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Reading the ever-surprising Timeline of the name Palestine, I noticed that the Egyptian, Assyrian, and biblical Hebrew have a "P" as the first consonant of the names equivalent to Peleshet/Pelishtim; and that the Greek similarly used Palaistinoi, with a Π, since the 5th century BCE. (The Hebrew reading is based on the later addition of Dagesh diacritics, but these are used consistently).

Then, comes my question, why does the Septuagint use Φ or ph, when it transliterates the name? Might it be a meaningful choice? Could this show more accuracy than older transliterations? Or could this be a pun or an intentional corruption of the original form?

(Trying my best to follow the phonology of Koine Greek, there doesn't seem to be any pressure to transition "p" to "f". Although, it seems something similar happened with 'Pharaoh'. Hebrew did gain an "f" sound at around this time, but I don't think it would be used at this position)

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 14 at 13:03
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    If you don't get an answer here, wait a while and then ask the question on Latin Language Stack Exchange, which despite its name also answers questions about Greek. Commented Apr 14 at 13:46
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    I suggest you look at the well-known effect of Grimm's law where, as time progresses /p/ morphs into /f/ among other effects. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimm%27s_law
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 14 at 21:25
  • To follow up, this does not seem to be an intentional choice. According to this there was a tendency but no rule for these transliterations. According to a more detailed attempt, it followed Greek conventions as they changed, and can be used to date or provenance Septuagint texts. The letter φ went from representing an aspirated, /pʰ/, to a fricative, /f/. The former consonant seems close enough to] the expected /p/.
    – trespda
    Commented Apr 17 at 15:06

1 Answer 1

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The use of Φ (ph) in the Septuagint’s transliteration of the name Philistines could be due to:

Phonological Changes in Greek:

  • The Greek language underwent pronunciation changes during the Koine Greek period, from about 300 BC to 400 AD. At the beginning of the period, the pronunciation was close to Classical Greek, while at the end it was almost identical to Modern Greek. [1]

One of these changes was the transition of the letter Φ from representing an aspirated /pʰ/ to a fricative /f/.

  • The consonants φ, θ and χ, which were initially pronounced as aspirates /pʰ/, /tʰ/ and /kʰ/ , developed into fricatives /f/, [θ] and [x~ç].There is evidence for fricative θ in Laconian in the 5th century BC, but this is unlikely to have influenced Koine Greek, which is largely based on Ionic-Attic. According to Allen, the first clear evidence for fricative φ and θ in Koine Greek dates from the 1st century AD in Latin Pompeian inscriptions, which transcribe φ and θ with f: [1]

I'll also note that many of:

  • These changes seem widely attested from the 2nd century BC in Egyptian Greek, and in the early 2nd century AD in learned Attic inscriptions; it is therefore likely that they were already common in the 2nd century BC and generalized no later than the 2nd century AD. [1]

So, the transition from “p” to “f” in the Septuagint’s transliteration of Palestine might not be an intentional choice, but rather a reflection of phonetic changes in the Greek language over time

This could explain why the Septuagint, which was translated during this period, uses Φ for the name Philistines.


As for the term “Palestine”. Something interesting is that it may have originated as a Greek pun on the translations of “Israel” and the "Land of the Philistines" [2]. The Greek Palaistinê and the Latin Palaestina appear frequently in ancient literature, but for the most part, they appear to refer not to the Land of the Philistines, but to the Land of Israel [2]

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    Thank you. The theory under 2 is a rather spurious one, and is the reason I went looking for the more strictly linguistic evidence.
    – trespda
    Commented May 9 at 8:50

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