National Geographic : 1947 Dec
An Archeologist Looks at Palestine BY NELSON GLUECK* PALESTINE is the name left by the Philistines to the land of Canaan. Along its southern coastal plain and the shore of the Mediterranean, they estab lished colonies and cities. In Ashkelon, or Ascalon,t and Ashdod (Isdud) and Ekron ('Aqir), in Gaza and Gath, this sea people from Greek islands struck deep roots and flourished. With their chariots of iron, as frightening then as the first tanks were in modern war fare, and with their other advanced metal equipment, the Philistines brought fear upon the land. Eastward and northward as far as Beth shan (Beisan) they surged, to the injury of Israel and the death of King Saul and his sons. To heap insult upon their enemy, they im paled the royal bodies on the walls of this fortress flanking the approaches to the Jordan Valley. Strife Since Before Goliath's Time The Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath, clad in a glistening suit of armor, became a symbol of the awe these invaders inspired. Palestine then became again what it had previously been, and what it has remained down to our very day, a cockpit of unending conflict. The struggle between those who held the keys to its gates and those who sought to enter or re-enter its portals has never subsided. The contenders have been many, but the prize has always remained the same. The homeless and the hungry have sought the haven of its boundaries. Desert dwellers and the armies of expanding empires have striven and perished for the sake of the plenty and power that seizure of its soil has promised. The patrimony of Palestine has never spelled peace for long. And out of the endless upheavals in which nations of the past have spent their substance and themselves in sorry rivalries, nought has survived of the glitter of glory or the panoply of power save the rubble of ruined cities piled hill-high above each other. These ancient tells are monuments to the hurts and hatreds and madness of men. Even more than men, with their appetites and ambitions, have ideas collided in Pales tine. In this crossroads of continents and arena of empires, only the ideas of God and good as first revealed to Israel have proved to be imperishable. The only thing permanent which has issued from the travail of Palestine is the increased understanding of moral imperatives. The developing appreciation of God as we know Him today has been its only lasting achievement. On the Beaches of Ascalon Today All this was in the back of my mind when I sauntered recently along the beaches of As calon and looked at the jumble of ruins reach ing down to the shore of the Mediterranean (map, page 742). Pillars, bricks, and pottery of many widely separated periods litter the landscape. At the time of Christ, Ascalon was a rich and riotous Roman city, with Greek culture and a sophisticated population of pagans and Jews. Herod the Great was born there, and it was the residence of his sister, Salome. He heaped gifts upon Ascalon, as was also his fashion elsewhere, adorning it with fairest fountains, baths, temples, and harbor works constructed in Greek style. After experiencing various disasters and restorations, from Philistine times onward, Ascalon was lastingly demolished, about seven centuries ago, by the great Moslem warrior, Sultan Baybars. Since then, sand dunes indifferent to an tiquity have drifted over columns, which stick out of the dunes like cannon from a foundered ship. Great blocks of masonry have rolled down the side of the ridge on which the town was built and come to rest at the very edge of the sea or lie beneath the clear waters near the shore (page 746). In the classical temples of Herodian As calon, even as in the earlier Philistine sanc tuaries there, primitive and passionate prac tices of fertility cults prevailed. A Mermaid Goddess The historian, Herodotus, informs us of the special place occupied in the pagan pantheon there by Derceto, the fecund goddess with the face of a woman and the body of a fish. I found a similar goddess in the Nabataean temple of Khirbet et Tannfir, in Trans-Jordan, when excavating there on behalf of the Ameri * Dr. Glueck, now President of Hebrew Union Col lege, Cincinnati, Ohio, was Director of the American School of Oriental Research, Jerusalem, 1932-3; 1936 40; 1942-47 . t The Ashkelon of Old Testament times later be came Ascalon. The later and more familiar spelling is used throughout this article.