Is There New Archaeological Evidence For the Kingdom of David?

Khirbet Qeiyafa [PHOTO: Jewish Press]

Khirbet Qeiyafa [PHOTO: Jewish Press]

ELAH VALLEY, ISRAEL – ten years ago, the archaeological community was thrown into an uproar over the discovery of an 11th century Iron Age town in the Elah Valley in Israel. The site was discovered by University Professor Yosef Garfinkel and IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor. Many people took the site to be irreproachable proof of the existence of the Biblical Kingdom of David.

It’s called Khirbet Qeiyafa. At first, the archaeologists weren’t sure what they’d found, but slowly it began to take view. The main points of interest at the beginning were numerous iron stones, and a strangely-shaped wall that ringed the town that had hollows in two distinct places.

PHOTO: wikimedia

PHOTO: wikimedia

It was only in the second year of their dig that the archaeologists realized they’d found a fortified town dating back to the Iron Age. More than that, as they studied and compared notes, they realized it perfectly fit the description of a town in the Bible called Sha’arayim. Why is this important? Well, Sha’arayim was a town mentioned in the David and Goliath story. The text states the Philistines “fell on their way to Sha’arayim”. If the town proved to be a match, it could be evidence that at least some part of the story of David is true.

Sha’arayim, in the Hebrew, means “two gates”. The town was said to have been nestled near Socho and Azeka. Khirbet Qeiyafa matches this description perfectly. The hollows in the modern wall piled on top of the old one, when the archaeologists dug deeper, were found to be situated right on top of the old city gates, two of them, an important architectural feature in any city in ancient Israel.

The city gates were not only a passing point, but the second line of defense and a place for the elders of the city to discuss finer points of religion and politics. The ruler of the town would often come there to give speeches and announcements, and important gatherings were held either in the town center or at the city gates. The fact that the site at Khirbet Qeiyafa has two is rare for such a small town.

What’s more, Khirbet Qeiyafa is situated in between two archaeological sites bearing the names Socho and Azeka – matching the ancient description of Sha’arayim perfectly. Finally, Khirbet Qeiyafa sits in the Elah Valley, where the story of David and Goliath takes place, and where Sha’arayim probably sat.

Is it a definite, blazing arrow to the existence of the Kingdom of David? Well, the lead archaeologist, Prof. Garfinkel, puts it this way: “Archaeology cannot find a man and we did not find the remnants linked to King David himself, but what we did find is archaeological evidence of the social process of urbanization in Judea.”

What does that have to do with anything? Well, the Bible actually describes social urbanization as part of the reforms the establishment of the Kingdom of David brought to ancient Israel. Under King David’s reign, hundreds of small, agrarian villages were replaced by larger, more fortified cities.

“The chronology fits the Biblical narrative perfectly. Carbon tests performed on the olive pits found in Khirbet Qeiyafa show the town was built at the end of the 11th century BCE.” – Professor Yosef Garfinkel.

So, again, does it prove that King David existed? No, it doesn’t. Khirbet Qeiyafa is not an exact, obvious link to the Kingdom of David, but it does match the general course of events talked about in the Biblical account.

The pottery shard containing the canaanite script [PHOTO:]

The pottery shard containing the canaanite script found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. [PHOTO:]

Does that make it any less of an important historical find? Of course not. There have been numerous remarkable discoveries at the site, including two inscriptions in Canaanite script that are the earliest account of the use of the Hebrew language. They’re on a pottery shard containing the Hebrew words, “king”, “don’t do”, and “judge”.

This year, some artifacts from the site are being sent to the Bible Lands Museum exhibition for viewing by the public, along with a clay model of the site’s shrine and the huge stones used in the city’s wall. Regardless of whether or not it proves the Biblical account, Khirbet Qeiyafa is an immensely valuable site in understanding the ancient Hebrews.

“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.” – Professor Yosef Garfinkel.