Tel Tsafit – The Philistine City of Gat
Ancient Gat (also spelled Gath) was one of Israel’s five main Philistine cities. Its exact location has been the subject of much research and debate. Today, most scholars identify biblical Gat at Tel es-Safi / Tel Tsafit, an archaeological site in the Shephela.
Get in the Bible
According to the Bible, in Canaanite times, giants dwelt in Gat (Joshua 11:22). Later, Philistines inhabited the city and made it a member of the Philistine pentapolis (Joshua 13:3, 1 Samuel 6:17). The Book of Samuel records Gat hosting the Ark of the Covenant, yet as it inflicts a plague in the city, the Philistines send it away (1 Samuel 5:7-10). In the days of Saul, David, and Solomon, Philistine King Achish reigned the town. When David escaped Saul, he fled to Achish, king of Gat, and drooled at the city’s gate, pretending to be mad (1 Samuel 21:11-16). Goliath came from Gath to the battle against David (1 Samuel 17:4), but later the Israelites failed to conquer the city. 2 Kings 12:18 provides the last mention of Gat, being conquered by Hazael, King of Aram. Gat was never settled again; eventually, even its location was forgotten.
The Search for Gat
No archaeological site in the southern coastal plain bears the name Gat. As such, scholars suggested several locations for the ancient Gat. A leading suggestion, by W.F. Albright, proposed to identify Gat at Tel Erani, an archaeological site 7 miles northwest of Tel Lachish. An Israeli town and kibbutz beside the site were named Kibbutz Gat and Kiryat Gat. However, excavations at Tel Erani proved that the site was inhabited in the 12th to 10 centuries BCE, the time of the Philistines. Since 1996, an expedition from Bar-Ilan University has been excavating Tel Tsafit (Arabic: Tell es-Safi), a 125-acre archaeological site with an imposing citadel. It is 3 miles east of Azekah and 3 miles south of Ekron.
Gat and Goliath
Tel Tsafit’s location also fits with the description of the Israelites chasing the Philistines Ekron and Gat after David Slew Goliath:
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. (1 Sam. 17:51-52).
Goliath himself came from Gath, and perhaps his name derives from the name of his city. Excavations of Gat / Tel Tsafit uncovered a wealth of finds, including of Philistine material culture, such as painted pottery, inscriptions, a philistine two horned altar, and more. The excavations also tracked evidence of the site being attacked and destroyed in the 9th century BCE, as recorded in 2 Kings 12:18.
Touring Gat / Tel Tsafit
Tel Tsafit is in the western part of the Judean lowlands, close to the international coastal trade route (today’s Highway 6). A trail from Even Menachem reaches its northern base, where archaeologists found a Philistine cultic center and a gate. A hike to the site’s summit provides stunning views of the coastal plain.
A site tour can be combined with a guided day tour in the Judean Foothills (the Shephelah).