DNA Proves the Philistines Came from Southern Europe

DNA Proves the Philistines Came from Southern Europe July 4, 2019

An article was published yesterday, that is online, in the journal Science Advances entitled, “Ancient DNA sheds light on the genetic origins of early Iron Age Philistines.” The lead author is Dr. Michael Feldman, genetic researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPISHH), located in Jena, Germany. Dr. Daniel M. Master was one of five other authors.

This article is important to me since it relates to my book, Palestine Is Coming: The Revival of Ancient Philistia (1990). Readers of my blog know that I often post about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that I propose in this book a solution for this conflict that is based on historical precedent. It is that this conflict can be solved by returning to how things were in this region thousands of years ago. That is, do a land swap and a people transfer by letting Israel annex all of the West Bank (except for Old Jerusalem), and let the Palestinians achieve their aspiration by being given all of the coastal plain south of Tel Aviv, which includes the Gaza Strip, in which to establish their sovereign state. This State of Palestine would be a very expanded Gaza Strip.

But I also speculate somewhat in the book by saying, “Egypt will relinquish its northeastern corner of the Sinai, between the Gaza Strip and the Wadi el Arish” (p. 203). I say this because I think this territory was the original heartland of ancient Philistia, and it later expanded northward.

I need to say here, due to those who advocate a Greater Israel by citing in the Bible God’s promise of land to Jews, that this promise will not be divinely actuated until the Messiah, whom I believe is Jesus, and his glorious kingdom arrive here on earth. Plus, Jews never possessed the coastal plain that belonged to the Philistines for any appreciable length of time. Israeli leaders, e.g., Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, often misspoke about this history by claiming as the Jews’ ancestral land all of the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Depression.

I maintain in my book, published nearly thirty years ago, that the traditional two-state solution has always been DOA–dead on arrival. It is because it is based on modern demographics rather than historical precedent. Demographics can be changed with the aid of money; but history and inherited tradition cannot be changed. That is the problem, and it has never been well-recognized, even by Jews with their traditions. The modern State of Israel has never existed in the very heartland of ancient Israel, which is the West Bank, to which Jews demur and instead refer to historically as Judea and Samaria. Orthodox Jewish settlers in the West Bank have been gaining political clout way beyond their numbers for decades, and they demand Judea and Samaria. Now, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’s ready to unilaterally do that.

In fact, that is exactly what Jews demanded for themselves in their Proclamation of Independence published on May 15, 1948, but they didn’t get it. That three-page document started an 18-month war between Jews and Arabs that ended with the reestablishment of the ancient nation of Israel. Those Jewish leaders had repeatedly claimed in this document that they had a legitimate right to repossess their “ancestral land.” They believed this would solve “the Jewish problem,” witnessed by the recent Holocaust. So, they claimed a right to land in The Levant based on historical precedent.

I make the same claim for Palestinians in my book. That is, I say Palestinians have somewhat of a genetic link to the ancient Philistines and that on this basis they could claim a right to what is often called in the Bible “the land of the Philistines.”

Moreover, the reason I wrote this book is to show from Bible prophecy that this is what I believe is going to happen: the ancient nation of Philistia will be reestablished in the coastal plain. As far as I am aware, no Bible scholar had ever interpreted the several Old Testament texts as I had, in which I interpret a future Palestinian state. And in the nearly thirty years since my book was published, no book has been published that proposes this interpretation. So, I obviously took a risk in making this prediction based on my unique interpretations of about ten biblical prophecies in the Jewish Bible.

Therefore, for decades I have been waiting to see if skeletal remains of ancient Philistines would be discovered and if uncorrupted DNA could be obtained from them. If so, could this DNA have a reasonable genetic match with the DNA of some of today’s Palestinians who have substantial historical roots in The Levant? In the past, archaeologists had discovered skeletal remains of ancient Canaanites that dated back 3,000 years or more; but archaeologists had never found with certainty any Philistine skeletons that contained uncorrupted DNA.

In 2016 that all changed. The Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon then announced the ending of its thirty-year, archaeological dig of the ancient ruins at Ashkelon. It was one of the three main cities belonging to the ancient Philistines. These archaeologists further informed that three years prior they had discovered skeletal remains of over 200 Philistines in the city cemetery, and these people had lived about 3,000 years ago.

Dr. Master is a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, just west of Chicago. Wheaton College is arguably the premier evangelical college in the U.S. Dr. Master was for many years the co-director–along with Dr. Lawrence E. Stager, now deceased, of Harvard U.–of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. It was a thirty-year, archaeological dig at the ruins of ancient Ashkelon, located near the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Ashkelon was one of the five major cities of the ancient Philistines. As the Bible reveals often, the Philistines were the arch-rival of the ancient Israelites.

These geneticists then wrote the report about their DNA analysis that was published yesterday in Science Advances. It is a very technical monogram written for DNA experts that the rest of us can’t understand much about.

Biblical lands are located in warm climates. Those along the Eastern Mediterranean coast, of course, have a more humid climate than, for example, the desert. In order for the DNA of ancient skeletons to be analyzed, it needs to be uncorrupted. Warm, humid temperatures degrade skeletal DNA considerably faster than in cooler, drier climates.

Nevertheless, these geneticists analyzed 110 specimens taken from teeth and inner ear bones, which are the best preservers of DNA. Of these they got eleven uncorrupted DNA specimens from the skeletal remains of ten people, four of them infants.

Geneticist Dr. Feldman explained concerning this DNA analysis, “This timing is in accord with estimates of the Philistines’ arrival to the coast of the Levant, based on archaeological and textual records.”

Indeed, archaeologists who have worked in this area of The Levant, and many historians, have said for decades that a major migration of Philistines occurred in about the 12th century BCE from the region of the Aegean Sea, a northern extension of the Mediterranean Sea, to The Levant. This had been pretty much proved by the material culture (e.g., pottery, burial customs) of the Philistines being linked to that of Mycenaean Greece that existed in 1600 to 110 BCE. However, not all scholars agreed with this. But they should have. To me, it pretty obvious when you read the literature.

The Aegean Sea is bordered on the west by Greece and on the east by Turkey. Thus, this region is located in Southern Europe, which is where this Philistine DNA points. Yet Dr. Feldman admitted that “future sampling could identify more precisely the populations introducing the European-related component to Ashkelon.”

Dr. Choongwon Jeong, co-researcher at MPISHH, further said of this region, “Within no more than two centuries, this genetic footprint introduced during the early Iron Age is no longer detectable and seems to be diluted by a local Levantine related gene pool.”

If this ancient genetic footprint was no longer discernible two centuries after the Philistines migrated to the The Levant, then why were those people still called Philistines many centuries later? They themselves, their neighbors, and historical records such as the Bible, were still identifying them as “Philistines” in the ninth, eighth, seventh, and sixth centuries BCE. What about thereafter? Herodotus of Greece, renowned as “the father of history,” visited this region during the 5th century. He wrote that the people who lived on the coast called themselves “Philistines.” So, it is incorrect to say, as some do, that the Philistines disappeared when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar attacked Philistia and Israel in 604 BCE and destroyed both places.

Dr. Master is a professor at Wheaton College, arguably the premier evangelical university in America. This school believes very strongly in the divine inspiration of the Bible. Dr. Master makes an important point about this question of how long Philistines existed by saying, “While, according to ancient texts, the people of Ashkelon in the first millennium BCE remained ‘Philistines’ to their neighbors, the distinctiveness of their genetic makeup was no longer clear, perhaps due to intermarriage with Levantine groups around them.” So, Master recognizes that it would be incorrect to quit calling these people “Philistines” if their DNA no longer revealed a predominant origin from Southern Europe.

Accordingly, I do not think this DNA analysis of the skeletal remains of Philistines who lived 3,000 years ago in The Levant conflicts with what I say in my book. BTW, the word “Palestinian” derives from the word “Philistine.” And I purposely departed in this book from the recommendation of America’s bible for writing, The Chicago Manual of Style, by using bold rather than italics to signify emphasis. Finally, I believe that the biblical texts to which I refer cannot be properly interpreted unless one holds to the view, which Orthodox Jews adopt and some Christians like myself, that Israel’s promised Messiah will come as a militant warrior to rescue Jews from annihilation. The following are some of the relevant statements in this book:

Hamas controls the Palestinian Gaza Strip and demands all of “the land of Palestine” in its charter. Hamas could save face and help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by doing the following that I stated in my book fifteen years before Hamas took over, “If the word Palestine were applied according to its derivation, as in the Bible, it would identify only the Plain of Philistia” (p. 29). So, if Hamas did this, it would be claiming the Palestinians’ ancestral land and not the Jews’ ancestral land. One of the main points of my book is that I constantly make this distinction between the two lands.

“Some will object that the Palestinians are not descendants of the ancient Philistines. Indeed, the Palestinians do not originate solely from the ancient Philistines. However, it cannot be denied that there is some genetic link between today’s Palestinians and the ancient Philistines” (p. 170).

Since the word ‘Palestinian’ is derived from a geographic designation, the Palestinians should be reckoned in the same manner as the ancient Philistines–people of a land and a common culture, not necessarily of common ancestry. The Palestinians are Arabs only culturally, not genetically” (p. 171). This arouses the question in my “Appendix B: Who Are the Arabs.”

The foremost text in the Bible that affirms the existence of “Philistines” during the endtimes is that the Messiah “shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. . . . they shall swoop down on the backs of the Philistines in the west, together they shall plunder the people of the east” (Isaiah 11.4, 14 NRSV; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2.8).

In my chapter on this Isaiah 11 text I state, “Just as the Bible predicted the modern reestablishment of Israel, it also indicates the revival of other ancient countries in the Middle East, one of these being Philistia” (p. 187). “In Isa 11.14the prophet Isaiah provides the clearest indication in Scripture that at the time of the coming of the conquering Messiah, an adversary of Israel will exist in the southwestern coastal plain of Palestine. This adversary is called ‘the Philistines'” (p. 191). “The language of Isa 11.14 therefore requires that Israel will not possess the ancient land of the Philistines in the last days preceding the Messianic kingdom. . . . This requires that Israel will someday release the Gaza Strip, either voluntarily or involuntarily, as as adjacent land eastward and northward” (p. 196).

It should be understood that this book was published in 1990 and that fifteen years later, in 2005, Israel unilaterally released the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. Yet Israel had an ambitious Jewish settlement program there which was totally sponsored by the government in contrast to those Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In fact, many of those Gaza settlers had to be forcibly removed and their settlements demolished by the government of Israel.

It must be concluded from Isa 11.14 that the ancient land of Philistia will in the future become reestablished. What else can it be but the Palestinian state?” (p. 199).

I interpret Zechariah 9.5-8 to mean that “a people called the Philistines must again become a recognizable people dwelling in their ancient homeland” (p. 221).

“Certain endtime biblical prophecies identify ‘Philistines’ living in their ancient homeland. (See Chapters 11-14.) These people appear to be today’s Palestinians, a heterogeneous group like their forerunners, the Philistines. The Palestinians may be viewed as Philistines partially because of some genetic link, but mostly because their name derives from the Philistines” (p. 230).


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