In Genesis chapter 26, there are a number of points noted about wells of water. Using the NKJV, particular points paint an odd picture. First, Genesis 26:15, 17-18 (NKJV, bold added):
15 Now the Philistines had stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and they had filled them with earth. 16 And Abimelech [king of the Philistines, living in Gerar, v.1] said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.” 17 Then Isaac departed from there and pitched his tent in the Valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham. He called them by the names which his father had called them.
So it seems v.15 and the stopping up of the wells is a prelude to Abimelech's asking Isaac to depart, but Isaac does not go far (Gerar is in the Valley of Gerar), and it is reiterated that the Philistines had filled the wells (this time noting when, after Abraham's death).
But second, water was no doubt as precious to the Philistines as it would have been to Abraham, and in fact, we see this is so as Isaac begins to dig wells again and there is contention for the water (Genesis 26:19-22):
19 Also Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found a well of running water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they quarreled with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that one also. So he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”
So I'm trying to understand the historical mindset of the Philistines here:
- What historical/archaeological evidence sheds light on the mindset of the people in this time regarding reasons water producing wells would have been filled with earth?
- Extrapolating from that, what might be the reasons the Philistines might have filled in the wells, rather than simply start using them, after Abraham's death (since he would obviously not be contending with the Philistines had they taken over the well)?
I'm not looking for purely speculations here (the second point likely will have to involve some speculation), but academically researched information that supports the contention (and manner of contention) for well water during ancient times, in order to help elucidate the cultural significance behind these actions, which may shed light on the relationship between the early Philistines and Abraham's family as portrayed in the text.