Massive Gate Found in Goliath’s Hometown
The iconic story of young David’s epic encounter with Goliath has captured imaginations for millennia. The classic underdog narrative resonates with all people as they face insurmountable odds—their figurative giants. But is the history of David and Goliath, as well as the history of their respective nations, only figurative, or is the history the Bible describes a literal account of what took place?
A recent discovery in archaeological excavations at Goliath’s hometown of Gath is helping to provide the answer.
The city has been excavated extensively over the past century. However, only at an excavation this past summer did archaeologists happen upon a huge city wall and adjacent gate.
Head archaeologist Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University in Israel said his team began to excavate the lower city of the mound, Tel es-Safi, to determine whether it had been fortified during the Iron Age, the archaeological period in which the nation of Israel was also present there.
“In the past, we saw evidence of this but could not find definite proof,” Maeir told Bible History Daily. “Once the remains were found in the specific trench, we ‘connected the dots’ regarding other features we could see on the surface and then began excavating them as well.”
Before long, the outline of a massive gate began to literally emerge from the ground—and only the top of the fortification and gate have been uncovered so far.
The exact dimensions of the city gate are yet to be released, but Maeir claims that “the city gate is among the largest ever found in Israel and is evidence of the status and influence of the city of Gath during this period.”
Indeed it is. Gath’s prominence during the era of King Saul and King David perfectly correlates with history related in the Bible.
Yet some say this discovery presents history that contradicts the Bible. For example, Haaretz, in running the story, ran the quip, “Powerful fortifications newly uncovered by Israeli archaeologists suggest the kingdoms of Saul, David may not have been quite as powerful as thought.”
“The Judean kingdom is supposed to be big, important and strong, but it turns out there is a very big city on its western border,” Haaretz quoted Maier as saying. “For years, I claimed Gath was a big city, but they countered that it has no lower city, and if it has one, it is not fortified. After finding a huge fortification, it’s clearly the most important city of the tenth and ninth centuries.”
However, the fact that Gath was a formidable city would hardly exclude Israel from being “big, important and strong.” In fact, it is very compatible with the biblical account.
The Bible states that Gath was one of the five major cities of the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:17). There is no strong indication that the Philistines were a major power when Israel conquered the Promised Land during the time of Joshua. But the Philistines appear prominently three centuries later in the latter period of the judges.
Because of Israel’s chronic sins, God allowed the Philistines to oppress the Israelites. But then He raised up Samson. God used him to knock back the rising power of the Philistines. His own sin led him to be captured, but in his final act, he destroyed a Philistine building in Gaza, killing the Philistine leadership and briefly relieving the oppression of the Israelites (Judges 16:29-30).
A short time later, the resurgent Philistines battled again with Israel and took the precious ark of the covenant. Then God gave Israel a monarchy.
Over the next 80 years during the reigns of Saul and David, the Philistines and the Israelites battled back and forth: Their borderland suffered almost constant warfare.
Throughout the reign of King Saul and into the reign of David, the Philistines maintained the upper hand against Israel. The Bible records Philistine garrisons existing in Bethlehem and Gibeon—Israelite cities (1 Samuel 10:5; 2 Samuel 23:14). The Philistines had so much power over the Israelites that they prevented them from even sharpening their own iron tools (1 Samuel 13:19-21).
The Israelites finally overcame the Philistines during the reign of King David. But there is no biblical record of the destruction of Philistine cities (2 Samuel 8:1; 1 Chronicles 18:1). Unlike many other surrounding nations, the Philistines were neither absorbed into the kingdom of Israel nor exiled elsewhere. They fell under Israelite rule but continued living in their home territories. The Bible records the destruction of the city of Gath 200 years after King David (2 Chronicles 26:6).
An honest look at the Bible’s historical account should lead scholars to expect such massive Philistine fortifications as the gate house at Gath. The fact that the gate is similar in size to the largest uncovered across the border in Israel speaks for itself.
No single artifact or discovery “proves the Bible true,” but discoveries such as the Gath gate house add to the weight of evidence archaeology has contributed to confirming its historical accuracy.