Archaeologists believe they have found evidence of King David's footprints in a mysterious two-gated city from 3,000 years ago, mentioned in the Bible's story of David and Goliath.
The site is known by its modern name, Khirbet Qeiyafa, in Israel's Elah Valley.
After nearly seven years of excavations, the public can now explore the archaeological findings of Qeiyafa through "In the Valley of David and Goliath," a new Bible Lands Museum exhibition that opened earlier this week in Jerusalem. The Qeiyafa findings have sparked debate and intrigued historians and archaeologists since they were first revealed.
The city was discovered between Sokho and Azekah, on the border between the Philistines and the Judeans, in the place where David and Goliath battled. It's mentioned in the Torah in 1 Samuel 17:1-2.
Carbon-14 dating of some 28 charred olive pits found during excavations date the city as existing around the end of the 11th century BCE, until the early 10th century, in the days of Saul and David.
"No one can argue with this data," said Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, Yigal Yadin Chair of Archeology at the Institute of Archeology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He, along with Sa'ar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Prof. Michal Hazel of Southern Adventist University of Tennessee, led the excavations.
Among the site's highlights are its two gates: the western gate, which faced Philistia, and the southern gate, which faced Judah. Having two gates for a relatively small city of 5.7 acres is unusual, according to Bible Lands curator Yehuda Kaplan. Gates are the weakest part of any city. The two gates are what led excavators to identify the site with Sha'arayim (Hebrew for "two gates"), a city mentioned in the David and Goliath story in the Book of Samuel, which reads, "...And the slain Philistines lay along the way of Sha'arayim, as far as Gath and Ekron" (1 Sam. 17:52). It's also in Judges 16:5 and in Jeremiah 17:19-20.
The gates were corroborated by additional evidence of Jewish activity at Qeiyafa, including thousands of sheep, goat, cow and fish bones, and the absence of non-kosher pig bones, Kaplan said.
Evidence of cultic activity throughout the city was also unearthed, as well as two inscriptions written in the Canaanite script. One was incised on a jar and contains the Hebrew name Eshbaal, son of Beda. The second was inscribed on a pottery shard with only a few identifiable words, including "king" and "judge." Many of the letters seem to reflect Hebraic writing. Garfinkel suggests this is the earliest writing documentation of the Hebrew language discovered to date.
Among the pottery on the site, less than 2 percent was typical Philistine pottery. Kaplan said if the community had been Philistine, a minimum of 20 percent of Philistine design should have been found. Of the 24 weapons and tools discovered, 67 percent were made from iron and 33 percent from bronze. Use of iron during this period by other sites in Judah, such as Arad and Beersheva, helped archeologists identify Qeiyafa as a Judean site.
Finally, casemate walls—two thinner, parallel walls with empty space in between and a belt of houses abutting the casemates, incorporating them as part of the construction—are reminiscent of the type of urban planning found only in Judah and Transjordan.
Garfinkel explained that before the period of King David, people lived in small farming communities. Around 11th BCE, these agrarian communities became urban societies.
"In this, the biblical tradition has historic memory," Garfinkel said. "If we ask, 'Where is archaeology starting to support biblical tradition, Khirbet Qeiyafa is the beginning."
There's only one other archaeological reference to King David found in Israel, the Aramaic inscription from the mid-9th century BCE found at Tel Dan. This inscription, on display as part of the new exhibit, is attributed to Hazel, king of Damascus, who boasts about killing a king of Israel and a king of Judah, the latter of which is referred to in the inscription as "King of the House of David."
While the site stirs the biblical imagination, it also serves a political role.
Biblical Minimalists, a band of biblical scholars and archaeologists trying to eradicate the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel by claiming there's not reliable evidence for what had happened in ancient Israel, can be negated by some of Qeiyafa's findings. Within 10 days of his publishing the first paper on Qeiyafa, another article claimed the site as Palestinian, Garfinkel said.
"This happens a lot," said Jacob L. Wright, associate professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University in Atlanta. "In no other area of the world do you have such a connection to biblical imagination."
Wright said there's likely a middle ground. While he believes Garfinkel has placed Qeiyafa in the right time period and that it's likely a Judean community, experts aren't certain that King David had anything to do directly with the site.
"One has to separate the bible and archaeology," Wright said. "The minimalists want to deny the state of Judah and Israel; they are politically driven and have a loose agenda. ... But it does not help when the maximalists try to connect everything they find on the ground with Jesus or King David."
Bible Lands' Kaplan is confident in the exhibit and the story it's telling of Qeiyafa.
"Everything you touch at Khirbet Qeiyafa brings you to this biblical period," he said.
“And the men of Israel and of Yehuda arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou comest to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron.” I Samuel 17:52 (The Israel Bible™)
By: Anna Rudnitsky
Biblical archaeology was revolutionized several years ago when evidence of the existence of the alleged kingdom of David was brought to light in the form of a fortified Iron Age town excavated in the Elah Valley by Hebrew University Professor Yosef Garfinkel and Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologist Saar Ganor. The place was described by the Bible as the location of the battle between David and Goliath. The highlights of the findings of the Elah Valley excavations will be presented to the public for the first time at an exhibition scheduled to open at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on September 5.
“Archaeology cannot find a man and we did not find the remnants linked to King David himself,” Professor Garfinkel told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “But what we did find is archaeological evidence of the social process of urbanization in Judea.”
According to Prof. Garfinkel, the evidence of urbanization fits in with what is described in the Bible as the establishment of the Kingdom of David, when small agrarian communities were replaced by fortified towns. “The chronology fits the Biblical narrative perfectly. Carbon tests performed on the olive pits found in Khirbet Qeiyafa show that the town was built at the end of the 11th century BCE,” Garfinkel explained to TPS.
Two phenomena particularly attracted the attention Garfinkel and Ganor of when they began excavations at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa about ten years ago. Numerous iron stones were found and a wall of unusual form, with hollows in two places, enveloped the site.
The archaeologists only realized in the second year of their excavations that they had found a fortified town from the Iron Age that perfectly fit the description of the Biblical town of Shaarayim. The name in Hebrew means “two gates,” and the hollows in the modern wall, built on top of the ancient one, were precisely in the same place as the previous existence of two gates, which is quite a rarity for a relatively small town.
The geographical location of the town also fits right in line with the Biblical depiction of Shaarayim, mentioned in the context of the aftermath of the battle between David and Goliath when the Philistines “fell on the way to Shaarayim.” The town is also mentioned in the book of Joshua as being situated near Socho and Azeka, two archaeological sites surrounding Khirbet Qeiyafa.
Other remarkable findings at the site include two inscriptions in the Canaanite script that are considered to be the earliest written attestation to date as to the use of the Hebrew language. A pottery shard contains the distinctly identifiable Hebrew words of “king,” “don’t do,” and “judge.”
The Bible Lands Museum exhibition, called “In the Valley of David and Goliath,” will feature the pottery shards as well as a clay model of a shrine found at the site and the huge stones used in the casemate wall around the town. “Although I led the excavations, I myself was amazed to see the different pieces brought together in a way that allows visitors to get a clear picture of how the town looked and that gives them an opportunity to go back in history to the times of the kingdom of David,” Professor Garfinkel said.