International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ga'-za (`azzah, "strong"; Septuagint Gaza; Arabic Ghazzeh):
One of the five chief towns of Philistia and probably the oldest, situated near the coast in lat. 31 degrees 30' and about 40 miles South of Jaffa. It is on a hill rising 60 to 200 ft. above the plain, with sand dunes between it and the sea, which is about 2 1/2 miles distant. The plain around is fertile and wells abound, and, being on the border of the desert between Syria and Egypt and lying in the track of caravans and armies passing from one to the other, it was in ancient times a place of importance. The earliest notices of it are found in the records of Egypt.
Thothmes III refers to it in the account of his expedition to Syria in 1479 B.C., and it occurs again in the records of the expedition of Seti I in 1313 B.C. (Breasted, History of Egypt, 285, 409).
It occurs also in the early catalogue of cities and tribes inhabiting Canaan in the earliest times (Genesis 10:19). Joshua reached it in his conquests but did not take it (Joshua 10:41; Joshua 11:22).
Judah captured it (Judges 1:18) but did not hold it long, for we find it in the hands of the Philistines in the days of Samson, whose exploits have rendered it noteworthy (16:1-3, 11, 30). The hill to which he carried off the gate of the city was probably the one now called el-Muntar ("watch-tower"), which lies Southeast of the city and may be referred to in 2 Kings 18:8, "from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city," Gaza, with the other chief towns, sent a trespass offering to Yahweh when the ark was returned (1 Samuel 6:17).
Hezekiah defeated and pursued the Philistines to Gaza, but does not seem to have captured it. It was taken by Sargon in 720 B.C., in his war with Egypt, since Khanun, the king of Gaza, joined the Egyptians and was captured at the battle of Raphia (Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, II, 142). It was probably destroyed (see Amos 1:7). It was certainly dismantled by Alexander the Great in 332, when it dared to resist him. It was then exceedingly strong, verifying its name, and was most bravely defended, so that it took Alexander two months to reduce it. He put to death all the men and sold the women and children as slaves (Grote, History of Greece, XI, 467). It was restored, however, and we learn that Jonathan forced it to submit to him (Josephus, Ant, XIII, v, 5; 1 Maccabees 11:62), and Alexander Janneus took it and massacred the inhabitants who escaped the horrors of the siege (Josephus, Ant, XIII, xiii, 3). Pompey restored the freedom of Gaza (ibid., XIV, iv, 4), and Gabinius rebuilt it in 57 B.C. (ibid., XIV, v, 3).
Gaza is mentioned only once in the New Testament (Acts 8:26), in the account of Philip and the eunuch. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., it became a center of Greek commerce and culture, and pagan influence was strong, while the church rounded there was struggling for existence. Many martyrs there testified to the faith, until finally, under Theodosius, Christianity gained the supremacy (HGHL, 12th edition, 188). It fell into the hands of the Arabs in 634 A.D., and became and has remained a Moslem city since the days of Saladin, who recovered it from the Crusaders in 1187, after the battle of Hattin. It is now a city of some 20,000 inhabitants, among whom are a few hundred Christians.
See also AZZAH.