Concerning the Plishtim (Philistines), Easton's Bible Dictionary (quoted here) says:

They occupied the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, in the south-western corner of Canaan, which belonged to Egypt up to the closing days of the Nineteenth Dynasty. The occupation took place during the reign of Rameses III. of the Twentieth Dynasty.


As they did not enter Palestine till the time of the Exodus, the use of the name Philistines in Gen. 26:1 must be proleptic.


We learn from the Old Testament that they came from Caphtor, usually supposed to be Crete.

Wikipedia's article on the Philistines elaborates on the idea that the Plishtim were foreign occupiers, focusing on the theories that the Philistines were originally Greek.

Does the traditional Torah opinion agree with this assessment? It would seem the following verses tell a different story:

Bereshit 10:14 as interpreted by Rashi (based on Midrash Rabbah) says that the Plishtim descended from Cham via his son Mitzrayim (not the Greeks who are descended from Yafet, and not from Mitzrayim's son Kaftor):

Verse 14: [Also] the Pasrusim, and the Kasluchim from whom came the Plishtim. They descended from both of them. For the Pasrusim and the Kasluchim would exchange wives with each other and the Plishtim [Philistines] descended from them.

Is this discussed anywhere? Are all the references to the Plishtim in Bereshit 26 to Avimelech, king of the Plishtim proleptic? What about the reference in Shemot 13:17?

According to Judaism, did the Plishtim always live in Canaan/Israel, or did they only show up later?


1 Answer 1


In several places in Tanach, the Philistines are mentioned as having come from Caphtor (for example, Jer. 47:4 and Amos 9:7) - and in our verse, too, the Philistines and the Caphtorim are closely related.

In Deut. 2:23 the Torah states that the Caphtorim destroyed "the Avites who lived in unfortified villages as far as Gaza," and Rashi there points out that this made their land available for Jewish conquest (since the Avites were protected by the treaties that Avraham and Yitzchak had made with successive Avimelechs).

It's uncertain where Caphtor is. R. Aryeh Kaplan zt"l cites sources that it might be either an area in modern Turkey or in Egypt. I've also seen people who identify it as one of the Mediterranean islands, which would fit well with them being proto-Greek at least culturally even if not ethnically. (Zeph. 2:5 also calls the Philistines "the nation of Kereithim" - a possible reference to Crete.)

All in all, then, it seems that the original Philistine people were conquered and largely replaced by invaders who ended up taking the same ethnonym for themselves. (So the references to them in the Torah aren't proleptic, but they do refer to a different people than the ones in the later books of Tanach.) The remnants of the original people came to be called Avites (as in the verse from Deuteronomy cited above, and also in Josh. 13:3, which starts by mentioning "the five Philistine officials" but then lists the Avim as number six) or Jebusites (as in Josh. 15:63 and II Sam. 5:6, see Rashi in both places). That the Torah distinguishes carefully between the original Philistines and their successors is also evident from the differences in geography and political organization: the ones from Avraham and Yitzchak's time had one king with his capital at Gerar, which afterwards is never mentioned; the later Philistines had a decentralized system of five chiefs (seranim) in each of their five major cities.

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    I find it interesting that Avimelech is called at first the king of Gerar, and Avraham is described as going to the land of Gerar. The second time Avraham went there it is already called the land of the Plishtim, while Avimelech is still called the king of Gerar. Only when Yitzchok went there is Avimelech called the king of the Plishtim. I wonder what happened during that period.
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 6, 2015 at 2:36
  • Very interesting. Why would the Avites be referred to as Plishtim in Beresheet, though? Is it indeed a proleptic title? If not, were the considered polshim (invaders) because they were Egyptians that had invaded Canaan?
    – Harel13
    Jul 15, 2020 at 7:02

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