Ashdod was one of the major Philistine cities of ancient times. It was located on the coastal plain about 2½ miles / 4 kilometers inland from The Mediterranean Sea, about half way between Gaza to the south and Joppa to the north. Although it was allotted to the tribe of Judah after the Israelites entered the Promised Land under Joshua, it was never fully taken and remained both a Philistine military stronghold and a major center for the worship of the pagan idol Dagon (see Images and Idols).
Allotted To Judah
Ashdod was included within the God-commanded territory of Judah (see Tribal Lands), however it remained untaken in the time of Joshua:
"The cities belonging to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme South, toward the boundary of Edom, were Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur ... Ashdod, its towns and its villages; Gaza, its towns and its villages; to the Brook of Egypt, and the Great Sea with its coast-line." (Joshua 15:21,47 RSV)
"Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and The Lord [see Rock Of Ages] said to him, "You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to be possessed. This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites, from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is reckoned as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron." (Joshua 13:1-3 RSV)
The Ark Captured At Ashdod
In one of Israel's most serious military defeats, during the time of Eli and Samuel the Ark Of The Covenant was captured by the Philistines and taken to Ashdod, something that the Philistines soon regretted:
"When the Philistines captured The Ark of God, they carried it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; then the Philistines took The Ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon."
"And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before The Ark of The Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before The Ark of The Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day."
"The hand of The Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and He terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory. And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, "The Ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for His hand is heavy upon us and upon Dagon our god." (1 Samuel 5:1-7 RSV)
The New Testament
By the time of the New Testament, the land of Israel was under Roman control (see Ancient Empires - Rome). Ashdod is mentioned only once specifically, when it was known as Azotus:
"But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing on he preached the Gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesarea." (Acts 8:40 RSV)
Fact Finder: After the return from the Babylonian captivity (see Why Babylon?), were some of the men of Judah marrying Philistine women from Ashdod?