A visiting University of Kansas professor of Jewish studies, Eric Welch, joined a team from Bar-Ilan University at the site that is now known by its Arabic name: Tel es-Safi. Gath was settled around 3500 B.C. during the Bronze Age. From the 12th through ninth centuries B.C., Gath was occupied by Philistines and was known in the Bible as the home of the giant warrior known as Goliath. It was as a youth that David slew Goliath near Gath. Holy Scripture tells us that David chose five smooth stones when he went out to meet Goliath (I Samuel 17:40). While David did slay Goliath, David also had to deal with his four giant brothers who were known as the “Lords of the Philistines” in Joshua 13:3. Eventually, David and his men defeated Goliath’s brothers (II Samuel 21:22). The city gate of Philistine Gath is referred to in the Hebrew Bible in the story of David's escape from King Saul to Achish, King of Gath.
The international team found a fortified wall with towers and what may be one of the largest gate complexes ever found in Israel. The archeologists also unearthed an altar and artifacts linked to textile and metalwork. “One of the reasons we are so excited, gates are places of administration,” Welch said. “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.” Gath was the largest city in Israel during the 10th-9th century B.C. during the time of the so-called "United Kingdom" of Israel. Located in the Judean foothills, it is halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon in central Israel.
Welch is currently overseeing the excavation of an upper section of Gath where the elite lived. For four weeks this summer, University of Kansas students joined Welch on the dig. The artifacts found tell of sudden and massive damage to Gath around 830 B.C. It was at that time when Hazael, king of Aram Damascus, besieged and destroyed the city. Evidence of the battle included a siege trench, one of the earliest ever found, that dates to that time.
Welch described unearthing 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 said. “We are trying to better understand their culture.”
Israeli Prof. Meir Ettinger said that the gate is among the largest ever found in Israel and is evidence of the status and influence of the city of Gath during this period. Among the various building discovered in the city is an iron production facility large enough to produce the kind of weapons used by Goliath as mentioned in the Bible.
After the siege by Hazael, archeological evidence shows that as of approximately 830 B.C., the Philistines never returned to Gath. Later on Judeans, Romans, Byzantine Christians, and Muslims lived there. During the Crusades, a fort and castle were built there. Gath is one of the largest tells or ancient ruin mounds in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th millennium B.C. until modern times.
According to a statement from Bar-Ilan University, “Among other significant findings at the site is evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century B.C. connected to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos 1:1. There was also found the earliest Philistine inscription ever to be discovered which contains two names similar to the name Goliath. In addition, a large assortment of weapons used by the Philistines were uncovered along with extensive evidence of the capture and destruction of the city by Hazael, as mentioned in 2 Kings 12:18. There is also evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan around 1200 B.C.”
“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 Romans referred to the area that now encompasses the modern state of Israel as Syria Palaestina, while the later Byzantine Christians called it Palaestina Prima. The word 'Palestine' is a derivative of 'Philistine.' Under the Umayyad and Abbasid Ottoman domination, it became known as Jund Filastin. While non-Jewish inhabitants are now commonly referred to as Palestinian, during the British mandate (1917-1948) it was the local Jewish community that bore the name.