Archaeologists from Bal-Ilan University in Israel have discovered monumental fortifications and a gate belonging to the biblical Philistine city of Gath, the home of the giant Goliath. These ruins give an idea of the importance of this city, considered the largest one in the area during the 9th and 10th centuries before Christ.
The 2015 discovery took place in Tel Zalfit, an archaeological site that has been under excavation for two decades and which was populated practically from the Chalcolithic period (about 5,000 years ago) until 1948, when its inhabitants abandoned what was then an Arab village.
One of the strata that most interests biblical archaeologists is the city of Gath, famous for its countless conflicts with the Israelites. It was one of the five most important Philistine cities. Its period of greatest splendor occurred during an epoch encompassing the kingdoms of David and Solomon (the 10th century BC).
The location is on the coastal plain in the center of the country, in the Judean foothills, between Jerusalem and the port city of Ashkelon.
This year, the archaeological expedition headed by Professor Aren Maeir located the fortifications and the access gate to the biblical city of Gath, the home of Goliath according to the Scriptures.
Maeir, who is a professor in the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at the university, considers the buried gate to be the largest ever discovered in that country, an indication the status and influence of Gath during that period.
“Throughout our 20 years of excavations, we had assumed that Gath in the 9th and 10th centuries BC was the largest city in the area, not just of the Philistines but in general.”
“With these most recent findings, we can see that it was not only large, about 50 hectares, but it was two or three times bigger than Jerusalem or other cities of the epoch such as Meggidah or Beersheba,” he highlighted.
He emphasizes that the large fortifications they have discovered “show how powerful the city was. It continued to exist until 830 BC, when Hazael of Damascus destroyed it.”
The gate to the Philistine city appears in another biblical reference, specifically in 1 Samuel 21, which relates the story of how David escaped Saul, the first king of Israel, and became a loyal servant of Achish, the king of Gath.
Besides the monumental gate and the imposing wall, various nearby buildings were discovered, including a temple and an iron production facility.
The recently discovered ruins, like the rest of the city, were razed by King Hazael of Aram-Damascus in an episode which is mentioned in the Second Book of Kings (12:18).
The excavations have brought to light remains suggesting that there was a great siege, which was probably what led to the later destruction of the settlement towards the end of the 9th century BC.
Maeir points out that the destruction of Gath was a dramatic event that changed the regional balance of power, allowing the rise of the independent kingdom of Judea in the 8th century BC.
Up to now, the discoveries include Philistine temples, evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BC, and ancient inscriptions with names similar to Goliath, as well as tools and evidence of the seizure and destruction of the biblical city.
Ruins have also been found of an earlier Canaanite city, and of the later Crusader castle “Blanche Garde” in which Richard the Lionheart is known to have stayed.
But perhaps its golden age was that in which the biblical account describes the giant Goliath.
“According to the biblical text, Goliath was from Gath, and in that area two inscriptions have been found with similar names in an ancient European alphabet,” Maier emphasizes.
He adds that there is a strong tradition to the effect that the inhabitants of Gath were “very big”; “we haven’t found any skeleton that corroborates that belief, but we can see that its inhabitants were very powerful, as they had fortifications of this kind.”
“Talking about their height is an attempt to attribute power to them and show how powerful or strong its residents were. And Gath, without a doubt, was a very powerful city at that time.”