Colossal ancient structures found at Gath may explain origin of story of Goliath


Newly unearthed, unusually large fortifications from the 11th century BCE could be the genesis of the biblical tall tale, says Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project director

Maybe out of a metropolis as big as he was came a monster of a man. This summer, the ongoing Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project discovered vast ruins of “enormous” structures and fortifications from a fresh, unexpected “biblical-era” layer of the Philistine city of Gath.

This new layer dates to the 11th century BCE, which is when, in accordance with the biblical account in Samuel I 17, the future King David defeated the enormous Goliath. The majority of the site’s previously excavated portions date to the 10th and 9th centuries BCE.
“For those scholars who accept that David was a historical figure — and I’m one of them,” said Bar-Ilan University Professor Aren Maeir, the 23-year excavation director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath dig, “the time frame in which David existed is the time of the earlier phase of the city of Gath, whose impressive remains were just found.” The dating is in accordance with the Biblical chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
This would roughly correspond to the time of this early Iron Age phase of the city of Gath, said Maeir. “If in fact David did encounter an opponent in single battle, most frequently recognized as Goliath.” It is difficult to determine whether the story has a historical underpinning and, if so, what that underpinning was, he added.
Despite the fact that there is still no definitive inscription saying that “this is Gath,” the previous 20 years of excavation at Tell es-Safi/Gath had unearthed a sizable Iron Age Philistine site that was the region’s focal point in the ninth and tenth centuries, according to Maeir. Around 830 BCE, the Aramean King Hazael destroyed the town, which is reflected in the story of Gath in Kings II 12:18.

 

Archaeologist Aren Maeir (left) supervises at a 830 BCE destruction layer at the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project, July 2018. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)
According to Maeir, his group had long believed that the Hazael destruction layer was the biggest phase of ancient Gath. But I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling. Why didn’t the city Hazael destroyed have fortifications, I wondered, if it was such a significant location? There were several, but nothing particularly noteworthy, claimed Maeir.
The crew, as first reported in Haaretz, dug a little deeper this year and discovered magnificent remnants that predate the settlement destroyed by Hazael in 830 BCE.
They “demonstrate that the walls and buildings were really huge and constructed with extraordinarily large stones,” according to Maeir. The crew also found remarkable walls from the 11th century that were created of burnt brick that was extremely thick and well-crafted. Pre-Roman periods hardly ever employed this kind of brick, according to Maeir.
We got the impression that perhaps this older phase is larger and substantially more impressive than the city that Hazael destroyed when we started digging at the site in the 11th century, he said. It surprises me, but on the other hand, it explains something. The puzzle pieces suddenly make much more sense.

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By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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