How Big Was King David’s Judah?

Archaeologist proposes new reconstruction of early Judah

king david's judah

How big was King David’s Judah? Sites like Khirbet Qeiyafa may hold the answer. Courtesy Yosef Garfinkel

Just how big was King David’s Judah? Numerous proposals have been put forward, but it remains a divisive question for archaeologists and biblical scholars alike. Now, Yosef Garfinkel, a prominent archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has proposed another possible answer to the question. Publishing in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, Garfinkel suggests that renewed analysis of archaeological remains from numerous sites in the Judean hill country demonstrates a small but powerful kingdom in the time of King David.

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Reexamining the Evidence of King David’s Judah

Examining past excavations carried out by his own teams and others, Garfinkel suggests that in the early Iron Age IIA (c. 1000–930 BCE)—around the time of King David and his son Solomon—Judah encompassed only a small territory that extended no more than a day’s walk from Jerusalem. Yet, by the middle of the Iron Age IIA (c. 930–860 BCE), during the time of Rehoboam and his successors, the kingdom had grown to include a much larger section of the agriculturally important Shephelah region, including the city of Lachish. This would place the expansion of the Kingdom of Judah a century earlier than many scholars previously thought.

In identifying the expansion of Judah, the study compared the city planning of five archaeological sites that may have been fortified during this period. The five sites—Khirbet Qeiyafa, Khirbet ed-Dawwara, Lachish, Beth Shemesh, and Tell en-Nasbeh—all have similar city plans, including an outer wall, abutting dwellings, and interior circuit road. Four of these sites feature a casemate (hollow) wall and have provided either radiocarbon or ceramic evidence that date the remains to the early to mid-tenth century. Lachish, which has a solid wall, is dated slightly later, to the mid-Iron Age IIA.

While Garfinkel’s analysis does not align perfectly with the biblical description, it does present the Kingdom of Judah, at least during its early years, as a far more powerful and developed political entity than many scholars have proposed. This builds on Garfinkel’s previous studies that have examined the origins of the Judahite kingdom.

However, the question of King David’s Judah remains open, as not all archaeologists are convinced by Garfinkel’s analysis. “I think it’s an oversimplification and he is flattening the details,” said Aren Maeir, professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan University. “There’s a lot of small details I don’t agree with, and there are generalizations over a wide period that are problematic.”

Indeed, the dating and interpretation Garfinkel gives for several of the sites presented in the study differ from those of the archaeologists who originally excavated them. “Once you start building a whole scenario of the size of the kingdom at various points, and they’re based on not clearly proved suppositions, you’re building a house of cards,” said Maeir.

Another issue that has proven a problem for many archaeological reconstructions of the early days of Judah is the lack of conclusive evidence from the kingdom’s capital, Jerusalem. After thousands of years of continuous habitation and construction, very little of the ancient city has been discovered, leading to competing theories about the size, importance, and even precise location of the city. Other theories on the nature and size of King David’s kingdom have suggested that the constant quest for archaeological evidence may even be misguided, instead emphasizing the kingdom’s possible nomadic and therefore archaeological invisible character.

Read more in Bible History Daily:

King David’s Judah Found?

Ancient Jerusalem—Not Where We Thought?


All-access members, read more in the BAS Library:

David and Solomon’s Invisible Kingdom

The ‘Daughters of Judah’ Are Really Rural Satellites of an Urban Center 

Mizpah: Newly Discovered Stratum Reveals Judah’s Other Capital 

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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