Archaeologists discover the gates to Gath, home of Goliath

Archaeologists working in Israel have discovered the remains of the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath, which was first settled in the Early Bronze Age in about 3500 B.C. From the 12th through ninth centuries B.C., it was occupied by Philistines and is referenced in the Bible as the home to the giant Goliath and later to where David fled to escape King Saul.

An overview of the upper section of Gath, where Eric Welch, University of Kansas visiting assistant professor, oversees excavation.
An overview of the upper section of Gath – photo courtesy  Eric Welch, University of Kansas.

In July, the expedition which was conducted by several universities, uncovered a fortified wall with towers and what may be one of the largest gate complexes ever found in Israel. Nearby, archeologists unearthed an altar and artifacts linked to textile and metalwork.

In addition to the monumental gate, an impressive fortification wall was discovered, as well as various building in its vicinity, such as a temple and an iron production facility.

“One of the reasons we are so excited, gates are places of administration,” said Eric Welch, a visiting assistant professor of Jewish studies from the University of Kansas. “If you look in the Bible, important things happen at city gates. That is where transactions and judgments are made. It is a major portal of the city’s comings and goings. So it is not surprising to find market, religious and industrial activity there.”

Artifacts suggest sudden and massive damage to Gath around 830 B.C., when Hazael, king of Aram Damascus, besieged and destroyed the city. A siege trench, one of the earliest ever found, has been dated to that era. Welch described uncovering a room with collapsed walls where dozens of pots remained, a grinding stone was still sitting on top of a grinder, and a jar for wheat was next to one for flour.

“You feel like you are walking into someone’s kitchen,” Welch said. “It was absolute and total devastation, which was horrible for them but really great for archeologists because it gives us a snapshot of life at that moment.”

Little is known about the Philistines, who were often cast as villains in the Old Testament. The uncovering of the gate and the potential to find written inscriptions on or near it could provide more clues to the Philistines’ language, religion and origin.

“We know they were the bad guys in the Bible, but we don’t know exactly why,” Welch added. “We are trying to better understand their culture.”

Among the most significant findings to date at the site: Philistine Temples dating to the 11th through 9th century BCE, evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BCE possibly connected to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos I:1, the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, which contains two names similar to the name Goliath; a large assortment of objects of various types linked to Philistine culture; remains relating to the earliest siege system in the world, constructed by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus around 830 BCE, along with extensive evidence of the subsequent capture and destruction of the city by Hazael, as mentioned in Second Kings 12:18; evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan (around 1200 BCE); different levels of the earlier Canaanite city of Gath; and remains of the Crusader castle “Blanche Garde” at which Richard the Lion-Hearted is known to have been.

The archaeological dig is led by Prof. Maeir, along with groups from the University of Melbourne, University of Manitoba, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, University of Kansas, Grand Valley State University of Michigan, several Korean universities and additional institutions throughout the world.

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