Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology



"And there went a champion out of the camp of the Philistines,     
named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span”
First Samuel 17: 4     

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's visit Gath, Goliath's hometown

Was Goliath nine feet tall?  We can’t really know, but both Joshua (11:22) and Second Samuel (21:20) state that Gath was home base for the Giants.  One warrior from Gath even taunted Israel with 12 fingers and 12 toes.  With David at bat, however, the Giants struck out.
With a sling and a stone, David triumphed over the Philistine, and using Goliath’s own sword, slashed off the giant’s head.  When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled with the Israelites in hot pursuit, all the way to Gath, about eight miles west of the battlefield.

View of Tel es-Safi, biblical Gath

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of Tel es-Safi, biblical Gath

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, European explorers pursued the challenge of locating Gath. When I studied to be a guide in the late 1970s, we were taught that archeologists Bliss and Macalister had excavated Tel es-Safi in 1899, believing it to be Gath, but they were wrong.  In my early days as a guide, we pointed out Gath near a modern Israeli town called Kiryat (“town of”) Gath.  In a turnabout, a majority of twenty-first century scholars now identify Tel es-Safi with biblical Gath.

Map of the Shephelah

Copyright 2014 by Gila Yudkin

Valley of Elah runs between Azekah and Adullam

If you have time, stamina and good balance, a hike to the summit of Tel es-Safi is a fantastic way to study the geography of the holy land.  After an hour and a quarter drive from Jerusalem, it’s a relatively easy, although steep and sometimes slippery, 30-minute climb to the top of the tel.  (Tel in Biblical Hebrew means “mound of ruins.”)  The reward is a 360 degree view of biblical terrain ranging from the Judean and Hebron hills to the lowlands (called in the Hebrew Bible the shephelah), all the way to the Mediterranean coastal plain.

Beduin camp below Gath and the Shephelah

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Beduin encampment below Gath with the Shephelah in the distance

Beyond the extended Beduin family encampment right below us, we locate Maresha, probable birthplace of Herod the Great, Timna where Samson married the Philistine woman (Judges 14), and Ashdod where the Philistines were plagued with hemorrhoids when they displayed their trophy, the Ark of the Covenant, in their pagan temple. (1 Samuel 5)
As a matter of fact, at the summit of Tel es Safi, one can trace the progress of the Ark of the Covenant as it toured the Philistine cities for seven months.  When it reached Gath, the residents were panic-stricken.  Eventually the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the Israelites who were reaping their wheat harvest at Beth Shemesh to our east.  See First Samuel chapters 4, 5, and 6 for the whole amazing story.
Still controlled by the Philistines, the city of Gath played a major role in David’s rise to power when he fled from the wrath of King Saul.  On the principle, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” David decided to seek refuge with Achish, king of Gath.  After burying Goliath’s sword (on our hike – we will imagine where…), David pretended to be a madman, drooling and drumming on Gath’s city gates.

Goats grazing at biblical Gath

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Goats grazing at Biblical Gath

In all, David served up to two years with Achish, king of Gath.  The king trusted him to the extent of appointing David to be his personal body guard. David might have even been present at Saul’s final battle on Mount Gilboa, had the other Philistine chieftains not vigorously protested David’s participation in the fateful battle.
Philistine suspicions were in fact justified, for during the two-year stint with the king of Gath, David’s loyalties remained with Israel.  He apparently learned the Philistine secret of manufacturing iron along with the techniques of fighting with horses and chariots.  It was David’s son Solomon who inaugurated what archeologists call the Iron Age -- before that all Israelite weapons were made of bronze.
Perhaps Solomon (Shlomo in Hebrew, from shalom, which means peace) knew peace during his entire reign because he had at his fingertips fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses. (First Kings 10:26)  An interesting thought we can discuss at Gath.

Walking up to the summit of Gath amidst the sheep and goats

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

En route to the summit of Gath, Goliath's hometown

It’s a colorful hike -- we may wander among a herd of sheep and goats tended by a shepherd named David, or pass a group of sight-seers on horseback.  In April the scenery is spectacular with orange speckled butterflies perched on budding purple thistles silhouetted against the grassy green mound of ancient Gath.

Gath at springtime, a butterfly amidst the thistles

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Gath at springtime:  a butterfly perched on a thorny thistle

If you crave adventure, maintain good balance on a slippery slope and love the saga of the triumph of the Israelites over the Philistines, don’t miss paying a visit to Tel es Safi next spring (or fall or winter…).


Philisitine Gath is being excavated by Bar Ilan University

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Philistine Gath is today being excavated by Bar Ilan University

Afterwards we’ll collect stones in the riverbed of the Valley of Elah (the battlefield where David fought the giant) to use with our traditional slingshot that killed Goliath.  It's a cool tool to slay the giants in your life!

Bernini's David in Rome about a kill Goliath

Photo: Gila Yudkin

Bernini's David in Galleria Borghese in Rome with David about to kill Goliath


BOOK GILA for your customized private tour

Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living now in King David's court, has been shepherding pilgrims in the Holy Land for over thirty years.  She recently rediscovered the biblical charm of Gath.  She revels in showing veteran tour leaders new sites that illustrate the Bible in living color and three dimensions.
Tour the Temple Mount with Gila's audio tour in the company of David and Solomon, Abraham and Isaac, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

Gila's Temple Mount tour is now also available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and ten recommended reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.

Copyright 2007, 2015  Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

More on David and his sons:
David bought the threshing ground of Arunah

Absalom's Tomb

Let's visit Gezer, Solomon's wedding gift

David / Temple Mount

Absalom's Tomb Monument

Solomon's dowry / Gezer





Copyright © 2005-2023 Gila Yudkin. All rights reserved.
Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin