I’ve just finished Frederik Woudhuizen’s The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples, in which he lays out the case, among other things, that most if not all of the “Sea Peoples” mentioned in Egyptian records of the 19th and 20th dynasties, were speakers of various Indo-European languages. He argues that the biblical Philistines should be equated with the Pelasgians of Greek sources, associated with the Greek mainland but later uprooted by Bronze Age migrations and spreading out to western Anatolia and Crete. This is not a new idea. In fact, it is one that is somewhat commonplace. What is somewhat distinctive is that he advocates the apparently minority view that these Pelasgians were Indo-Europeans. Originally, he says, they spoke a pre-Hellenic language related to Thracian and Phrygian. Later they adopted a dialect of Luwian when they departed Greece for Anatolia and Crete.
Woudhuizen’s speculations would call for some minor adjustments of my previous tentative timeline of Philistine history. Here are my revisions. I’m tying the “Philistines” a bit more tightly to Crete, although I do not dispute that the first “Philistines” had strong cultural ties to Cyprus as well. (All dates reflect conventional chronology of the ancient world; feel free to accept or reject them.)
Early Minoan I (3100-2900; Egypt D0–D1)
Refugees arrive from Egypt bearing Egyptian-type cultural characteristics. These are perhaps the “Eteocretans‚” of Homer. They presumably assert themselves over an indigenous Neolithic population hailing from Anatolia.
Early Minoan II (2900-2300; Egypt D2–D5)
The long-lived Minoan stone vase industry begins during this period.
Early Minoan III (2300-2160; Egypt late D5, D6)
At the end of this period, we first begin to see Cretan Hieroglyphic writing (related to Luwian hieroglyphics from S Asia Minor and N Syria, supplemented by Egyptian signs) beginning at Knossos, Malia, and the Mesara plain. This form of script endures until the Late Minoan period.
Middle Minoan IA (2160-1900; Egypt D7–D11, early D12)
Indo-European Pelastoi (Pelasgians) first arrive on the Greek mainland from the Balkans, speaking a Greco-Armenian language.
Middle Minoan IB (1900-1800; Egypt mid- to late D12)
Beginning of the Protopalatial period. Scholars have suggested that the builders of the first palaces may have come from northwest Syria, where the earliest bull-leaping iconography has its origins. Are these the bringers of a Luwian dialect to the island? Are they to be figured into Homer’s “Eteocretans”? By Homer’s times, might they have been referred to anachronistically as “Pelasgians”?
Middle Minoan II (1800-1650; Egypt D13)
Kamares ware. Linear A at Phaistos. Hieroglyphic archives at Knossos and Malia. Many important centers (Knossos, Mallia, Phaistos) are destroyed at the end of this period, often with evidence of fire. Earthquakes? Internal strife?
Middle Minoan III (1650-1540; Egypt Hyksos period)
Beginning of the Neopalatial period. Cretans are present in Gerar (Tel Haror) at this time (cf. Gen 20:1; 26:1), where a Middle Bronze Age III Minoan graffito has been discovered on a potsherd comparable to those excavated at Tel Dan and in Cyprus.
Late Minoan IA1 (1540-1510; Egypt early D18)
Floral style. The first earthquake/eruption of Thera takes place in the 11th year of Ahmose, destroying the town of Akrotiri. An Aegean-decorated palace at Ezbet Helmi in the Nile delta suggests contact between Crete and Egypt at this time. Is this perhaps the residence of a foreign-born royal wife?
Late Minoan IA2 (1510-1480; Egypt early D18)
Akrotiri is rebuilt but destroyed by a second earthquake/eruption early in the reign of Hatshepsut.
Late Minoan IB1 (1480-1465; Egypt reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III)
Late Bronze Age Cretans establish a presence on Cyprus, marked by the development of the Cypro-Minoan syllabary.
According to scholars such as Bimson, Dothan, and Karagheorgis, the biblical Philistines have clear cultural ties to Cyprus. It is therefore significant that Cypriot bichrome ware begins to appear in Canaan at this time. For the next 250+ years, these early Philistines mix with the native population and become thoroughly Semitized.
Late Minoan IB2 (1465-1440; Egypt reign of Thutmose III)
Knossos Marine style late in the co-reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. The final (main) Thera eruption takes place in the last decade of Thutmose III, from which pumice is found at Avaris (Tel ed-Daba). According to Manetho, Deucalion’s flood from Greek myth takes place during the reign of Thutmose III.
Late Minoan II (1440-1400; Egypt reigns of Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV)
Palace style. The Mycenaean takeover of Crete marks the beginning of the Postpalatial period. Linear B supplants Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphics.
The Greeks also drive the Pelasgians to Thessaly and western Anatolia. Some eventually settle on Crete, where they become thoroughly Minoanized. Properly speaking, there were no Pelasgians on Crete until now. Any biblical “Philistines” appearing before this time were either non-Cretan Pelasgians (i.e, from the Greek mainland) or non-Pelasgian Cretans (who would perhaps more accurately be described as “Caphtorim” or “Cherethim,” cf. Deut 2:23; 2 Sam 8:18).
Late Minoan IIIA (1400-1330; Egypt reign of Amenhotep III and the Amarna Period)
Era of King Minos “the Elder,” of mixed Eteocretan and Pelasgian heritage. (See Plutarch on the existence of two Cretan kings named Minos.)
Late Minoan IIIB (1330-1210; Egypt late D18, D19)
Era of King Minos “the Younger” three generations before the Trojan War
Late Minoan IIIC (1210-1170; Egypt late D19, early D20)
The Peleset and other “Sea Peoples” assault Egypt and settle in Canaan. The Medinet Habu reliefs of Ramesses III depict two “types” of Peleset: one in distinctive feathered helmets (also worn by the Tjeker and Denyen), the other bearded and wearing Semitic-style caps. Bimson argues these latter are the descendants of the first Late Bronze Age Cypriot settlers in Canaan, now joined by their Aegean “cousins.”
In terms of the Philistines of the Bible, I would note the following points:
- The early Minoan presence at Gerar suggests that a “Philistine” enclave in Canaan during the patriarchal period (Gen 21, 26) is only slightly improbable in the conventional chronology (it is more problematic for the chronological revisionists), and is a certainty for the exodus/conquest period in any chronology (see Exod 13:7; 23:21; Deut 2:23; Josh 13:2-3)—although the name itself may well be an anachronism.
- The “Philistines,” understood as Aegean settlers, traders, or invaders from Crete (by way of Cyprus), were present in Canaan for centuries before the reign of Ramesses III and had become assimilated into Canaanite culture long before Egypt’s 20th Dynasty. These were most likely the “Philistines” encountered by Shamgar early in the judges period (Jdg 3:31).
- Whether Goliath and the other Philistines during the United Monarchy period were part of Bimson’s first wave of Aegean immigrants from Cyprus or the second wave depicted at Ramesses III’s mortuary temple will be resolved based on one’s understanding of ANE chronology.