Khirbet Qeiyafa and Tel Lachish Excavations Explore Early Kingdom of Judah

After seven seasons at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the team heads to Lachish

A large administrative building (thick walls) at Khirbet Qeiyafa, dating to the era of King David and the early kingdom of Judah, surrounds a later Byzantine structure (thin walls) at the center of the site. Photo: SkyView.

Seven seasons of excavations at the fortified site of Khirbet Qeiyafa have reshaped our understanding of the early kingdom of Judah. Monumental discoveries from the 2013 season provide new evidence of an extensive civil administration during the time of King David. To continue investigating the tenth-century kingdom of Judah, the Qeiyafa archaeologists are heading to Lachish. In the article “An Ending and a Beginning: Why We’re Leaving Qeiyafa and Going to Lachish” in the November/December 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeologists Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil explain how “the results from Khirbet Qeiyafa, together with the results from Lachish, will enable us to obtain a clearer and more complete picture of the early history of the kingdom of Judah in the tenth and ninth centuries B.C.E. We view these two excavations as one regional project.”

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is an essentially one-period Iron Age site that has been identified with Biblical Sha’arayim. Sha’arayim, mentioned in the Bible in connection with the David and Goliath narrative, translates to “two gates,” a feature consistent with the unique casemate fortifications at Qeiyafa. BAR readers are familiar with the groundbreaking discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The five-line Qeiyafa Ostracon is potentially the oldest extant Hebrew inscription and some scholars interpret the text to refer to the birth of the Israelite monarchy. The excavations have also uncovered shrine models and other cultic paraphernalia.

The final 2013 field season uncovered two monumental buildings. The team uncovered a massive structure measuring over 10,000 square feet at the center of the site that “reflects power and authority over the city, as well as the region.” The authors “believe it was an administrative center of the recently established Davidic kingdom.” When the discovery was first announced, it was heralded as King David’s palace in the popular media, and the archaeologists write that while “he lived in his palace at Jerusalem … as the major administrative center on the western edge of David’s kingdom, it could have been a palatial building.”

To mark the opening of the fourth expedition to Tel Lachish, we’ve made a collection of seven seminal BAR articles on the third expedition to Lachish free and publicly available.


At the close of the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations, the team enjoyed the sweet taste of a cake decorated with frosting fortifications, marzipan pottery, a sugary shrine model and other finds from the early kingdom of Judah. Photo: Robert Henry.

Garfinkel, Hasel and Klingbeil write: “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.”

After extensive excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the team will continue on to an even more prominent excavation: Tel Lachish. Lachish was the second most important city in the kingdom of Judah, after Jerusalem. While its later destruction was immortalized by Sennacherib’s reliefs at Nineveh, the city has a rich history before the destruction. Three previous teams excavated Lachish over the past 80 years—click here to read a collection of free BAR articles on the Lachish excavations.

Why begin a fourth expedition to Lachish? Khirbet Qeiyafa provided a great deal of information on the early tenth century B.C.E., and understudied strata (Levels IV and V) at Lachish will teach us about the second half of the century. When was Lachish inhabited for the first time in the Iron Age? When was it first fortified? What can it teach us about the economy, administration, international connections, writing and cult of the early kingdom of Judah? Garfinkel, Hasel and Klingbeil present the discoveries at Qeiyafa and agenda for Lachish in “An Ending and a Beginning.” The authors write: “For 2014 on, all are welcome to join this fascinating new project in the most fascinating Biblical city of Lachish.”


BAS Library Members: Read “An Ending and a Beginning: Why We’re Leaving Qeiyafa and Going to Lachish” online as it appears in the November/December 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.

Citing the major archaeological discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa, Yosef Garfinkel has argued that David and Solomon ruled over a well-organized and fully urbanized Judahite state in the tenth century B.C.E. In doing so, he rejects some of the essential tenets of Biblical minimalism and the Low Chronology. Read The Great Minimalist Debate between Garfinkel and Philip Davies online.


More on Khirbet Qeiyafa in the BAS Library:

Hershel Shanks, “Newly Discovered: A Fortified City from King David’s Time,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2009.

Gerard Leval, “Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of Israelite Monarchy,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.

Christopher A. Rollston, “What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscription?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.

Yosef Garfinkel, “The Birth & Death of Biblical Minimalism,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2011.

“Strata: Exhibit Watch: Controversial Qeiyafa Comes to U.S. Museum,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2013.

And be sure to check out links to a free collection of seven free Biblical Archaeology Review articles on the Lachish excavations.


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  • gideon says

    The ostracon from isbet sarta and ostracon from qeiyafa. Two earthenware plates used for learning. Both 12th century BC there is similarity between the letters that the two pottery sherds, written apparently by counting trainees, found in two distant sites as 50 km.

  • ryan says

    Doesn’t the new Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery inscription (“Ishbaal son of Beda’) seem to link Khirbet Qeiyafa not to Judah but to a northern culture? What does a Baal theophoric suggest? Israelites using Baal as a synonym for Adonai, but otherwise similar to Judahites? Israelites enmeshed in the Canaanite culture of Tyre, where Baal was the leading deity? Or indeed, is it simply Canaanite? Or is there some reason to believe that use of Baal, whether as a synonym of Adonai or referring to the Baal of Canaan, was common among Judahites in Iron Age I & II?

    The Iron Age Levant reminds me of the barbarian invasions of Rome – where peoples with closely related cultures and languages were all trying to sort out what moniker to go under and exactly what they believed.

    I’m sure Khirbet Qeiyafa will at some point ‘redefine the debate over the early kingdom of Judah.” It doesn’t yet seem clear quite how things will need to be redefined, though.

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