Philistine gateway and defensive walls at Ashkelon (Bukvoed)
Ashkelon was one of the confederation of five Philistine cities that remained unconquered by the Israelites after their invasion of Canaan in c.1406BC (see Joshua 13:1-3). During the time of the ‘Judges’, the Philistines frequently ruled the whole of Canaan and held the Israelites under subjugation. This was the situation when Samson took revenge on the Philistines of Ashkelon after he had been cheated out of a wedding gift of thirty garments of clothing (see Judges 14:1-20).
In the years leading up to 1000BC, Yidya, the king of Ashkelon sent a series of letters to his ally, Pharaoh Akenaten of Egypt, complaining about the constant threats he was receiving from his ‘Habiru’ (i.e.Hebrew) neighbours. Over three hundred of these ‘Amarna letters’, written by rulers such as Yidya on clay tablets, are now preserved at the Cairo Museum, the Berlin Museum, and the British Museum in London. Akenaten was unable to offer protection to his allies. Over the next few years, David was able to defeat the Philistines completely, and extend his kingdom to include the cities of the southern coastal plain.
Ashkelon was later conquered by Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria in 734BC, and again by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 604BC. This downfall was predicted by the prophet Zephaniah (see Zephaniah 2:4-7).
The extensive site of Biblical Ashkelon – Tell Askelon on the coastal sand dunes near the modern city of Ashkelon – has been excavated since 1985 by archaeologists from Harvard University. Finds include Canaanite shaft graves, a magnificent Canaanite gateway and city walls built on three sides of the settlement by the Philistines, as well as later Roman and Byzantine remains.