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The Ekron Inscription: Re-reading the first Philistine text

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 25.02.2006:

This Week in Palestine

October 2005

By Zakaria Mohammed

Ten years ago a major archaeological event occurred in Palestine: the Ekron Inscription was unearthed. It is the first real Philistine inscription to be discovered until now. After 2,500 years of silence, the people who gave Palestine its name climbed the stage to speak again. They uttered two sentences of about 80 letters. A very short speech, indeed, but of great importance.

The stone of the inscription has been found in what is supposed to be Ekron city near ‘aqir village, and close to the coastal area close to Ashdod. The language is Semite, the letters are Phoenician. Conventional wisdom says that the Philistines were of Greek origin and were supposed to land on Palestine’s southern cost after they have been defeated by Ramses III in the battle against the so-called Sea People around 1175 BC. According to Professors Gitin and Dothan Naveh, the inscription says:

“The temple (which) he built, Akish son of Padi, son of Ysd, Son of Ada, son of Ya’ir, ruler of Ekron, for Ptgyh his lady. May she blessed him, and Protect him, and prolonged his days, and bless his land”

After ten years, maybe it is the time to challenge many elements of this reading and to show how ideology is deeply affecting the field of ancient history of Palestine. These elements are:

1- The name of the ruler of Ekron: Akish.

2- The name of the supposed goddess: Ptgyh.

3- The name of the city itself: Ekron.

4- Dating the inscription.

Who is Ptgyh?

Let us then begin with the term Ptgyh, which has been understood as a goddess’ name of Indo-European origin. And we have been told that it is the first time that we are meeting such a goddess. This is totally wrong. The term Ptgyh has been found in the wen-em-diamun report from the 12 century BC which speaks about the defeat of the so-called Sea People’s invasion of Egypt at the hands of Ramses III. The Philistines were spearheaded this invasion. Beder, the Philistine captor, mentioned this goddess to the Egyptian officer in this report:

At this, I became very distressed. Lady Petigayah despises criminals.

Ptgyh of the Ekron Inscription is Petigayah of the wen-em-diamun report. We know that both the Phoenician and the ancient Egyptian languages have no vowels. So the Egyptologists suggested the vowels in Petigayah. Without vowels it is Ptgyh. This is exactly the same name in the Ekron text:

P t g y h (Pe ti ga ya h).

But what is Ptgyh indeed? We think that Petigayah is not a goddess’ name but a description of the goddess which contains the name of the people who worshiped her. The term is a combination of two words: Pe + Tigayah. Pe corresponds with the Arabic word Beh which means nobility and greatness. Tigayah is the name of the people. The dedication phrase then is: To Petigayah, and means: to the noble one – of the Tigayah people. This means that the name of the goddess is not motioned in the text. This is not unusual in the Phoenician inscription. We used to meet such formulas: to the Sidonian lady, or to the Lady of Byblus. There is no need to tell the people of Sidon or Byblus the name of their goddess.

The Tagayah people are the ancient Arabian people who were called Tayayah or Tayyaye. This name is well known from ancient times. It is found in the first centuries AD in Syriac texts and in the Hebrew Talmud. It has been applied to the Arabs as a whole, because Tayayah people were the strongest among the Arabian peoples (Hirtha de Tayyaye = Hira of the Arabs). Indeed, this name has been applied to the first Muslims by the Syriac Christians (Tayyaye d-Mhmt= Moslems or Arabs of Mohammed). St John of Damascus wrote Against the Tayyaye, naming the Arab Moslems. The ruminant of this people is Taiy the Arabian tribe. Tayayah is the plural of Taiy. As we can see, the only difference between Tagayah and Tayayah is the letter g. This can be explained by the fact that it was widespread among the Arabian peoples and tribes to interchangeably use y and g. The Taiy name must be pronounced with a g. The proof is that the Armenians and Persians used to call the Arabs as Tadgik or Tachik from the name Taiy, to bring about the letter g in the name of this tribe. So Tayayah is indeed a variant pronunciation of Tagayah.

Feles of Taiy

Now, we know that the main god of the Taiy tribe was called Feles. It was still alive until Islam. The name Philist in the old testament with its variations – Pelest, Philist, Felest, Feleshtu and Feleshti – is a combination the name of the tribe-people with the name of their god: Feles+ Taiy =Felestaiy. Philistines then means: Taiy of the Feles or Feles of Taiy. This is a name given to this people by others. They do not use it. They called themselves by the plural: Tagayah = Tayahay, or by the singular: Taiy. Because of that, we will not find the name Philist in any Philistine inscription.

But if the name of the noble one of the Tagayah people is not there in the Ekron text, where can it be found? Maybe Diodorus can help us in finding her name. He told us a few things about the goddess of Ashkelon. She was called Derketo. I think that the goddess of the supposed Ekron is also Derketo herself. She is maybe the mother goddess of all the Philistines. Derketo is the Greek corruption of Terqato. And Terqato is the palm tree in Taiy language, as we know from classical Arabic sources. The consort of Terqato is Beelzebub, most probably. Beelzebub is the god of Ekron in the Old Testament. His name was translated as Lord of the Flies. This is wrong. His name means the Hairy God. The root zbb in Arabian languages means hair, not flies. It is a fertile deity, and most probably was identified with Osiris, because Derketo-Terqato seems to be identified with Isis. She has a fish tail as Diodorus tells us.

Dating the Ekron Inscription

The Ekron Inscription has been dated to the seventh century BC by the supposed presence of Akish, ruler of the city, in the text. Akish has been identified with Ikusu of Iserhadon’s campaign on Palestine in the first year of the seventh century. Taking a careful look at the name of this ruler in the text leads us to conclude that there is no Akish in the text. The name must be read as Kirt. The first letter belongs to the previous word and the letter which has been read as sh is indeed two letters: r and t. So, the first phrase should be read: Bt. Bna. Kirt rather than Bt. Bn. Akish. There is no Akish in the text. The ideological will of the readers inserted it in the inscription. By removing Akish from the scene we could resolve some real problems concerning the inscription, especially those of its language and script. While the inscription was dated to the seventh century its language and its script were from the 10th. This contradiction has been noticed even by Gitin and his colleagues. In the Israeli Exploration Journal, Volume 47, Numbers 1-2, 1997 they said:

“One may ask why should a seventh century BCE be written at Ekron in a language close to Phoenician and reminiscent of Old Byblian. Phoenician was the prestige language in the tenth and ninth century BC To find an inscription, however, in seventh century BCE Philistia, where a script from the Hebrew tradition was used, is something of an enigma.”

This dangerous claim means that there is a real conflict, a clash, between the language and the script on one side and the dating on the other. The dating puts itself against the nature of the script and the language. The language and the script were the product of the tenth century while the dating of the seventh. By removing Akish things will settle down. His supposed presence has determined the dating of the inscription.

When he leaves it will be easy to say that the inscription is the product of the tenth century. This means that the stone of the inscription has been reused. It has been taken from the ruins of a tenth century building and used in establishing the foundation of an 8-7th century building. More than that, it could be the product of the 11-12th century BC. Sharing the wen-em-diamun report in mentioning Petigayah might enable us to suggest that they are from the same period. If this is proven to be right, the Ekron Inscription might be the oldest Phoenician inscription we have ever discovered!

The Tjeker People

We claim that the name Ekron is not mentioned in the text at all. The first letter of what is thought to be the name of the city Ekron is indeed tsadek (sad) not ‘ain. The word has to be read as Seqron not ‘akron. So Kirt, son of Padi was indeed Sr Seqron, the Chief of Seqron, not Sr Ekron the supposed southern city. Seqron is the plural of Seqr (hawk), which is a tribe’s name.

We know from Egyptian texts that there was a people-tribe that was tightly linked to the Philist, called Tjeker. Egyptolists don’t know how the Egyptians pronounced the first letter of their name. It could be s, t, th or tsadek. Most probably the Seqr of the inscription is the Tjeker themselves. This means that the Tjeker were a part of the Philistines. They, like the Philistines, worshiped Ptgy, as we saw in the wen-em-diamun report.

To summarize, the wrong reading of the inscription managed to prevent us from resolving the Philistines’ mysteries. By correcting the false reading we were able to get from the inscription much more than we were hoping:

1- Discovering the real name of the Philistines. They called themselves Tagayah or Tayayah.

2- Understanding the meaning of the name Philist. It is a name given to these people by the others. It means Taiy of the Feles or Feles of Taiy.

3- Resolving the relation between the Philist and the Tjeker. They were two tribes of the Tagayah people, and they worshiped the same mother goddess: Petigayah or the noble lady of the Tayayah people.

4- Getting the first textual confirmation that the Pelest of the Egyptian texts was indeed the Philist of southern Palestine.

And this is really a great deal of clues from a text of five lines. Because of this we have to celebrate it as a great discovery.

Zakaria Mohammed is a Palestinian writer concerned in the ancient history of Palestine. This article is a very short summary of his book, Taiy Palm Tree: Decoding the Philistine Origin, Ramallah, 2005.

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