A sign welcoming visitors to Tel Safi, now identified as Gath. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Gath was a significant city during much of Old Testament history. Here are a few of the interesting things we know about Gath from the Bible:
- Gath was one of the five major cities of the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:17).
- The ark of the covenant was brought here by the Philistines after being capture in battle with the Israelites (1 Samuel 5:8).
- Goliath was from Gath (1 Samuel 17).
- David once sought refuge from Achish king of Gath (1 Samuel 21).
- When Saul and Jonathan died, David did not want it to be published among the Philistines. He said, “Tell it not in Gath, Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon, Or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, The daughters of the uncircumcised will exult” (2 Samuel 1:20).
- King Uzziah broke down the wall of Gath, and other Philistine cities, and built Judean cities (2 Chronicles 26:6).
Gath is now identified with Tel es-Safi (or Tel Safi). The archaeological excavation known as The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition is under the direction of Prof. Aren Maeir. The recent season has been an exciting one with the announcement Monday of the discovery of “fortifications and apparent gate of the lower city.” Maeir provides a list here of some of the news sources making the announcement.
The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, headed by Prof. Aren Maeir, has discovered the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath of the Philistines, home of Goliath and the largest city in the land during the 10th-9th century BCE, about the time of the “United Kingdom” of Israel and King Ahab of Israel. The excavations are being conducted in the Tel Zafit National Park, located in the Judean Foothills, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon in central Israel.
Prof. Maeir, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, said that the city 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. 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. These features, and the city itself were destroyed by Hazael King of Aram Damascus, who besieged and destroyed the site at around 830 BCE.
The city gate of Philistine Gath is referred to in the Bible (in I Samuel 21) in the story of David’s escape from King Saul to Achish, King of Gath.
Now in its 20th year, the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, is a long-term investigation aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi/Gath is one of the largest tells (ancient ruin mounds) in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th millennium BCE until modern times.
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.
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 1:1, 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.
This photograph of the lower city fortifications is included with the news release.
This is a view of the remains of the Iron Age city wall of Philistine Gath. Credit: Prof. Aren Maeir, Director, Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath
My aerial photos of Tel Safi were made in December, 2009. I want to point out that Gath is on the edge of the Shephelah and the beginning of the southern coastal plain which can be seen in this photo. The brook of Elah runs on the north side of the mound, then curves south and west. I have marked some of it in red.
Aerial view of Tel es-Safi/Gath. Photo and markings by Ferrell Jenkins.
The best I can tell from the limited photos provided, the new discovery is in the area marked by the yellow oval.
Maeir has been dropping hints about this discovery on his blog for the past few weeks. On July 28th he provided an aerial photo of the “fortifications and possible city gate.” He says that “more than 30 meters of the city wall” has been traced on the surface.
July 11th Maeir posted in both Hebrew and English “just for fun…what the biblical text has to say about the city gate of Gath (I Sam 21:11/10-15/14).” More about that later.
I follow the Tel es-Safi/Gath expedition and have posted several articles about the site over the past few years. Today, I also give a tip of the hat to Joseph I. Lauer for the links to some of the news releases.