Palestine

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Definition

by
published on 03 August 2010
Ancient Palestine (William R. Shepherd)

Palestine in the ancient world was part of the region known as Canaan and, later, the region where the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were located. Palestine is a designation of an area of land, which the Philistines occupied a very small part of (the Canaanites/Phonecians and the Israelites, among others, having established themselves in the area much earlier). The name `Palestine’ is thought to derive from either the word “plesheth” (meaning `root palash’, an edible concocotion carried by migratory tribes which came to symbolize nomadic peoples) or as a Greek designation for the nomadic Philistines. The author Tom Robbins, and others, have suggested the name originates from the ancient androgynous god Pales who was widely worshipped in the region known as Palestine. If this is so then the name of the region means `Land of Pales’. That there was an androgynous god with the head of a donkey who was popularly recognized as Pales by the Canaanites, Israelites and Philistines is known but there exists no firm documentation from ancient times linking the god to the name of the region and, most likely, the name derives from the Greek for `the Land of the Philistines’.  

The Philistines (thought to be from Crete and, certainly, from the Aegean area) landed on the southern Mediterranean coast of the region known as Canaan in circa 1194 BCE after being repulsed in their invasion of Egypt (along with the Sea Peoples) by Rameses III. By 1185 BCE they had established themselves firmly in settlements along the coast known as Philistia. Other, older, settlements were already thriving in the area upon their arrival and the Philistines went quickly to work to subdue the area and benefit from the wealth there found. According to Biblical narratives, the Philistines were organized and efficient enough to cause the early Israelite tribes and cities a great deal of trouble. They were first defeated by the Israelite King David (c. 1000-960 BCE) but continued to thrive along the coast and harass their neighbors.

In 721 BCE the region was overrun by the Assyrians and the Philistines were subdued completely and lost their autonomy. 

In 721 BCE the region was overrun by the Assyrians and the Philistines were subdued completely and lost their autonomy. The end of the region known as Palestine, as well as the remaining cultural Philistines, came in 604 BCE when the Assyrians sacked the remaining towns and cities and sold the inhabitants into slavery. Afterwards, the land was claimed as part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, then the Persian, was liberated by Alexander the Great and, finally, became a Roman province named Judea.The years 66-73 CE saw the First Jewish-Roman war which resulted in Titus destroying Jerusalem, including the Second Temple (leaving only the Western Wall) though the people of the land were free, within reason, to adhere to their own cultures and religious beliefs. After the Bar-Kochba revolt of 132-136 CE, however, the Emperor Hadrian was so enraged by Jewish resistance that he re-named the province Syria Palaestina (after the two traditional enemies of the Jews, the Syrians and the Philistines) and banished all Jews from the region, building his city Aelia Capitolinia on the ruins of Jerusalem.

With the rise of the Eastern Empire under Constantine the Great, Palestine became a Christian province and remained so from 330-640 CE when the land fell to invading Muslim forces. Palestine continued to be a war-torn and much contested region up through the time of the Crusades and, of course, even to the present day.


About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He teaches ancient history, writing, literature, and philosophy.

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  • 1000 BCE
    Rise of the kingdom of Israel.
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    David captures Jerusalem.

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