Revelations from an Ancient Biblical City
By Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, and Michael G. Hasel
(New York: Thames & Hudson, 2018), 240 pp., 80 b/w images (incl. plans & maps), 26 color plates, $34.95 (hardcover)
Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir
Archaeologists Yossi Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, and Michael Hasel, who directed the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, have authored a very compelling and well-written book about this important early Iron Age site. In an engaging, clear, and nicely illustrated manner, the volume presents the archaeology (including the daily aspects of the excavations), major finds (with very nice illustrations), and the site’s interpretation and significance for Biblical archaeology, Biblical history, and Biblical research in general. Following a long series of scholarly publications and popular articles, this book is a comprehensive, highly readable summary of the debate over the historicity of King David and the contribution of Khirbet Qeiyafa to that controversy.
It is almost unnecessary to introduce Khirbet Qeiyafa to BAR readers. This site, which lies in the Judean Shephelah and dates in the late 11th and early 10th centuries B.C.E., has repeatedly figured in newspaper articles, public debates, museum exhibitions, and this very magazine. One issue in particular has caught the attention of many: the suggested connection between the site and the early Judahite Monarchy of the early 10th century B.C.E.
Accordingly, the authors claim that their excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa show that the site was fortified during the reign of King David and that it was one of three major cities of the Kingdom of Judah at that time (along with Jerusalem and Hebron). The authors ultimately argue that their findings are an eloquent evidence for the historicity of the Biblical depiction of the Kingdom of David and a strong argument for the historicity of the Biblical text in general (contra the commonly accepted critical Biblical scholarship).
While I highly commend the authors for writing such an engaging book, I believe that their black-and-white interpretations—and the implications they believe can be garnered from this—are often hard to accept.
Although I see no reason why we should not accept the authors’ claim that Khirbet Qeiyafa is related to the early Judahite Kingdom, as I’ve expressed elsewhere, I find many of their other assertions highly problematic. With all due respect to the authors for their work at Khirbet Qeiyafa and their interpretations, modern Biblical research and the enormous developments in the field over the last century or so are not negated on the basis of the finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa. While one can argue that this site is evidence of the Judahite Monarchy at the time of David, this does not turn the entire Biblical text relating to that period into a clear-cut historical document; it does not nullify the fact that the Biblical text went through a complex and long process of compilation and editing before it reached the form(s) we know today.
Likewise, even if the site is to be identified as Judahite (and some would argue against this), it is important to stress that Khirbet Qeiyafa was destroyed early after its construction (probably by the Philistines from Gath, the home of Goliath that I have been excavating). This being the case, it would suggest that even if King David is responsible for the construction of this fortified site, the strongest kingdom in the region, the Kingdom of Gath, forced the Judahites to abandon it shortly after it had been built. It also seems that Judah was not able to expand westward, into the central Shephelah, until the second half of the ninth century B.C.E., when Gath was destroyed by Hazael.
Because Gath (Tell es-Safi) is the major neighboring site, I would like to make two final notes regarding the authors’ assertions about the archaeology of this site that I excavate.
First, our excavations in the past five years have demonstrated that Gath was a large site (of c. 45 to 50 hectares) already in the 11th century B.C.E., in the Iron Age IB. It is then incorrect to suggest (p. 171) that Gath’s proximity to another Philistine city, Ekron, precluded it from developing into a large urban center already in the early Iron Age. Second, I welcome the authors’ acceptance of the destruction of Iron Age IIA Gath as caused by Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus. Yossi Garfinkel has previously questioned this interpretation,1 yet it is still not clear why he has now reconsidered.
To conclude, this book is an excellent read; it conveys the excitement and interest of a major archaeological project, the process of investigation and research, and an attempt to draw a broader historical, cultural, and archaeological picture. But readers should be aware that much of the interpretation is contested by other scholars.2
1. Yosef Garfinkel, Igor Kreimerman, and Peter Zilberg, Debating Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Fortified City in Judah from the Time of King David (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2016), pp. 113–115.
2. For different views on the significance of the site, see Silvia Schroer and Stefan Münger, eds., Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah: Papers Presented at a Colloquium of the Swiss Society for Ancient Near Eastern Studies Held at the University of Bern, September 6, 2014. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 282 (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2017).
Aren M. Maeir is Professor of Archaeology in the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at BarIlan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel. He is Director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project. He also co-directs the Minerva Center for the Relations between Israel and Aram in Biblical Times and serves as co-editor of the Israel Exploration Journal.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.