Category Archives: Biblical Sites

This feature includes photos of biblical sites and a brief overview of the significance of the site.

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel-Arad: The Home of Judah’s Other Temple

Tel_arad_all
Aerial view of Tel-Arad

Did you know that Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem was not the only temple that existed in Judah during the divided monarchy period? In a discussion of top biblical sites, Tel-Arad is unlikely to make the list with most people. In fact, some of you may be saying, “Tel-what? I’ve never heard of it. Where is it?” This is probably because it is not frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, and it is not connected with any particularly memorable story.  In spite of that, it is a mistake to sell Tel-Arad short as it has some of the most interesting archaeological finds in Israel, including another temple!

Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea
Tel-Arad is 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea

Tel-Arad is located in the southeastern area of Israel known as the Negev, 22 miles east-northeast of Beersheba and 15.5 miles west of the Dead Sea. Although this area experiences little rainfall, Arad is situated in a strategic geographical location by ancient trade routes coming from the south and southeast. The Canaanites were the original settlers of this area and established a large city here between 3000-2300 B.C. Numbers 21:1-3 says that the King of Arad attacked Israel while they were making their way toward Canaan. The Israelites achieved an overwhelming victory and named the place “Hormah” which means “utter destruction.” Joshua 12:14 also mentions the defeat of a king of Arad. According to Joshua 19:1-8 this area was given to the tribe of Simeon (Arad appears in v. 4 as “Hormah”). Judges 1:16 tells us that the Kenites (the relatives of Moses’ father-in-law) also settled in this area, as did the infamous Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8-10).

The Fortress at Tel-Arad

The fortress at Tel-Arad
The fortress at Tel-Arad

Although there was a small settlement during the time of Solomon, it was during the divided monarchy period that a fortress was established at Tel-Arad. The fortress would have served to protect Judah’s southern border against its enemies, in particular, the Edomites. That this was a dangerous area is evidenced in the fact that the fortress was destroyed 6 times during the divided monarchy period! One of those destructions may have been the result of the great earthquake of 760 B.C. (see Amos 1:1 for a mention of this earthquake).  Three of the destructions of the fortress came during the eighth century B.C. According to the Bible, the Edomites were a constant problem during this time (2 Kgs. 15:7; 16:6). It is likely that one of the destructions of the fortress occurred during Hezekiah of Judah’s rebellion against the Assyrian King Sennacherib in 701 B.C., who is said to have destroyed all the fortified cities of Judah (2 Kgs. 18:13). However, the fortress was rebuilt, but was finally destroyed as a result of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah in 586 B.C. Inscriptions from Arad (which we will talk about below) indicate that the Edomites may have been responsible for the destruction, as it is well known that they assisted Babylon at this time (see the Book of Obadiah).

The Temple at Tel-Arad

The temple complex at Tel-Arad. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com
The temple complex at Tel-Arad. The altar of sacrifice appears in the center of the picture with the temple in the background on the left. Photo from http://www.bibleplaces.com/arad.htm

Although Bible students are aware of the temples erected in northern Israel by Jeroboam I (see my articles on Tel-Dan), and that Judah continued to have problems with the “high places” (e.g., 2 Kgs. 14:1-4), most, are not aware that Tel-Arad sported a complete temple that included all of the ingredients of Solomon’s temple. I had the opportunity to visit Arad in the summer of 2008 and walk through this temple complex. Since it is not possible to excavate the ruins of Solomon’s (or Herod’s) temple, it is fascinating to get a first hand view of what an ancient Israelite temple looked like. The altar of burnt offering in the courtyard is made of unhewn stones and follows the specifications laid down in Exodus 27:1. The temple itself consists of two rooms, as described in Scripture. The first, (the holy place) is a broad room resembling the same layout as Jeroboam’s temple in Tel-Dan. In contrast, the holy place in Solomon’s temple consisted of a long room. After entering the broad room one can then approach and enter a square room which would have been the holy of holies. It was fascinating to stand in this room and think about what would have taken place here. Who would have entered this room and when? Since there was no Ark of the Covenant here, what was done in this room? Was the Day of Atonement ritual practiced here? Did the high priest come down from Jerusalem, or did another appointed priest have access to the holy of holies in Arad? Many questions, but not many answers!

This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!
This is a close-up of the altar of sacrifice at Tel-Arad with our friend Lilah pretending to be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2)!

There are a couple of other fascinating things about entering the holy of holies at Tel-Arad. One is the altars of incense placed on either side of the entrance, and the other is the two “standing stones” (masseboth in Hebrew) inside. These stones (which I am crouching between in the photo below) supposedly represent Yahweh and his Asherah, or wife! This is an excellent example of the corruption of true Yahweh worship and why the Scripture insists that God was only to be worshipped at the place which He chose (Deut. 12:1-8). This sanctuary was covered over before Sennacherib’s destruction in 701 B.C. and never reused. It is thought that this is probably due to the reforms of King Hezekiah mentioned in 2 Kings 18:1-6. (For another recent discovery of a Judean Temple at Tel Motza, see my post Five Recent Archaeological Discoveries.)

Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah
Me in the holy of holies at Tel-Arad sitting between the 2 standing stones representing Yahweh and his Asherah

The Tel-Arad Ostraca

One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad
One of the Arad ostraca discovered at Tel-Arad. Photo from Mnamon Ancient Writing Systems

Ostraca are pieces of broken pottery that were often used in ancient times as writing material. Archaeologists have discovered 88 Hebrew ostraca at Tel-Arad. This is an amazingly large quantity and, along with the temple complex, is evidence that Arad was a regional administrative and perhaps religious center. Among the 88 pieces, 15 are whole. The inscriptions date from the eighth to sixth centuries B.C., with the possibility of some being as old as the tenth century B.C. No other archaeological site has ever yielded ostraca that date from different periods in Israelite history. These ostraca not only provide insight into various stages of Judah’s history, but they help biblical scholars note the development and change of the ancient Hebrew language. A few of the ostraca mention the Edomites as enemies. It is this evidence that suggests the Edomites played an important part in the final destruction of Arad. Another ostracon (sg.) seems to be a “royal” inscription. It only exists in part, but it appears to be a letter from the king of Judah announcing his accession to the throne, with a reference to the “King of Egypt” as well. If this is correct, then this letter may be from Judah’s new king Jehoahaz who became king after the Pharaoh of Egypt (Necho II) killed his father Josiah at the battle of Megiddo in 609 B.C. (2 Kgs. 23:31). Another important ostracon mentions a priestly family (the family of Keros) who are referred to in Ezra 2:44 and Nehemiah 7:47. This same ostracon mentions “the house of Yahweh” which is the only nonbiblical reference to any preexilic temple to Yahweh (unless it is one day proven that the Jehoash inscription is authentic–for more info see the following link at bibleplaces.com). Tel-Arad is indeed a fascinating site with a lot to offer those who are interested in the history of ancient Israel. Ask your tour guide to add it to your itinerary the next time you go to Israel! For more information on ancient Arad, and examples of translations of some of the ostraca go to the following link: jewishvirtuallibrary.

All photos, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken and are only to be used for educational purposes.

Note: Some of the information from this article was taken from Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, eds. Bill T. Arnold & H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), pp. 39-41, 372-373. You can order a copy of this dictionary at:

Amazon USA / UK51o-OY-pC3L._SY445_

A Week in the Life of Corinth

A Week in the Life of Corinth

A Week in the Life of Corinth is a charming story by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. Although it is fictional, it is based on Witherington’s knowledge of the New Testament world (not to mention his commentaries on Acts and 1&2 Corinthians) and includes real historical figures like the apostle Paul, the proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17), and Erastus the treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23). It is a book that not only “tells” us about the 1st century world, it “shows” us through the medium of story.

Buy A Week in the Life of Corinth see link below.
Buy A Week in the Life of Corinth at amazon. Click on the book above for USA or at the link below for UK or USA.

The story revolves around a fictional character named Nicanor, a former slave of Erastos (the Greek spelling used by Witherington), but now a freedman. By following Nicanor’s life for one eventful week, the reader is treated to many insightful details about life in the 1st century AD. For example, rather than being told about the relationship between a patron and client as a textbook would do, the reader experiences patronage first hand through the life of Nicanor. (For an example of understanding the importance of patronage, see my article: “Grace in 3D”.) We also learn the potential dangers involved in these kinds of relationships when Nicanor’s loyalty to Erastos clashes with the desires of the powerful Marcus Aurelius Aemilianus.

In order to educate the reader, the book is punctuated by information boxes entitled, “A Closer Look.” These boxes include a mountain of informative details including such topics as, Slaves and Manumission, The Roman Calendar, Gladiators and their Contests, Paul, a Visionary with an Eye Problem, Home Schooling Greco-Roman Style, Jews in Corinth, Roman Trials, and a host of other subjects. Besides these information boxes, Witherington also includes a number of photos and diagrams. Among the diagrams included are a layout of “First Century downtown Corinth,” and the layout of a Roman domus (house).

Erastus inscription in Corinth
Erastus inscription in Corinth

Photos include a number of pictures of the remains of ancient Corinth such as the diolkos (the shortcut used to drag small boats across the isthmus where Corinth is located rather than sail them all the way around Greece), or the Erastus inscription (see photo on right). Other helpful photos feature a gladiatorial school, an ancient Roman road, and a street in Pompeii. Although the photos are helpful, in order to keep this slender volume at a reasonable price, they are in black and white which affects their quality.

The book is suitable for the average reader seeking to learn more about life in the New Testament world in an entertaining way. However, there are a few shortcomings. Further character and plot development would certainly have created a greater emotional attachment to the story and its characters. The numerous Latin and Greek words used by Witherington are sometimes, but not always, explained. Although the use of these words adds to the atmosphere of the story, those who aren’t acquainted with these ancient languages may find it a little exasperating. More importantly, there appear to be some errors in the use of Greek and Latin words or names. For example, Tyche is definitely a feminine name, though Witherington uses it for a male doorman. In spite of these shortcomings, Witherington’s book is an enjoyable and educational read. I recommend A Week in the Life of Corinth to all who are interested in ancient Corinth or the world of the New Testament.

Buy “A Week in the Life of Corinth,” by clicking on one of the following links at Amazon: USA / UK

(Thanks to the publishers at IVP for providing this review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.)

The City of Dan: A Legacy of Apostasy

The City of Dan: A Legacy of Apostasy

High place outside the gate of the City of Dan
High place outside the gate of the City of Dan

Did you know that the end of the story of the conquest of the city of Dan holds a very interesting surprise? In my previous article on Tel Dan, we looked at the fascinating archaeological discoveries that have been uncovered, while noting that only about 10% of the site has been excavated. This article will focus on the biblical history of the city of Dan and its sad legacy.

The conquest of the city of Dan (formerly known as Laish), as recorded in Judges 18:27-31, is an inglorious affair from its inception. The story is narrated in two parts: 1) The story of Micah, his house of false worship, and his Levite (Judg. 17); and 2) the story of the conquest of the city of Dan. In short, the Danites, who don’t have the faith to take the territory allotted to them (Judg. 1:34), steal the gods and priest of a fellow-Israelite named Micah and then attack a peaceful, unsuspecting people in the northern part of Canaan (Judg. 18:7-9). A real surprise is saved for the end of the story when the name and genealogy of the previously unnamed Levite is revealed. We are told his name is Jonathan and that he descended from none other than the great lawgiver himself, Moses! (Judg. 18:30).

A Levite, an Embarrassed Scribe, and the City of Dan

At this point you might be saying, “Wait a minute, my version reads ‘Manasseh,’ not ‘Moses'”. In Hebrew the only difference between the names Moses and Manasseh is the letter “n”.

The letter in the middle row raised above the line is the inserted nun
The letter in the middle row (4th from the end) raised above the line is the inserted nun

At some point in the history of the Hebrew text, it appears that some well-meaning scribe was embarrassed by the fact that this unscrupulous Levite could be a descendant of Moses (which is one of the shocking points of the story). As a result, the Hebrew letter nun (pronounced “noon” and equivalent to an “n” in English) was halfway inserted into the name of Moses, turning it into the name Manasseh. Although the scribe was probably embarrassed that the text read “Moses,” his reverence for the text did not permit him to totally change it. Thus, he only inserted the nun part way into the name. This is why the NKJV and other versions read “Manasseh” instead of “Moses.”

It is possible that this Jonathan is a grandson of Moses because he is said to be “the son of Gershom, the son of Moses,” but the word “son” can mean “descendant” and so it is difficult to be certain. Either way, the city of Dan gets off to a very inauspicious start with its first priest being an idol-worshipping pay-for-hire descendant of Moses! The story of the founding of the city of Dan ends with the sad words, “So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image which he made all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judg. 18:31). In other words, from the very beginning the Danites set up a false house of worship to compete with the true worship of God. The story only gets worse as we move on to the time of King Jeroboam I.

The City of Dan Under Jeroboam I

Jeroboam was a young man on the rise in Solomon’s administration (1 Kgs. 11:28) when the prophet Ahijah told him that God would give him the ten northern tribes (1 Kgs. 11:29-31). This leads to a text that I find quite intriguing, not to mention surprising. God continues by telling Jeroboam that if he will be faithful, “then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and give Israel to you” (1 Kgs. 11:38). An enduring house like David’s? Wow! As king over the northern tribes, Jeroboam has the opportunity to end the idolatrous history of the city of Dan (as well as the rest of the northern tribes), and lead the people in following the Lord. Jeroboam does indeed become king, as Ahijah said he would (1Kgs. 12:15-19), but unfortunately, if you know your Bible history, he does not lead the people in following the Lord. Instead, Jeroboam reasons that if he allows the people to worship in Jerusalem “then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah” (1 Kgs. 12:27).

Unknown artist
Unknown artist

Even though he had seen the fulfillment of God’s word in making him king, he did not believe that God could fulfill the rest of His promise! Instead, Jeroboam inaugurates a new religion of sorts (Yahweh worship, but with a twist – golden calves!) and establishes temples at Bethel and Dan (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). This act was devastating to the house of Jeroboam, of whom it was said, “And this thing was the sin of the house of Jeroboam, so as to exterminate and destroy it from the face of the earth” (1 Kgs. 13:34). But sin never simply affects one person or household. The sin of Jeroboam was also devastating to the ten northern tribes. It became known as the “sin by which he had made Israel sin” (e.g., 1 Kgs. 15:34; 16:19; 22:52). When Israel is finally carried away into Assyrian captivity more than 200 years later, it is the sin of Jeroboam that is credited with leading them astray (2 Kgs. 17:21-23).

A look at the remains of the temple complex in Tel Dan a reminder of Jeroboam and "the sin by which he made Israel sin."
A look at the remains of the temple complex in Tel Dan a reminder of Jeroboam and “the sin by which he made Israel sin.”

The Legacy of the City of Dan

In both of these stories involving the city of Dan, the word legacy comes to mind. In the first story it is the ruined legacy of Moses by a descendant who cares more about money, power, and prestige than honesty and truth. In the second story the legacy of Jeroboam I sadly continues generation after generation until Israel is destroyed. How ironic that the legacy of Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet and leader is quickly overturned, while the legacy of Jeroboam I continues unbroken eventually leading to the ruin of the nation. Sadly sin has corrupted humankind to the point where it is much easier to follow a bad leader than a good one. That is a truth well worth bearing in mind during these times in which we live.

These stories also prompt us to ask what sort of legacy do we want to leave to future generations? Meditating on the legacy of the city of Dan teaches us that whether we live for good or for ill, our lives not only affect us and those around us, but have a powerful impact on the future. This is a sobering truth and should cause us to pause and ask ourselves about the choices we are making. What kind of world do we want to leave to the next generation and beyond? Our choices today, and for the rest of our lives, will play a major role in molding the future that we bequeath to them.

Tel Dan (Part 1): An Archaeological Gem

Tel Dan (Part 1): An Archaeological Gem

Did you know that even though Tel Dan  (the ancient city of Dan) has yielded some amazing archaeological discoveries, those currently excavating it (Drs. David Ilan, Ryan Byrne, & Nili Fox) claim that, “the artifacts of more than ninety percent of the mound still lie underground waiting to be discovered”? (http://www.teldan.wordpress.com).

Aerial view of Tel Dan courtesy of google
Aerial view of Tel Dan courtesy of google

The photo on the left gives an idea of the size of the mound.  The dense area of trees shows how much of the tel remains untouched. In spite of the fact that Avraham Biran presided over excavations here for 33 years (1966-1999), and the current directors have been digging since 2005, the exciting news is that there is more to discover. Imagine all those years of digging (43 counting this summer) and archaeologists have barely scratched the surface of Tel Dan! This is an excellent example of what a mamoth task archaeologists confront and how careful we should be about accepting dogmatic answers (that lack proof) from them.

This way to Tel Dan discussion!
This way to Tel Dan discussion!

In this article we will look at some of the exciting discoveries already made. In a second article on Tel Dan I will talk about the significant biblical events that took place here. The biblical history of Dan is fascinating, but frustrating, as it is a prime example of Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness. Follow the sign for further discussion on Tel Dan!

 

Famous Discoveries at Tel Dan

In our last article on Khirbet Qeiyafa we talked about the significance of the “house of David stele” that was discovered at Tel Dan. This stele was made by the Syrian king Hazael. Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Hazael captured Dan, it does state that he conquered and controlled alot of Israel and Judah (2 Kgs. 8:12; 10:32; 13:3, etc.). Since Dan was Israel’s northernmost city, it follows that Hazael would have to control it in order to penetrate further into Israel’s territory. The stele is proof that he did.

"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 stele was probably set up by Hazael around 841 BC after capturing the city. When Dan came back under Israel’s control (2 Kgs. 13:25), the stele was apparantly smashed and used as a building block in one of the city’s walls where it was discovered in 1993. The stele is important because it is the only extra biblical source that mentions the “house of David” and, therefore, supports the biblical claim that the kings of Judah were descended from a real historical person named David.  Previous to this discovery, a lack of archaeological evidence mentioning David had caused some archaeologists to doubt his existence. Even now, some continue to insist that the kingdom of David and Solomon is mythical and that the archaeological evidence does not support it. Again, this is the problem that can develop when archaeologists draw conclusions because of a lack of evidence for something, when there is so much that remains to be discovered. Unfortunately, it is often these very archaeologists or scholars who are interviewed for documentaries about the Bible, leading to greater skepticism among the public who view these programs. One example of this is the History Channel’s “The Bible Unearthed (2009).” (To see comments on David and Solomon’s kingdom forward the video to the 30 minute mark). In spite of the skepticism of some, however, there are other archaeologists who put greater trust in the biblical account.

The Israelite Temple at Tel Dan

The temple complex at Tel Dan
The temple complex at Tel Dan

The discovery of the Temple complex is another exciting feature of Tel Dan. The Bible speaks of Dan being a place of Israelite idolatry as early as the period of the Judges (Judg. 18:30-31). However, it was Jeroboam I who built a permanent sanctuary to house one of the two golden calves he had made (1 Kgs. 12:28-30). 1 Kings 12:26-27 reveals that Jeroboam’s fear that the people of his newly established kingdom would continue to go to Jerusalem to worship, motivated him to build temples in Bethel (the southern border of his kingdom) and Dan (the northern border of his kingdom). Excavators have actually uncovered three phases of building activity here. The first is attributed to Jeroboam I about 930 BC. The second phase is attributed to the infamous idolator Ahab (9th century BC), and the final phase to Jeroboam II (early 8th century BC).

A view of the sacrificial area including a reproduction of  the altar of sacrifice showing its immense size..
A view of the sacrificial area including a reproduction of the altar of sacrifice showing its immense size.

The first phase was destroyed by fire. This may have happened when Ben Hadad I of Syria (Aram) attacked Dan (1 Kgs. 15:20). When rebuilding occurred under Ahab in phase II, the temple platform was enlarged as was the altar platform. In phase III under Jeroboam II, a monumental staircase was added to the temple,

discovered at Tel Dan. (photo from teldan.wordpress.com)
discovered at Tel Dan. (photo from teldan.wordpress.com)

a new four-horned altar (9 feet high) was made with stairs ascending on two of its corners, and a new enclosure wall was added with entrances in the south and east (which can be seen in the photo above). Among the artifacts discovered were 2 small incense altars and 3 iron shovels used for sifting the incense. (photo on right)

One of the important significances of the discovery of this temple complex is that it is only one of two discovered in the land of Israel (the other is in Arad which I will examine in a future article). Because excavation is not allowed on the Temple Mount, the temples in Dan and Arad provide the only examples of what an Israelite (or Judahite) temple looked like.

The 9th century city gate at Tel Dan
The 9th century city gate at Tel Dan

The Israelite Gate at Tel Dan

When approaching the site of Tel Dan, you can’t help but be impressed by the massive stone walls and the gate complex. The gate is four-chambered and directly outside of it is “an impressive courtyard enclosed by the city wall and a single-entrance outer gate” (Dictionary of the OT Historical Books, “Dan,” IVP, 2005, p. 197).

Stone bench in the outer courtyard.
Stone bench in the outer courtyard.

Inside the courtyard is a stone bench, where the elders and notables of the city probably gathered (Gen. 19:1; Ruth 4:1-2). Left of the stone bench (as you are facing it) is the remnant of a canopy structure which may have been a throne platform for the king. King’s were known to sit in the gate (2 Sam. 18:24; 1 Kgs. 22:10).

Me on the throne platform pretending to be king for a day.
Me on the throne platform pretending to be king for a day.
The high place at the gate of Tel Dan.
The high place at the gate of Tel Dan.

Just outside of this 9th century gate complex is a chilling reminder of the idolatry of the northern kingdom. An altar made of stones represents what is called “the high place at the gates” (2 Kgs. 23:8 – the reference here is not to Dan but these high places were very common at the entrance of cities). One of the features of this altar are the “standing stones” (masseboth) which can be seen in the center of the altar. More of these standing stones can be found inside the gate in the outer courtyard. Scholars are not sure what these kind of stones represent. They could “represent the city god(s), divine icons, venerated ancestors, civic monuments or something entirely different” (quoted from teldan.wordpress.com).

The Canaanite Gate at Tel Dan

Another exciting discovery at Tel Dan is the (nearly) 4,000 year old Canaanite mudbrick gate, the oldest arched gate in the world. Although it’s popular to say that Abraham may have passed through this gate (see Gen. 14:14), if it is dated to the 18th century BC, as the excavators suggest, it would be slightly younger than Abraham. Nonetheless, it is still a very old structure.

Old Canaanite gate at Tel Dan.
Old Canaanite gate at Tel Dan.

Besides these significant discoveries, others have been made which I won’t take the time to detail here because they are not related directly to the Bible (like the Mycenaean tomb which has yielded many exciting artifacts). Tel Dan is clearly an important archaeological site and it will be interesting to see what is uncovered in the years to come. My next article on biblical sites will continue to focus on Tel Dan as we look at its spiritual significance according to Scripture.

(all photos the property of Randy & Gloria McCracken, except where noted, and should only be used for educational purposes.)

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)