges. He has the Philistines speaking good Hebrew because it's convenient 
for him to do so. Judges 13-16 is not a factual word-for-word account of 
historical events. It's a story, a re-telling of events that may or may not 
have happened, but in any case written in such a way as to get messages 
across to a Hebrew-speaking audience, and so written in good Hebrew. Having 
to deal with the question of just how well Samson and the Philistines 
understood each other would have made the storytelling complicated, and 
since it's not important to the story, the writer did not bother with it.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Isaac Fried" <if at math.bu.edu>
To: "Yigal Levin" <leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il>
Cc: "b-hebrew" <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2007 1:03 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] b-hebrew Digest, Vol 58, Issue 18

> Yigal,
> You are right. Still here is a detailed story of a simple [very]  young 
> Hebrew man, the son of simple God fearing people, freely  interacting with 
> the Philistines [and their daughters]. It is, of  course, possible that 
> Samson, after years of dealing with them  learned their language and that 
> the famous, remarkably worded, XIDAH  is given to us in translation. It is 
> also possible that the town of  TIMNATAH was a mixed town. But it is 
> equally possible that the  Philistines spoke a Hebrew dialect.
> As far as I can recall not one of their names, including that of  DAGON 
> their god, is unmistakably non Semitic.
> Isaac Fried, Boston University
> On Oct 20, 2007, at 4:38 PM, Yigal Levin wrote:
>> In the Bible, or at least most of it, everyone speaks good Hebrew.  So do 
>> the
>> Egyptians in Genesis and Exodus, the Midianites in Exodus and  Judges, 
>> the
>> Moabites in Judges, Arameans in Kings, all of the sailors and the  people 
>> of
>> Nineveh in Jonah and so on. This is just one more indication that the
>> biblical authors did not intend to write word-for-word historical 
>> accounts
>> of actual events - they had messages to get across, and wanted those
>> messages to be as clear as possible to their intended audience -  who of
>> course spoke Hebrew. Only in those few places in which the foreigners'
>> language was a part of the story did the writers make an effort to  make 
>> them
>> sound foreign.

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