Philistines (Heb. Pelishtim), a people which gave to the Holy Land the name of Palestine (from Pelesheth, the name of their own limited territory), though possessing only the portion on the S. coast bounded by the hilly regions of Dan, Ephraim, and Judah, and extending S. W. to the confines of Egypt. Their origin is uncertain, but it is probable that' portions of them came from lower Egypt (the " Philistines from Caphtor " of Amos and Caph-torim of Deuteronomy, according to Ebers and others). They were early settled in Palestine, having expelled the Avim, who occupied the same region before them. They are mentioned in the history of Abraham, and from fear of war with them Moses did not lead the Israelites through their country, which was the most direct route. From the time the Israelites passed over into the Holy Land, they were engaged in a perpetual conflict with this warlike people, especially during the time of the later judges, Samson, Eli, and Samuel. Saul, the first Hebrew king, fell in battle against them at Gilboa. David, who had slain their giant warrior Goliath, defeated them in several battles, and to some of his successors they paid tribute; but generally they were independent and carried on war against the Hebrew monarchs.
In the time of the Maccabees Philistia was subject to Syria, and subsequently it came under the power of the Romans. The leading Philistine cities, in early times ruled by separate but confederated princes (Heb. seranim), were Gaza, Ashdod or Azotus, Ascalon, Gath, and Ekron, which became rich and powerful in consequence of a large transit and maritime trade, stimulated by superior agricultural resources. The religion of the Philistines resembled that of the Phoenicians, their principal deities being the goddess Derceto, who was worshipped at Ascalon, and Dagon, whose chief temples were at Gaza and Ashdod. Derceto was probably identical with Asherah, whose image was a wooden statue or column, improperly rendered grove in the English Bible. Ekron was the principal seat of the worship of Baal-zebub, and to the oracle there Ahaziah, king of Israel, sent when he became sick. They had numerous priests and soothsayers, and in war carried about with them the images of their gods.