Tell es-Safi or Tel Zafit is a large site in central Israel, located halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon on the border between the Coastal Plain and the Judean foothills.
It is named for its white chalk cliffs which can be seen from the road at once. The site has been identified as the biblical Gath, one of the five major cities of the Philistines, the well-known arch-enemies of the Israelites in the biblical text.
The site has had rich findings from many periods (early and late Iron Age, early and late Bronze Age) and during the excavation period in 2005, the most important piece yet was found. A small sherd with an inscription written in archaic Pro-Canaanite letters was excavated, which also showed two non-Semitic names, ‘Alwt’ and ‘Wlt’, causing a stir in the archaeological scene.
One of the reasons for the excitement was that it is the earliest Philistine inscription known to date. The major reason, however, was the fact that the two names appeared to be strikingly similar to the most famous Philistine name – Goliath. So it indicated that in the 10th – 9th century Gath, names equal or at least similar to Goliath was used, providing evidence that the biblical story of Goliath is in fact based on clear cultural regalia from the time depicted in the biblical text. The new inscription of Tell es-Safi was further quite important, as it revealed evidence of the transformation of the Philistines from an Aegean to a Semitic culture.
The site itself was inhabited from Proto-Historic through Modern times. Throughout the Iron Age, Gath passed back and forth between Philistine and Judean hands several times. The earliest evidence for settlement is from the Chalcolithic Period (ca. 5th mill. BCE) after which the occupation continued until the modern Palestinian village of Tell es-Safi. The village was abandoned in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence.
You find Tell es-Safi just 53 km southwest of Jerusalem, suitable for an enjoyable day trip for hiking and exploring one of the most important historical sites in Israel. On April 2, 2008, the National Parks Authorities held an opening ceremony for Tell es-Safi as one of Israel’s National Parks, which will see further excavation and restoration in the next decade.
The Tell is located at the end of Elah Valley, one of the well-hidden treasures of the country, which offers visitors a range of vineyards as well as several popular tourist spots like the picturesque Beit Jamal Monastery.