Only Be Like the Philistine Priests! A Comparison of the Philistines’ Offering in 1 Sam 6 and the Sacrificial Actions of Eli’s House in 1 Sam 2-4

In: Vetus Testamentum

Abstract

The biblical portrayal of the Philistines is largely negative. Their military exploits, depicted extensively in the books of Judges and 1 Samuel—coupled with their religion, unaccustomed to the Israelite cult—have led several commentators to label them a prototypical “other.” To put it memorably, the Philistines are what Israel should not be. I attempt to nuance somewhat this overtly negative characterization of the Philistines by focusing on one incident in 1 Sam 6: the Philistines’ returning of the ark, accompanied with a peculiar offering of objects made of gold. I compare this ritual to the sacrificial actions of Eli’s sons in 1 Sam 2-4 to argue that, at least in 1 Sam 6, and with respect to what lies at the heart of Israel’s cult—the approach of the inscrutable and holy deity—the Israelites should be more like the Philistines.