July 23, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

New Archaelogical Findings at Judean Fortress Khirbet Qeiyafa

A hilltop near where David fought Goliath has revealed buildings and artifacts suggestive of royal organization during the time of King David.

A press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of “royal public buildings” at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortress on a hilltop overlooking the Elah Valley.  First reported by archaeologists in Nov. 2008 (see 11/16/08), it yielded an inscription (1/07/10) and other artifacts that warranted further excavation.  The 7-year dig has concluded with the press release claiming that two buildings were “David’s palace” and “an enormous royal storeroom.”  Also found were numerous stone jars, along with “evidence of a metal industry, special pottery vessels and fragments of alabaster vessels that were imported from Egypt.”  With its exceptional view, the site would have been valuable as a lookout.

Science Daily and PhysOrg picked up on the phrase “David’s Palace” in their headlines for articles that republished the IAA press release.  Live Science considered it “indicate that David, who defeated Goliath in the Bible, ruled a kingdom with a great political organization.”  The dig was managed by Yossi Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Saar Ganor (IAA).

Conservative Bible history professor Todd Bolen in Israel, on Bible Places Blog, urged caution:

Whenever you see a sensational claim such as the discovery of a specific item mentioned in the Bible, you should be suspicious. In most cases, the archaeologist seems to be driven more by a desire for attention than by the evidence (e.g., the Cave of John the Baptist, the palace of David, or anything announced by Yosef Garfinkel in the last six years).

This is a bit surprising, since Bolen was initially enthusiastic about the site’s potential (12/24/08).  Apparently he has reasons for distrusting the IAA and these particular excavators, one reason being that the end of a dig season is a tempting time to announce sensational discoveries for fund-raising or other non-academic motivations.  There is no question from the photos released, though, that significant buildings, walls and artifacts from a well-developed fortress have been found.  How they relate to the kingdom of David specifically awaits further analysis.

The site is very intriguing and seems to support the Iron Age identification.  But respecting Bolen’s informed opinion, we will refrain from reading too much into the press release.  Bolen feels Garfinkel is press-happy, hasty to interpret findings, and prone to sensational announcements (11/19/08).  Surprisingly, he finds more credibility (but not a lot more) in the announcement that a room of the prophet Elisha has been found at Tel Rehov (7/23/13), on the grounds that its excavator, Amahai Mazar, has impeccable credentials.  Even so, it’s nearly impossible to prove the room had anything to do with Elisha, he quickly warns.

The potential harm from hyping archaeological digs too early (see his entry) is making Biblical archaeology a laughing-stock, and giving occasion for skeptics undermine Biblical history.  As a science, archaeology needs a heavy measure of scholarly caution.  With that in mind, hoping for further analysis of Khirbet Qeiyafa soon, we announce this latest series of findings with a subdued wow.


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