Pelethites and Peltasts

While Neil Godfrey was covering John Van Seters’s The Biblical Saga of King David, he amazingly managed to under-emphasize the most interesting part of Van Seters’s discussion-his equation of the Biblical Pelethites with the peltasts, footsoldier mercenaries used from the fifth to third centuries BC, and his equation of the Biblical Cherethites with Cretan archers, used as mercenaries from at least the fifth century BC to the Roman era. This surely makes more sense than the traditional view that equates both the Pelethites and the Cherethites with Philistines and is the most convincing evidence for the view that there is much Perso-Hellenistic material in Samuel-1 Kings. Fortunately, Godfrey rightfully emphasizes the importance of the mentions of mercenaries in dating the accounts of Samuel-1 Kings. He also mentions the similarity between the Deuteronomistic accounts of Jeroboam I and Ahab and the Persian or Hellenistic-era account of David and Bathsheba.

According to Van Seters, there is to be found a Persian (possibly Hellenistic)-era account in Samuel and Kings that is interspersed with the original Deuteronomistic account, which views David as a leader of a band of unemployed semi-nomads; what the Amarna letters term ‘Apiru; who later becomes a king reliant on conscripts. According to Van Seters, no mercenaries appear in the original Deuteronomistic account. According to Finkelstein, this Deuteronomistic account likely originated with tenth century BC oral traditions. According to Grabbe’s summary of Van Seters’s conclusions, mercenaries were largely unused from the twelfth to seventh centuries BC, conscripts being viewed by kings as cheaper. An increasing supply of Greek mercenaries in the seventh century BC allowed Saite Egyptians to use them as garrison soldiers. Though the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses in 525 BC greatly reduced the use of mercenaries in the ANE, the Persian Empire was back to using mercenaries, this time both peltasts and Cretan archers, by the time of Xenophon due to the Peace of Callias. However, as pointed out in an Amazon comment, Van Seters’s apparent equation of Goliath with a Greek hoplite on p. 203 of the Israel in Transition 2 book is almost certainly incorrect. Van Seters views the Carites in 2 Kings 11 as Late Iron IIc, not Persian, features.


Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

6 thoughts on “Pelethites and Peltasts”

          1. Can you answer the question on beginning of calendar year in Palestine in
            seleuсid periods?

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