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The Museum of Philistine culture in Ashdod

The Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod is about Philistine history and culture. It is unique in that there is nothing like it in the world. It is a bit ironic, though, in that there is nothing related to the Philistines in modern-day Ashdod other than its name and a closed-off archeological site some 6 Km from the city center but this does not detract from the value of this superb museum.

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DirectionsThe address of the museum is 16 HaShayatim St, Ashdod. Enter “Museum of Philistine Culture” into Waze. There is free parking just outside the museum. For public transport enter “Museum of Philistine Culture” into Moovit.

Admission: The museum is open 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on Sunday and Tuesday to Thursday, on Monday 9.00 a. m. to 8.00 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday 10.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. It is closed on holiday eves and holidays. Admission is 30 NIS, with half price for seniors and children 5 to 18. Their phone number is 08 622 4799. This is their website.

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Migration of the Sea People as shown in the museum.

The exhibits on Philistine culture are on one floor of the museum. The explanations can be viewed in English. You can also use a QR code at the admissions desk to obtain audio and written explanations in Hebrew, English and other languages on your phone related to numbers on the exhibits. There are explanations of where the Philistine came from, where they settled, and their religious lives, as well as archeological exhibits. This includes a nice section on Philistine pottery showing Greek influence on this pottery and its subsequent influence on Canaanite pottery. There is a section relating to the place of the Philistines in the Bible, which many people will feel more familiar with. An interactive video allows a child/adult to stand and topple the columns of a Philistine temple as Samson did. The lower level of the museum showcases the food history of the Aegean Sea through the exhibits of ‘Philistines Kitchen,’ although this is probably more for workshops.

Pottery AShdod.jpeg

Philistine pottery

Who were the Philistines?

 

Who were the Philistines?

 

The Philistines were part of a broad movement of Sea People that extended over centuries and encompassed a large geographical area. For good reason, as it would unnecessarily complicate matters, this is not discussed much in this excellent museum. However, since this particular topic is relevant to the rest of this website, it is discussed in detail on this webpage.

 

The Philistines were part of a significant migration of people from Greece, Cyprus and Crete that took over Canaanite settlements along the Eastern Mediterranean of what is now Israel, northern Syria and southern Anatolia (now Western Turkey). According to this museum, this occurred in the Late Bronze Age in the late 1200s. These migrants are known as “Sea People”. Why they left their homelands, and whether there were adverse factors there or just better conditions elsewhere is not known. This museum suggests that this migration occurred at a time when there was a weakening of the Egyptian and Hittite Empires because of their infighting and their inability to provide protection to weaker city states along the coast. However, it is very likely that this migration took place not only in the 12th century BCE but also much earlier.

 

The Sea People who settled in the southern part of Israel are known as the Philistines and they took over five large cities from the Canaanites – Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron. These cities are often referred to as the Philistine Pentapolis. Gath was the largest. However, other tribal groups from the Aegean also occupied cities north of the Pentapolis, including Aphek, Jaffa and Dor, of which Dor was the largest. They also captured Acco and more inland, Megiddo and places near to this, including Yokne’am and Afula. Which of these places they were able to settle in permanently and their relationship to the indigenous Phoenicians is unclear. In the Bible, all Sea People are lumped together as Philistines even though they comprise different tribes.

 

The Sea People had a superior culture called the Mycenean culture that included technological advances in building and ship design. They also had superior skills in metallurgy. They refused to share this with the Israelites, who were now dependent on the Philistines for their metalwork (I Samuel 13:19-22).

 

In the first 14 verses of chapter 13 in the Book of Joshua, Joshua in his old age delineates the territory that has not yet been conquered. This included the five princes of the Philistines in the Pentapolis “the five princes of the Philistines: the Azasites (from Gaza), the Ashdodites, Eshkelonites, Gittittes [from Gat], Ekronites, and the Avvim.” We will discuss who the Avvim were shortly. By the time of Samson, the Philistines were ruling over Israelite tribes in the Shefelah, namely the tribe of Dan and Judahites near the coastal plain. In the time of Samuel, the Philistines had become a threat to the Israelites in the mountain range. This was the impetus for the Jewish people to request a king who would be able to unite the Israelite tribes for warfare. Samuel reluctantly agreed and with the approval of God he elected Saul.

 

However, the Sea People also united. Saul and his sons fought against them (and died in battle) on Mount Gilboa overlooking the Jezreel Valley. In the Bible this is described as a battle against the Philistines. However, the location of this battle is far from the five Philistine cities, and it may have comprised an alliance of southern and northern Sea People. Saul would have had good reason to be fearful of this large and powerful army.

 

The power of the five Philistine kings was eventually weakened by King David to the extent that they ceased to be a threat to his kingdom. David also had a commercial relationship with the Phoenicians of Sidon. These were Canaanite and not a Sea People. The cities of the Pentapolis came under the control of later Judean kings, and they would eventually be totally destroyed by the Babylonians in the same period that the Judean and Israelite kingdoms were destroyed.

 

At the time of the return of the exiles from Babylon, the Canaanites from Ashdod were also permitted to return and the Jewish people began intermarrying with them (Nehemiah 13:23). Both leaders Ezra and Nehemiah, realizing the threat that intermarriage presented to Jewish continuity, spoke passionately against this.

 

The approach taken by these essays is very much based on a literal understanding of the Bible, including its dating. The dating of the 13th century provided by the museum for the arrival of the Philistines in Israel is based on Egyptian writing, and in particular a sculptured battle scene of Ramses III on the walls of a temple describing his repelling the Sea People by land and sea. However, it may be more complicated than this.

 

Abraham and his son Isaac had dealings with Abimelech in Gerar and Abraham made a covenant of friendship with him. He is described as a Philistine. Gerar is between Gaza and Beersheba. However, in Deuteronomy, speaking in about 1400 BCE, Moses tells us the following: “And as for the Avvim who dwell in open cities until Gaza – the Caphtorim who went out of Caphtor (Crete) destroyed them and dwelled in their place.”

 

It is likely that the Avvim were the Philistines from the time of Abraham and they were driven out by Philistines from Crete, although as Joshua mentions (quoted above) they were not completely driven out. Hence, there were already Philistine in this area at the time of the Exodus (which following Biblical chronology took place in about 1450 BCE). Moreover, God did not lead the Israelites out of Egypt along the coastal road and “through the way of the land of the Philistines” (Exodus 13:17) since the Israelites were not ready to fight this warlike people.

 

All this suggests that the term Philistine in the Bible is based more on migration patterns than ethnic background. The Philistines at the time of Abraham were of Hamitic-Egyptian ancestry (Genesis 10:14). Because of the pact made with Abraham, the Children of Israel were not permitted to harm them. However, they were mainly dispossessed by Philistines from Crete. These Sea People were in this area at least a century and a half before the time mentioned in this museum. It is likely that the migration of the Sea People was a gradual process over a broad geographical area by a sea-loving people who were seeking more territory in which to live rather than a one-time invasion. This included the Philistines of the Pentapolis. Nevertheless, the Sea People did perceive the Israelites as a long-term threat, as the Israelites were also intent on inheriting the coastal plain. The more the Israelite tribes united, the more intense this conflict became. The interactions of the Sea People with the indigenous Phoenicians north of the Pentapolis was probably a complicated one and is unclear.

Free activities in Ashdod:

 

​The Ashdod Ecological Park and Ashdod-Yam fortress. This is a hike along the Ashdod Ecological Park by the coast and also includes the mainly preserved ruins of the fortress Ashdod-Yam built in the Muslim and Crusader periods. See our webpage “Ashdod Ecological Park and Ashdod-Yam fortress.”

 

Lachish River Park. This park is along the southern bank of the Lachish Stream. The path is suitable for a stroller and wheelchair. It has green lawns and boating, and a range of animals in fenced-off areas. These include antelopes, zebras, deer, ostriches, rams, ibex, deer and others. The animal exhibits are not as comprehensive as a regular zoo and not as expansive as a regular safari. The animals are identified, although there is little other educational material. However, the kids are sure to enjoy it. There are benches near the fenced in areas, which is a nice touch. There is no admission charge. Directions: Enter into Waze “Etgarim Lakhish Park.”

 

Ashdod-Yam Park. This is a very large park that extends from the heart of the city to Gandhi Beach. It has lawns, walking paths suitable for strollers and a wheelchair, bicycle routes, rock gardens, skating park, shaded playgrounds, an artificial lake with boat rides, and in the evening a light, water and music show at scheduled times throughout the entire year.

 

All the 6 beaches in Ashdod have the blue flag designation, one of the world’s most recognized voluntary awards for beaches, showing that they meet strict environmental, safety and accessibility criteria. The beaches in Ashdod do not have surf breakers and depending on the weather conditions, the waves can be quite fierce. (Note that a significant number of deaths are reported from drowning in beaches in the Israeli Mediterranean and Lake Kinneret, predominantly although not exclusively by using unauthorized beaches without lifeguards or through after-hour use of beaches when there is no lifeguard).

 

Other activities with a fee include: Etgarim Park, Ashdod Museum of Art, the Visitors Center at the port (only with a group).

 

​An excellent web-based guide to activities in Ashdod is the following. Click here.

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