Digging for Dagon: A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence for a Cult of Philistine Dagon in Iron I Ashdod

Citation:

Emanuel, J. P. (2011). Digging for Dagon: A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence for a Cult of Philistine Dagon in Iron I Ashdod. In Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting . San Francisco, CA.
Digging for Dagon: A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence for a Cult of Philistine Dagon in Iron I Ashdod

Date Presented:

21 Nov.

Abstract:

Scholars have generally accepted 1 Sam 4:1b–7:1’s portrayal of Philistine cult in the Iron Age I as being centered on the god Dagon and his temple at Ashdod, despite three major limitations: the likely late date of the Deuteronomistic history’s authorship; the dubious veracity of its historical accounts; and the Bible’s status as the only Bronze or Iron Age text which indisputably refers to the god Dagon in a Canaanite geographical context. In the light of these limitations, as well as of the late 20th century excavations at the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Tel Qasîle, and Tel Miqne/Ekron, and the ongoing excavations at Ashkelon and Tel es–Safi/Gath, the time appears ripe for a reassessment of the available material evidence for a Philistine cult of Dagon at Iron I Ashdod. Through a marshaling of archaeological evidence from the aforementioned sites, it will be shown that, though cultic structures are known from multiple Philistine sites, no indisputable evidence for a temple of any kind has been found in Iron I Ashdod. Further, the only deity for which indisputable evidence exists in Philistia at this time is a fertility goddess with Aegean and Cypriot affinities, who is unlikely to be the Dagon of the biblical account. Though the absence of material support for the Deuteronomistic history’s portrayal of Philistine cult in the Iron I is not itself incontrovertible evidence of the absence of Dagon himself, such a discrepancy between literary and material evidence should reinforce the importance of evidence–based archaeo–historical analysis of literary information, particularly when the alternative is assuming the correctness of elements of a narrative whose overall veracity is generally in doubt.

Last updated on 06/08/2016