In a country where the two main religions, Judaism and Islam, both forbid its consumption, researchers say that Israel’s feral pig population was originally European, likely arriving with the Philistines more than 3,000 years ago.
A new study in the journal Scientific Reports that was based on the DNA of modern and ancient feral pigs, also known as boar, revealed that European emigrant pigs became prominent during the Iron Age, circa 900 BCE, eventually overtaking the entire pig population in what is known as Israel today. This differs from boar in nearby countries, which are all Middle Eastern.
Tel Aviv University Professor Israel Finkelstein, one of the lead researchers, speculated that tensions between the ancient Israelites and the Philistines, depicted in biblical stories such as David versus Goliath, may have led the Israelites to reject pork consumption in an “us versus them” mentality.
“They eat pork, and we don’t,” Finkelstein told the New York Times.
Appearing at the beginning of the Iron Age and settling near modern day Gaza, the origins of the Philistines has long been a mystery. There is limited evidence to suggest they are a non-Semitic people, perhaps originating near Greece or Asia Minor.
Researchers also believe that further European intervention in the region, such as with the Romans or Crusaders, could have contributed to the further the “Europeanization” of Israel’s pigs.