Category Archives: Archaeology

Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic City

 Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Davidic City

Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley (photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition and lukechandler.wordpress.com
Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley (photo courtesy of Khirbet Qeiyafa expedition and lukechandler.wordpress.com)

Did you know that 7 seasons of excavations (2007-2013) at Khirbet Qeiyafa have produced a number of exciting finds leading some archaeologists to the conclusion that the biblical description of David’s kingdom is accurate? If you are a Bible-believer, it may have never crossed your mind to doubt the existence of David or his kingdom. However, that hasn’t stopped skeptical archaeologists and biblical scholars from questioning it! In the 1980s the new “literary” approach to the Bible advocated that the biblical text was written centuries after the events they purport to describe (actually the old “higher criticism” of the 19th-20th centuries frequently advocated a similar understanding). The events and people were (are) often considered to be literary creations. The biblical authors merely fabricated a past history that didn’t actually exist.

The discovery of the stele (stone inscription) from Tel-Dan in 1993 which specifically mentions the “house of David” was the first nonbiblical source ever discovered to refer to the Davidic kingdom.

House of David

"house of David" stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from thechristians.com)
“house of David” stele from Tel-Dan (photo taken from thechristians.com)

This discovery was helpful in putting an end to the theory that King David was only a literary creation. However, a number of scholars continue to believe that David’s kingdom was insignificant. One prominent Israeli archaeologist summed up David’s kingdom this way: “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting.” (quoted from Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2013, 39, no. 6, in an article by Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell entitled “An Ending and A Beginning,” p. 44).

Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Elah Valley

The excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa takes an important step toward demonstrating that David did in fact rule over a significant kingdom. While not all scholars agree (when do they ever!), there is considerable evidence that this city, that overlooks the Elah Valley, was an important defensive outpost from David’s time (1010-970 BC). As the map below shows, Qeiyafa is located at the junction between southern Judah and Philistine territory (the Philistine city of Gath, not on the map, is only 8 miles away).

Notice the strategic location of Qeiyafa in relation to Philistine territory. (map taken from holylandphotos.org)
Notice the strategic location of Qeiyafa in relation to Philistine territory. (map taken from holylandphotos.org)

The Elah Valley is the famous location of David’s battle with Goliath and it is the valley which provides access from Philistine territory to Judean territory. Thus it is a significant area, and Qeiyafa’s location would have been vital in protecting Judah’s southern frontier.

This photo shows the valley of Elah with the cities of Sochoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17:1-2), as well as the location of Qeiyafa.
This photo shows the valley of Elah with the cities of Socoh and Azekah (1 Sam. 17:1-2), as well as the location of Qeiyafa. (photo from BiblePlaces.com)

The reason Khirbet Qeiyafa is so significant is because there is basically only one occupational layer. This means that, unlike many cities in Israel, the site was not built upon by later generations (there is some small evidence of other occupations of the site, e.g., a Byzantine structure that dates from about 400 AD, but nothing significant that interferes with the basic city itself). Radiocarbon dating of ancient olive pits found on the site date it to the period of 1020-980 BC (David’s time). The city is constructed like other cities in southern Judah of this period (e.g., Beersheba, BethShemesh), a style which was unique to Judah (i.e., different from Philistine, Canaanite, or even Israelite construction). The discovery of two gate complexes (a southern entrance and a western entrance) leading into the city is unusual and has led the excavators of Khirbet Qeiyafa to identify it with the biblical city Shaaraim (which means “two gates” in Hebrew) referred to in the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52).

Khirbet  Qeiyafa Ostracon

One of the exciting discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa was made in 2008 when an ostracon ( a piece of ancient pottery) was discovered with what may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. The first photo above shows the area where the ostracon was found (see the yellow circle in the photo). Unfortunately, it has proven hard to translate because it is only a fragment of a larger inscription. However, scholars believe the words “judge” and “king” are among the words on the ostracon.

The ostracon discovered at Qeiyafa which may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found.
The ostracon discovered at Qeiyafa which may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. (taken from withmeagrepowers.wordpress.com)

The reason this is such an exciting discovery is that it provides evidence of writing, and therefore, of administration at Khirbet Qeiyafa. For a kingdom to be as advanced as the Bible describes David’s kingdom, there would have to be written documentation and administrative activity. This ostracon provides for that possibility.

The Administrative Building at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Besides the two gate complexes, Khirbet Qeiyafa has a massive defensive (casemate) wall around it. In the final season of excavation (summer 2013), the excavators uncovered a monumental administrative building in the central and highest part of the site. Although the building had been partially destroyed by a later Byzantine structure (mentioned above and seen in the photo below), the archaeologists were able to determine that the original building from David’s era covered more than 10,000 square feet!

The monumental administration building at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The area inside where the tree is located, is part of the reconstructed Byzantine building.
The monumental administration building at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The area inside where the tree is located, is part of the reconstructed Byzantine building. (photo taken from http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/khirbet-qeiyafa-and-tel-lachish-excavations-explore-early-kingdom-of-judah)

The point of all this is, to build a city of this size and sophistication so far from Jerusalem, on the border of Philistine territory would have required a well organized and equipped government. Summing up the significance of Khirbet Qeiyafa, the archaeologists of this 7 year project state: “Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities. The inscription indicates that writing and literacy were present and that historical memories could have been documented and preserved for generations” (Biblical Archaeology Review, “An Ending and a Beginning,” p. 46, see the full citation above).

Khirbet Qeiyafa (like the discovery at Megiddo mentioned in the last ariticle) continues to demonstrate that there is much to be learned from archaeology in Israel and that we shouldn’t be disturbed by some who claim that archaeolgy is “disproving” the Bible. In fact, it is interesting how frequently the biblical record finds corroboration in the archaeological evidence. The archaeologists of Khirbet Qeiyafa (Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel, and Martin Klingbell) are moving to another important biblical site this summer: Tel-Lachish. Like Khirbet Qeiyafa it is located in the southern Judean foothills. Although this city has experienced the archaeologists’ spade on several other occassions, the Davidic time period (11th-10th centuries BC) has received relatively little attention. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this dig and see what else can be “dug up” that relates to, and will deepen our knowledge of, the time of David.

(if you would like more info on Khirbet Qeiyafa I recommend Luke Chandler’s site found at http://www.lukechandler.wordpress.com. Luke personally dug at Khirbet Qeiyafa for 5 seasons. Also, if you google Qeiyafa, you will find many other interesting photos and articles).

Tel Megiddo

 

 Tel Megiddo

Model of Tel-Megiddo
Model of Tel Megiddo

Did you know that recent excavations at Tel Megiddo have uncovered a massive Canaanite temple complex that dates to the 4th millenium BC (3500-3000)? This is an extraordinary find as archaeologists believed that Canaan during this period only consisted of small towns and villages with cities only apprearing in the early 3rd millenium. The details of this find and its interesting ramifications can be found at the Biblical Archaeology Society’s website (biblicalarchaeology.org). Unfortunately, you may need to have a membership to view the article, but you can also see a brief report by one of the excavators at the following site: Revelations from Megiddo.

The photo of the Canaanite altar below (the round stone structure in the middle of the picture) gives bible readers an idea of what a Canaanite altar looked like and the enormity of its size.

Canaanite altar and temple complex area at Tel Megiddo. Photo from 2006. Recent excavations have exposed more of this area.
Canaanite altar and temple complex area at Tel Megiddo. Photo from 2006. Recent excavations have exposed more of this area.

But some of you might say I’ve gotten ahead of myself. What is so important about Tel Megiddo anyway? Tel Megiddo is most popularly known by the name given in Revelation 16:16 – “Armageddon” (mountain of Megiddo), the place where the last battle is to be fought between the Lord and his enemies (But see my more recent article entitled: Where Will the Battle of Armageddon Be Fought? for a different solution!). Actually Tel Megiddo has experienced many battles over the centuries, and even though the city was destroyed in the 4th-5th century BC, battles have continued to be fought in its vicinity up to modern times (this includes Napolean, and General Allenby’s battle with the Turks in 1917 during WWI).

History at Tel-Megiddo

Tel Megiddo’s location at the head of the Jezreel Valley guarding the way of the Via Maris (way by the Sea), the ancient trading route between Mesopotamia and Egypt, made it a key player in international politics in ancient times. Archaeologists have uncovered between 20-25 layers (depending who you read!) of civilization spanning 6 millenia.

This photo shows an example of the number of layers of ancient Megiddo
This photo shows an example of the number of civilization layers at Tel Megiddo

Although Joshua initially defeated the king of Megiddo (Josh. 12:21), Megiddo did not fall under Israelite control until probably the time of David. The Bible tells us that Solomon fortified Megiddo and made it one of his royal cities (1 Kgs. 9:15). Although some dispute this, many scholars believe that the remains of the northern palace and the city gates can be dated to Solomon’s building activity.

Remains of the northern palace at Megiddo
Remains of the northern palace at Tel Megiddo
The gate complex at Megiddo
The gate complex at Tel Megiddo

Megiddo is also the place where two kings of Judah died. The ungodly Ahaziah died there after being wounded by King Jehu of Israel (2 Kgs. 9:27), while the godly King Josiah was killed in battle as he attempted to block Pharaoh Neco who was advancing to help the Assyrians against the Babylonians at Carchemish (Syria) in 609 BC (2 Kgs. 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-24).

The Ever-Changing Nature of Archaeology

There are a number of excellent websites that have more thorough articles on Megiddo such as the Jewish Virtual Library (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), or you can just google “Megiddo.” My purpose here is first, to introduce people to this interesting site, and most importantly, to show how new excavations continue to transform knowledge in the field of archaeology. Some archaeologists will assert that archaeological data frequently contradicts the biblical account. But archaeology is an ever-changing field as new discoveries are made. No one thought that ancient Canaan of the 4th millenium had any significant cities. This recent discovery changes a former archaeological dogma into what is now known to be an incorrect assumption. There are thousands of ancient mounds yet to be investigated with the archaeologist’s spade, not to mention the fact that even those sites that are being  (have been) excavated are only partially uncovered. This research is incredibly exciting, as new information is constantly being uncovered about the world of the Bible, but with so much more to yet discover, we should also be cautious about accepting as solid fact, every theory that is offered by archaeologists.

Next time I will look at a site (Tel-Qayifa), and a discovery from another site (an inscription from Tel-Dan), that has challenged liberal archaeological theories concerning the nonexistence of David and a Davidic kingdom.

(All photos by Randy & Gloria McCracken. Permission is granted to use these photos free of charge for educational purposes only)