Technological supremacy of the Philistines’ iron weapons (1 Samuel 13)

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Iron weaponry placed the Philistines in a position of distinct advantage over their adversaries. Perhaps more than any other factor, iron weapons proved the decisive element in the Philistines’ early domination of Israel. The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples who had arrived on the Canaanite shores at the end of the Bronze Age. There is evidence of ironwork from the early Iron Age both in Egypt to the south and in the Hittite empire in Asia Minor to the north. But both empires guarded their technological advancement. Still, during the second half of the second millennium B.C., the Philistines defeated the Hittites and most likely took from them the technology of ironwork.

To protect this valuable commodity and their corresponding advantage, the Philistines guarded the technology from their neighbours, notably the Israelites. Within Palestine, facilities of iron smelting have been discovered in the ancient Philistine settlements at Ekron and Tell Qasile. In fact, the Philistines prohibited Israelites from engaging in the trade of ironsmithing, lest the Israelites also gain iron weapons (1 Samuel 13:19-20). Goliath the Philistine had a spearhead made of iron. The Hebrew text describes this spear as a “weaver’s beam”; it is possible that this term was used because the iron weapon was relatively new to the Israelite culture and no word had as yet been coined to describe it.

It was partially the threat of the Philistines and their superior weapons that motivated the tribes of Israel to demand a king. As the monarchy began under Saul, the Philistines continued to dominate Isreal’s armies in open battle, including the battle at Mount Gilboa where Saul and his sons died (1 Samuel 31). To combat the weapons superiority of the Philistines, the Israelites relied upon superior knowledge of the landscape and on guerilla warfare. But it was not until David was crowned king that the Israelites began to experience victory  over their traditional foe. As David’s conquests expanded the borders of Israel, he was able to secure rich iron deposits to the south in Edom (2 Samuel 8). These proved an extremely valuable asset to Israel.


 

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