Most of the references to the Philistines in the Bible relate to events between about 1200 B.C. and 950 B.C. This period began with the Israelite settlement in Canaan, when the Philistines too were occupying the area, and continued through the period of King David, who finally suppressed what was for the Israelites the Philistine scourge.

There are other Biblical references to the Philistines, however, from the Patriarchal period. Abraham, we are told, lived in the land of the Philistines at Beer-sheba, and made a treaty with Abimelech, a Philistine king who ruled nearby in Gerar (Genesis 21:22–34). One of the three versions of a Patriarch passing off his wife as his sister concerns Isaac’s disguising his marriage to Rebecca before the same Philistine king Abimelech (Genesis 26). A similar episode also involves Abraham and King Abimelech at Gerar (Genesis 20).

These Biblical references to the Philistines during the Patriarchal age are a special problem. Archaeologists have learned a great deal about the Philistines, including the fact that they came to Canaan in about 1200 B.C., shortly after the Israelite settlement of the land. But there is no archaeological evidence for a Philistine presence earlier than this. Moreover the Biblical Philistines from the Patriarchal age did not inhabit the land assigned both by archaeology and later Biblical references to the Philistines (the Mediterranean coastal area), but an area further inland centering in their capital Gerar and extending westward through the Sinai peninsula to the border with Egypt.

Most scholars regard the Biblical references to Philistines during the Patriarchal Period as anachronistic—that is, an identification inserted by a later writer or editor despite the fact that the events themselves occurred in a period hundreds of years before the arrival of the Philistines. Perhaps the reference is to another group that did inhabit the designated area during the patriarchal Period, a group whose identity is now unknown.