Gath in the Old TestamentGath was one of the five chief cities of the Philistines (Josh 13:3; 1 Sam 6:17). It was a walled town (2 Ch 26:6) and was not taken by Joshua, and, although many conflicts took place between the Israelites and its people, it does not seem to have been captured until the time of David (1 Ch 18:1).
It was rendered famous as the abode of the giant Goliath whom David slew (1 Sam 17:4), and other giants of the same race (2 Sam 21:18-22). It was to Gath that the Ashdodites conveyed the ark when smitten with the plague, and Gath was also smitten (1 Sam 5:8,9). It was Gath where David took refuge twice when persecuted by Saul (21:10; 27:2-4). It seems to have been destroyed after being taken by David, for we find Rehoboam restoring it (2 Ch 11:8).
It was after this reoccupied by the Philistines, for we read that Uzziah took it and razed its walls (2 Ch 26:6), but it must have been restored again, for we find Hazael of Damascus capturing it (2 Ki 12:17). It seems to have been destroyed before the time of Amos (Am 6:2), and is not further mentioned in the Old Testament or Macc, except in Mic 1:10, where it is referred to in the proverb, "Tell it not in Gath" (compare 2 Sam 1:20).
Since its destruction occurred, probably, in the middle of the 8th century BC, it is easy to understand why the site has been lost so that it can be fixed only conjecturally. Several sites have been suggested by different explorers and writers, such as: Tell es Safi, Beit Jibrin, Khurbet Jeladiyeh, Khurbet Abu Geith, Jennata and Yebna (see PEFS, 1871, 91; 1875, 42, 144, 194; 1880, 170-71, 211-23; 1886, 200-202).
Tradition in the early centuries AD fixed it at 5 Roman miles North of Eleutheropolis (Beit Jibrin, toward Lydda, which would indicate Tell es Safi as the site, but the Crusaders thought it was at Jamnia (Yebna), where they erected the castle of Ibelin, but the consensus of opinion in modern times fixes upon Tell es Safi as the site, as is to be gathered from the references cited in PEFS above.
The Biblical notices of Gath would indicate a place in the Philistine plain or the Shephelah, which was fortified, presumably in a strong position on the border of the Philistine country toward the territory of Judah or Dan. Tell es Safi fits into these conditions fairly well, but without other proof this is not decisive. It is described in SWP, II, 240, as a position of strength on a narrow ridge, with precipitous cliffs on the North and West, connected with the hills by a narrow neck, so that it is thrust out like a bastion, a position easily fortified. In 1144 Fulke of Anjou erected here a castle called Blanchegarde (Alba Specula).
The writer on "Gath and Its Worthies" in PEFS, 1886, 200-204, connects the name Safi with that of the giant Saph (2 Sam 21:18), regarding him as a native of Gath, but the most direct evidence from early tradition connecting Tell es Safi with Gath is found in a manuscript said to be in the library of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which informs us that Catherocastrum was situated on a mountain called Telesaphion or Telesaphy, which is clearly Tell es Safi. Catherocastrum must be the Latin for "camp of Gath" (PEFS, 1906, 305).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).