[b-hebrew] Israel>Palaistes (Wrestler)

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Feb 14 09:50:14 EST 2012

Nir Cohen wrote:  “if there are two greek sources which call the place 
philist-* and palaist-* then they may represent two DISTINCT semitic sources 
with different phonetic structure. say, aramaic and phoenician?

To which Uri Hurwitz responded:  “  Why? no Semitic origin is known for the 
word. In fact, it is mentioned in Egyptian sources as one of 'invader' 
groups from abroad.”
As to this etymological issue, consider the testimony of the Patriarchal 
narratives, which may be the oldest part of the Bible.  PLST is not attested 
in the Amarna Age, but rather is a Patriarchal nickname created in the Amarna 
Age, originally referring to mercenaries, and originally having nothing 
whatsoever to do with the classic Philistines (of later date and different 
PL$TYM in the Patriarchal narratives is a classic west Semitic word.  It is 
not historically anachronistic at all, because it is not referring to the 
classic Philistines, who did not exist yet.  There is  n-o-t-h-i-n-g  in the 
description of the PL$TYM in Genesis that matches the classic Philistines.  
This, despite the fact that the rest of the Bible knows very well who the 
later Hebrews’ neighbors, the classic Philistines, were.
Let’s look at a west Semitic etymology of PL$TYM, bearing in mind my view 
that in Genesis (as opposed to in the rest of the Bible), the term is 
referring to mercenaries operating in and near the northwest corner of Upper 
PL$TYM in Hebrew is transliterated as “Philistines”.  I see 
PL$TYM/Philistines as being a Biblical name, having a west Semitic etymology, which is a 
Patriarchal nickname created in the Amarna Age.  In the Patriarchal 
narratives (as opposed to the rest of the Bible), the Philistines in the Patriarchal 
Age have nothing to do whatsoever with the classic Philistines, who do not 
show up historically until about 150 years later.
As to the etymology of PL$TYM/Philistines, let’s start with David 
Boxenhorn, who lives in Israel and has written that the word “Philistines”/PL$TY may 
come from the Hebrew word “to invade”/PL$ [which word can also mean, per 
BDB, “to dig into” or “to burrow” or “to break through”]:  “Philistine…is 
not a Philistine word:  It's a Hebrew word.  …Philistine in Hebrew is 
P'lishti (פלשתי).  … So what does it mean? The root of P'lishti is p-l-sh 
[PL$], which means invade.  So Philistine simply means:  invader.”  
As with most Hebrew words, this word has a 3-letter verbal root, which here 
is PL$.  (In unpointed text, we don’t know if the Hebrew sibilant was 
pronounced s or sh.)  In Hebrew, a -T can be a verbal suffix.  Thus at Micah 1: 
10, the verb PL$ has prefixes and suffixes, including the suffix -T 
immediately after PL$.  A final -YM always indicates plural in west Semitic, and can 
effectively mean “people”.  So PL$-T-YM means “the invaders/diggers 
into/burrowers people”.  On my view it’s meant to be pejorative, so if it has a 
somewhat odd ring to it, that’s why.
Note that in the Patriarchal narratives, the ending is always -YM, which is 
exclusively a Semitic ending (signifying plural).  That is fully consistent 
with PL$TYM being a west Semitic word, rather than a non-Semitic name.  
[The non-Semitic names at Genesis 15: 19-21 all end with -Y, never with -YM, an 
ending that applies only to the two west Semitic names there.]
We know from the Abraham segment in chapter 21 of Genesis that Abimelek is 
very touchy about access to valuable water wells on the mainland.  But it is 
in the Isaac segment, at Genesis 26: 15, when we find out that the “
philistines”, that is, “invaders” or “mercenaries” or “those who dig into or 
burrow into and break through”, have “dug into and broken into” and sabotaged 
these valuable water wells on the northwest corner of Upper Galilee/GRR:  “
For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in the days of 
Abraham his father, the Philistines [PL$TYM] had stopped them, and filled them 
with earth.”  Yes, Abimelek has hired his own foreign mercenaries himself, 
Abimelek’s own “philistines”, led by Phicol with a non-west Semitic name, to 
counteract the mercenaries from northern Lebanon that Zimredda used to 
sabotage those water wells on the mainland.  [That is why Abimelek is 
sarcastically called “king of the Philistines”, and this area is called the “land of 
the Philistines”, though Abimelek himself, with that classic west Semitic 
name, is not called a Philistine, nor is he a Philistine.  But Abimelek has been 
reduced to relying on mercenaries.]  
Note that in the entirety of the Bible and the Amarna Letters, the only guy 
who complains about contested access to water wells is named Abimelek, who 
in both cases sometimes dominates western GRR/Upper Galilee.  (That is to 
say, both before and after the Amarna Age the rich island city-state of 
Sur/Tyre often dominated much of western Upper Galilee.  However, Abimelek himself 
had so many problems of his own in the Amarna Letters that he may likely 
have been a weaker ruler of Sur/Tyre than normally was the case.)
As to the presence of mercenaries, including foreign mercenaries, in and 
near southern Lebanon in the Amarna Age, Rib-Hadda in central Lebanon on three 
occasions refers to the Sherden, who are classic foreign mercenaries in 
this period, and who would soon be an important component of the Sea Peoples:  
Amarna Letters EA 81: 16;  122: 35;  123: 15.  Abimelek himself refers to “
the king of Danuna” at Amarna Letter EA 151: 49-58;  the Danuna may likely 
have been an early wave of Sea People.  The first experience with peoples who 
would soon become the Sea Peoples likely was in small numbers as foreign 
mercenaries in Lebanon.  “Phicol”, being Biblical Abimelek’s chief mercenary, 
is a non-Semitic name.  So Phicol is a foreign mercenary.  The name “Phicol”
 likely originates from Anatolia, perhaps in the general neighborhood of 
the Danuna, so we are getting a glimpse here of the first tiny wave of Sea 
Peoples coming into Greater Canaan as foreign mercenaries.  Both in the 
Patriarchal narratives and in the Amarna Letters, we only get a glimpse of these 
war-like foreigners, who soon enough would make their presence felt.  If you 
want to look to the Bible to ask where the Sea Peoples came from, look to the 
oldest part of the Bible, the Patriarchal narratives, and focus on the name 
“Phicol”, as one important clue.
We see that a west Semitic etymology for PL$-T-YM/Philistines fits nicely 
for how the Philistines are portrayed in chapters 21 and 26 of Genesis.  They 
are mercenaries who “invade”/PL$, and “dig into”/PL$ and “burrow into”
/PL$ and “break into”/PL$ these valuable water wells, at Genesis 26: 15.  
Abimelek wrote 8 Amarna Letters in the mid-14th century BCE, about Year 14, 
that likewise refer to contested access to water wells.  It’s also the case 
that the Philistines in the Patriarchal narratives share no characteristics 
with the classic Philistines of later date and different locale.
The explanation is that “Philistines” is a west Semitic Patriarchal 
nickname created in the Amarna Age, that originally referred to mercenaries 
operating in and near southern Lebanon, and that originally had nothing whatsoever 
to do with the classic Philistines.  About 150 years later, when the 
classic Philistines arrived on the west coast of Canaan (or, for the first time, 
became prominent there), their wary neighbors, the Hebrews, had a ready-made 
pejorative Biblical nickname to apply to their coastal neighbors:  “
Philistines”, meaning “invaders” or “people who dig into, burrow into and break 
through”.  Centuries earlier the Egyptians had picked up the Biblical name 
PLST + YM, used by the Hebrews to refer to their disliked coastal neighbors;  
the Egyptians not surprisingly rendered PLST + YM as Peleset, dropping the 
standard west Semitic plural suffix.  I see “Philistines” as being a Biblical 
name, being a west Semitic Patriarchal nickname created in the Amarna Age, 
rather than “Philistines” being a non-Semitic name. 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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