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How do we locate and identify a source?

  1. Go to the primary sources. Find out where this site appears in the ancient texts, both Biblical and extra-Biblical.
    2. Find out what the modern day Arabic name of the place is. Often the Arabic name reflects a variation of the ancient name that appears in the primary sources. These place-names are called toponyms.
    3. Analyze the archaeological data, if there is any.
    4. Utilizing the 3 things listed above, attempt to formulate a hypothesis concerning the location of the ancient site.

On a basic level, this is the process I go through in attempting to track down and identify Biblical sites. Unfortunately, identifying sites is not really as simple as looking at the maps in the back of your Bible. The sites which appear on those maps show up there because someone went through the steps above (plus a few more) and made some site identifications.

Ashdod is one of the easiest sites to identify. The ancient name is preserved in the modern name of the nearby Arab name, Isdud. The ancient city showed up all over the Bible and extra-Biblical texts which is always a wonderful and very helpful thing for the researcher (me). This last weekend, I and 4 classmates, plus Dr. Wright, visited the ancient tel of Ashdod where I had the opportunity to teach all about the site and life there throughout the Old Testament periods.
Ashdod is first mentioned in a tablet from the land of Ugarit written in the 14th or 13th century BC. These texts deal mainly with Ashdod textile merchants who brought both purple wool and garments from Ashdod probably to Ugarit. The Ashdod merchants living in Ugarit and in its port, Ma’hadu (Minet el-Beideh), have names that are mostly W-Semitic (i.e., Canaanite). Ashdod also shows up in the Onomasticon of Amenope in a city list: “Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gaza”. This is the only place Ashdod has been found in Egyptian literature so far.

Tel Ashdod, topped by a cattle pen

Tel Ashdod, topped by a cattle pen

Concerning its appearance in the Bible, Ashdod is all over the place. It shows up in a total of 20 verses, which is a lot! Here is an overview of a few selected appearances.

In Josh 11:21-22, which recounts how Joshua wiped out the Anakim, there is a note indicating that some Anakim remained in Ashdod. Although Ashdod was assigned to the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:47), it does not seem to have been conquered by the Israelites. After the battle of Ebenezer, Ashdod became the scene of the story about the temple of Dagon and the plagues which came upon the Philistines when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into their territory (1 Sam 5:1-7). Eventually, the Philistines moved the Ark from Ashdod to Gath.

The next chronological mention of Ashdod is during the reign of Uzziah, king of Judah, who “broke down…the wall of Ashdod and built cities about Ashdod and among the Philistines” (2 Chr 26:6). It is possible that this is the judgement referred to in the Amos passages where Ashdod appears (1:8 and 3:9).

Not long after the Assyrians put an end to the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E. and deported its citizens to Assyria (2 Kings 17:5–6), Sargon II, the Assyrian ruler, proceeded south along the Mediterranean coast all the way to the Egyptian border at Gaza, where he defeated the Egyptian army. In 713 B.C.E., when the ancient Philistine city of Ashdod made a rebellious alliance with neighboring rulers, Sargon attacked it (Isaiah 20:1). According to Assyrian records, Sargon replaced the ruler of Ashdod (Aziru) with his brother (Ahimetu) (cf. ANET, 284-287). However, as soon as the Assyrians withdrew, the people of Ashdod rebelled again—this time against Ahimetu—and installed a new ruler, Iamani. The word Iamani actually translates to Ionian and as such is believed to have been simply called The Greek. This could have been Sargon’s derogatory name for the ruler installed by the people as he considered the Greeks, and pretty much any non-Assyrian, to be not much better than dirt. In response to the beginning of Iamani’s rule, Sargon laid siege to Ashdod yet again and exacted his revenge upon its citizens by exiling them as he had done with the Israelites. At this point Ashdod became an Assyrian city-state.

Sabra cacti on Tel Ashdod

Sabra cacti on Tel Ashdod

In the period of Sennacherib (the son of Sargon II) the city of Ashdod did not participate in the revolt of other Philistine cities, and as a result its territory was restored to an independent monarchic status under the local vassal king, Mitinti (ANET, 287-88). The next vassal king, Ahimilki is mentioned in Assyrian sources under Esarhadon and Ashurbanipal (Esarhadon = son of Sennacherib; Ashurbanipal = son of Esarhadon) (ANET, 291, 294). It is during this time that Ashdod served as the provincial center of Philistia and the south in the Assyrian empire.

According to Herodotus, during Ashurbanipal’s reign Ashdod withstood an Egyptian siege for 29 years, until it was conquered by the Egyptian pharaoh, Psammetichus, who ruled from 663-609BC. This conquest put an effective end to Ashdod’s economic importance.

After Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest (2 Kings 25), the king of Ashdod is mentioned as a captive at the Babylonian court (ANET, 307-8), while Ashdod and its territory became a Babylonian province. Some of these and later events of Ashdod’s history are also mentioned in the Bible (Zephaniah 2:4; Zechariah 9:5-6; Nehemiah 4:1-2). During the Persian period which follows that of Babylon, Ashdod is mentioned in the book of Judith (2:28).

Our primary sources for the history of Ashdod during the Hellenistic and Roman periods are 1 Maccabees (4:15; 5:68; 9:15; 10:77-78; 11:4; 14:34; 16:10) and Josephus’ Antiquities (5.87; 5.128; 13.395). The city is mentioned only once in the NT (as Azotus; Acts 8:40). In the Roman period, Pompey returned Ashdod, among other cities, to its former inhabitants, and Gabinius restored it (JW 1.156, 165f). Later, Ashdod belonged to the Herodian dynasty, until it fell into the hands of the Romans (JW 4.130). Strabo and Pliny are among the Roman writers who refer to Ashdod. Eusebius’ Onomasticon records that Azotus (i.e., Ashdod) was a “notable small town,” and Hieronymus writes that Ashdod, described as an insigne oppidum (“famous town”) in his time, was the oldest of the 5 Philistine city-states.

There are volumes of work on Ashdod, but the most interesting aspect of studying the site for most of us is that this is a site where the Bible and archaeology match up very well. The Assyrian texts and Biblical texts line up excellently with the different destruction layers which have been found in the excavations of Ashdod. Ashdod is a tel. Tels are stratified layers of human settlement, one atop another. At Ashdod these layers of stratification extend from the Middle Bronze Age (c. 16th century BC) through the Byzantine period (c. 2nd-3rd century AD).

One odd thing about Ashdod is that we know it is a port city, yet it sits about 4 kilometers inland. How is this possible? Why was Ashdod not built on the coast?

There are numerous reasons but primarily, Ashdod was not built upon the coast because the technology needed to build a breakwater did not come along until the 8th century BC. Because of this all the established cities (except Ashkelon and Jaffa) were located relatively far from the beach, e.g. Tell esh-Sheikh (ez-Zuweid), Raphia (Tell Sheikh es-Suleiman), Sharuhen (Tell el-Far’a), Tell Jamma, Tell el-Ajjul (Beth-Eglaim), Gaza, Ashdod, Yavneh (Iamnia), and Tell es-Sultan. These cities were built near the inland north-south road (the incorrectly named ‘Via Maris’) or one of its main branches. Trade with other coastal cities or with countries across the sea took advantage of harbors which were located along navigable rivers. Although anchoring off the unsheltered coast (look at the map at the beginning of the coast and you can see the coast is practically straight) was also possible, there were numerous difficulties connected with such a landing.

Sycamore figs on Tel Ashdod

Sycamore figs on Tel Ashdod

Ancient Ashdod had as its nearby river the Nahal Lachish. Two mounds are located along the sides of this outlet, about 7km NW of Ashdod: Mizpeh Yonah (Nebi Yunis), settled principally in the 1st millennium BC, and Tel Mor, settled mainly during the 2d millennium BC.

The founding of Tel Mor probably fulfilled the needs of sea transport and commerce for the mother city, Ashdod. The development of Tel Mor and Ashdod must have been closely parallel in the beginning, especially during the 2nd millennium BC, before Ashdod had the use of the artificial anchorage established at Asdod-Yam. Tel Mor was founded no later than the beginning of the sixteenth century BC. Thus both cities came into being within 100 years of each other and Tel Mor was Ashdod’s gateway to the Mediterranean.

On Tel Ashdod there are sycamore fig trees. This is the type of tree that shows up in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19).

If you are interested in learning more about Ashdod here is a mostly non-technical bibliography (You can track down the BAR articles here: You will only be able to read a portion of the article without subscribing to the BAS Library.)

You future JUC students in the Regional Explorations class should really appreciate this information.

Barako, Tristan. “One if by Sea…Two if by Land: How Did the Philistines Get to Canaan?: How Did the Philistines Get to Canaan? One: by Sea.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2003, 26-33, 64, 66.
Cline, Eric H., Nur, Amos. “Earthquake Storms.” Archaeology Odyssey, Sep/Oct 2001, 30-36.
Cross, F., and Freedman, D. 1963. The Name of Ashdod. BASOR 175: 48-50.
Dothan, M. 1960. Short Report on the Excavations at Tel Mor. IEJ 10:123-25.

  • 1970. The Musicians of Ashdod. Archaeology 23: 310-11.
    ⁃ 1973. The Foundation of Tel Mor and Tel Ashdod. IEJ 23:1-17.
    ⁃ 1992. Ashdod. Pp. 477-82. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol 1. ed D.N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.
    ⁃ 1992. People of the Sea: The Search for the Philistines. w/Trude Dothan. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

Greenspan, Ari. “The Search for Biblical Blue.” Bible Review, Feb 2003, 32-39.
Kaplan, J. 1969. The Stronghold of Yamani at Ashdod-Yam. IEJ 19: 137-49.
Shanks, Hershel. “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdod.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 2007, 56-60. 

ANET – Ancient Near Eastern Texts
BASOR – Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
IEJ – Israel Exploration Journal

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