“Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times” by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò

GoliathŁukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò. Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times. Contributions to the Study of Ancient World Cultures 83. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2016, pp. 321, $106 (Amazon).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to Harrassowitz Verlag for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò (University of Warsaw) seeks to answer a simple question in Goliath’s Legacy: “How did they [mortal enemies] influence the Hebrews and why was this ominous role ascribed to the Philistines in the biblical vision of Israel’s past?” (1). He operates on assumption that the Sea Peoples were the Philistines who originated from the Mycenaean cultural area and came from the Aegean-Anatolian lands. From this, Spanò sets out to reconstruct how biblical literature reflects the historical foundations of ancient Israel, Judah, and the Hebrew people.

Chapter I briefly explores the dynamics of acculturation and mutual relations in light of the Sea People’s arrival to the Eastern Mediterranean, of which he provides examples through analogies of Normans in Sicily and Scandinavians in Ruthenia and more examples through his analyses in the book. Chapter II reconstructs the autonomous nature and intensive acculturation of the Philistines, marks their archaeological influence from Tel Dan to Tell Ez-Zuweyid, and highlights features of Philistine social structure from ca. 1150 – 950, especially how they are an amalgamate of both Philistines and Canaanites. Chapter III examines evidence for historic etymologies and foundations of various peoples groups within the bible, highlighting the close-relationship between the Philistines and Canaanites and proposing many hypotheses as to the origin of biblical people groups. This sets the stage to explore how Philistine culture influenced biblical representations of history. Chapter IV, the bulk of Goliath’s Legacy, examines how Saul of David likely emerged historically as the political organisms of Judah and Benjamin due to their affiliations with Philisto-Canaanite politics. Chapter V explores several areas in which Philistine influence upon Hebrew culture is evident, suggesting the cultural exchange focuses on Judahite tradition and suggesting an earlier  textual composition date than when the exchange resulted in negative reactions. Finally, after summarizing the history from the whole book, Spanò applies his analyses to Christoph Ulf’s theoretical model of intercultural exchange to make his conclusions more digestible.

In short, Spanò’s work is excellent. For the sake of North American scholars, we are fortunate his work was translated into English because few people actually know Polish. Incorporating a broad range of archaeological, etymological, epigraph, and biblical evidence, he effectively highlights how the Hebrew Bible reflects a very complicated relationship between the Philistines and Hebrews; yet, he organizes all the information in an understandable way, explaining the movements of ideas, implications for reconstructing ancient Israel in the Iron Age, and reconsidering the essence of Josiah’s reform.

In particular, his use of the Hebrew Bible is splendid. Too often scholars dismiss certain passages on the grounds that they are late based on various literary theories. Although these literary theories are valuable, Spanò, by recognizing the historical value of the Hebrew Bible with a grain of salt, is able to find important connections often missed by scholars. As he puts it, “although the biblical text referring to the mythical past of Israel cannot be treated as “simple” sources to reconstruct the past, they are useful for the certain literary tradition that may have developed from the experience of the past” (56).

Additionally, Spanò opened me up to the world of Giovanni Garbini. Just breaking my way into European scholarship, not to mentioned Italian scholarship, I hadn’t heard of this name prior to Goliath’s Legacy. It makes me even more excited to review Finding Myth and History in the Bible, a volume in honor of Giovanni Garbini.  What I know for sure is that I now will be learning Italian in addition to other research languages throughout my M.A./Ph.D. years (German and French, of course). Perhaps I’ll even make my way to Poland (the book was translated form Polish).

There was one place, though, where I took issue with Spanò’s interpretation. In discussing the Philistine influence on the Bible and culture of the Hebrews with regard to divination, he notes that “out of these 16 usages of the term [teraphim] as many as eight indicate false prophets” (204). While the idea of a false prophet surely existed in ancient Israel, he should be carefully when assuming the idea of false prophets. For example, the Necromancer of En-Dor is one example of false prophet. Yet, as Esther J. Hamori highlights (2015), the Necromancer actually receives no critiques, unlike Saul. So, prior to assuming the text considers the Necromancer a false prophet, he should have investigated the texts more thoroughly. Additionally, as Hamori argues, we must move past a structuralist understanding of divination. In some respects, by resorting to a “false prophets” paradigm, Spanò does so. Perhaps by utilizing a post-structuralist paradigm and engaging with the nuances of divination in the Hebrew Bible, he could have reached better supported conclusions or even a more detailed reconstruction of divination as influenced by Philistines.

Aside from this minor point, I highly recommend Spanò’s work. It is especially valuable for understanding how the Philistines influenced the growth of ancient Israel through ideas transferred from the Aegean and through Anatolia (hence, Emar). Additionally, the reconstruction of Philistine influences on ancient Israel’s memory and culture is absolutely invaluable to any scholar or students engaging with the Hebrew Bible. Please read Spanò’s work and enjoy it. For myself, it was one of those view books that I finished and said to myself, “Man… I really want to read that book again ” (My Brain, 9:54 AM PST, 5/11/2016).




6 thoughts on ““Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times” by Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò

  1. I read Garbini’s History and Ideology in Ancient Israel for my comprehensive exams years ago. I loved it! It was my favorite book on the reading list.

    I have a question about this statement: “Chapter IV, the bulk of Goliath’s Legacy, investigates how the biblical narrative highlights and speaks of the large extent to which Judah emerged from a conglomeration of Philistines following the campaign by Sheshonk.”

    What exactly does that mean? Is Spano saying that Judah came from a group of Philistines? That it emerged when the Philistines were a conglomeration?

    • He examines how Saul of David likely emerged historically as the political organisms of Judah and Benjamin due to their affiliations with Philisto-Canaanite culture and politics.

      I made the change in the summary. Is it a little bit more clear? Again, thank you for you responses. They help me out more than you know.

      • I think so. Saul and David arose because they were affiliated with Philisto-Canaanite culture and politics. Does that mean they rose because they were imitating aspects of that culture?

      • In a way. It has more to do with the fact that they were originally closely affiliated with the Philisto-Canaanite politics. This is evident through close affiliations of David to both the culture and politics. Is that more clear?

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