Friday, August 07, 2009

“Bible Valley” Park

Yediot Ahronot has an article which was summarized in the Caspari Center Media Review about a subject that I have not read about elsewhere.  Nor have I heard of a “Judaean valley,” but from the context I believe this refers to what geographers sometimes call the “Chalk Moat” on the eastern side of the Shephelah, near biblical Adullam.

In an article entitled "Bible Now," Eldar Beck looked at the background to the opening of a new "Bible valley" in the Judaean valley. The person responsible for the idea, Amos Rolnick, grew up on a Shomer HaTza'ir kibbutz which cancelled its Purim festivities due to Stalin's death....

Rolnick, a kibbutznik who broke away to become a 'capitalist,' understood that Israel possessed the greatest financial potential in the world: lovers of the Bible. 'I understood the power of the Bible in the world,' he acknowledges. This understanding led him to conceive one of the most daring of tourist ventures now being planned in Israel: the creation of a 'Bible valley' park - a reconstruction of the biblical experience in a journey for Jewish history buffs, to be spread out over 100 dunams [25 acres] of land located in one of the central foci of the biblical story, in the Addulam strip in the Judaean valley, south of Jerusalem, not far from Beit Shemesh.

'The Bible valley' is defined as an interfaith project - Jewish and Christian - so that it will be possible to use it to link the hundreds of millions of those who also believe in the New Testament to the Land. It will be comprised of features devoted to the different biblical periods: it will contain a 'Forest of legends,' a 'Forest of the land of milk and honey,' a 'Forest of the prophets,' a 'Forest of kings,' and, of course, a 'Forest of the Song of Songs.' Via various technologies, visitors will be able to pass from our own time to the days of the Bible and to experience the course of history and faith ...

The heart of the park is intended to be the 'Bible house,' which will serve as permanent accommodation for the children's paintings ... as well as help in raising the funds for the next monumental project: 'The people of the world write the Bible,' in which framework the books of the Bible will be written by hand by people across the world, in their native language. The intention, explains Rolnick, is to get to at least 100 books, in 100 languages." The first books have already been written - in Taiwanese, Tamil, Finnish, Mandarin, Bengali - and are currently on exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem....

The project, supported by various individuals including academics and literary figures, is due to be built within the next five years, the Bible house being first on the list.

More information about the project is given in the article.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Khirbet Qeiyafa Photos from 2009 Season

Ferrell Jenkins has posted a few photos from the current excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa.  If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because I wrote a number of posts about this site last summer (start here), suggesting that it may have been the location of the Philistine encampment at Ephes-dammim.  The excavator believes that the site is biblical Shaaraim.  I am pretty confident that it is not Shaaraim and look forward to the time when I can articulate my reasons more carefully.  In the meantime, you can see an impressive photo of a gatehouse as well as a glass bottle discovered at the site this season.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend Roundup

The Israel Antiquities Authority has posted a 9-minute video tour of the City of David led by archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun.  Sites visited include Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Siloam Tunnel, the Pool of Siloam, and the recently discovered Herodian street.

The cover story of this month’s Smithsonian magazine is the tomb of Herod the Great at the Herodium.  If you don’t have access to the beautifully illustrated print edition, you can read it online here.

A review of last year’s work at Khirbet Qeiyafa (aka “Elah Fortress, Shaarayaim) is the subject of a two-part radio interview at Arutz-7.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the government must establish a national park along part of the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in order to protect important antiquities from the expanding Muslim cemetery.

Five well-preserved Roman shipwrecks dating from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. have been found off the western Italian coast. 

The Biblical Archaeology Society has just produced a free 45-page e-book entitled, From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West. The four articles are:

  • The Genesis of Genesis, by Victor Hurowitz
  • Backward Glance: Americans at Nippur, by Katharine Eugenia Jones
  • Europe Confronts Assyrian Art, by Mogens Trolle Larsen
  • Firsthand Report: Tracking Down the Looted Treasures of Iraq, by Matthew Bogdanos

Elad has asked the city of Jerusalem for permission to construct in the City of David “several apartment buildings, a 100-car-capacity parking lot, a synagogue, a kindergarten, roads and additional tourism infrastructure.”

HT: Joe Lauer and Explorator

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Possible Finds of Hezekiah, Mistress of Lionesses, and more

An inscription with six paleo-Hebrew letters has been found in the City of David.  The Israel Antiquities Authority strangely has a press release after the item has already been published in the Israel Exploration Journal (58:48-50) and Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 2009).  You can download a photo of the inscription here.  The question of interest to Bible readers is whether the inscription preserves three letters of the name of Hezekiah.  For analysis, I recommend Chris Heard’s blogpost and comments.

A press release from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University describes a Late Bronze Age plaque that may depict a female king, known in the Amarna Letters as the “mistress of the lionesses.”  A copy of the article includes a high-res version of the plaque drawing.

The British Museum has plans to expand, but the Louvre had more visitors in 2008.

The Turkish Riviera Magazine covers the ancient city of Perge (Perga) in an article that includes some good photographs and diagrams.  Paul visited the city on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13-14; 14:25).

If you like to read the OT in Hebrew or the NT in Greek, but struggle with the vocabulary, you may have been attracted to one of the new “reader’s Bibles” that defines the less common vocabulary on the same page as the text.  Now John Dyer has created a “make your own” version that looks like it could be quite useful.  Even if you have a “reader’s Bible,” you could print off a chapter of the text instead of carrying multiple Bibles to church.  (It’s a new site, and there may be bugs.  Currently it’s not loading for me in Internet Explorer, but works in Firefox.  To change the reading, select the chapter at the top and type over it.)

Hattips to Joe Lauer, Explorator, and Justin Taylor

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Aren Maeir on the 35th Annual Archaeological Conference

Today the 35th Annual Archaeological Conference was held in Jerusalem, and fortunately for us, Aren Maeir was there and has commented on some of the interesting presentations that were given.  You can read his blog for the full report, but here are the three of most interest to this blog author:

1) Haggai Misgav spoke about the Kh. Qeiyafa inscription, which still is for the most part undeciphered, but he showed some good slides of the 5 lines, 50 letters, and showed nicely the reading of, e.g., eved (slave), melek (king), al t’as (don’t do in biblical hebrew), etc. Inter alia, the so-called “Goliath inscription” from Tell es-Safi/Gath was mentioned....

4) Erez Ben-Yosef et al, who discussed some interesting results of Tom Levi’s project in the Edom lowlands, including details on some new sites at which there is evidence for early Iron Age and Iron IIA smelting activities.

5) Norma Franklin who discussed the so-called “Proto-Aeolic capitals” of the Iron Age, claiming, very logically, that none of them were actually capitals!”

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Heliodoros Stele Discovered

For $30, tourists can excavate the ancient ruins of Maresha/Beit Guvrin for three hours.  The area is full of caves rich with ancient artifacts, and it is not uncommon for excavators to find many “treasures” in the exposure.  Usually these discoveries include Hasmonean oil lamps or pottery vessels, for recently volunteers uncovered a nearly intact inscription from the 2nd century B.C.  Haaretz reports:

Three fragments of a Greek inscription, believed to be part of the "Heliodoros stele" were recently found at an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation at the National Park of Beit Guvrin.

The Heliodoros stele, dating back to 178 B.C.E. and consisting of 23 lines inscribed in limestone, is considered one of the most important ancient inscriptions found in Israel.

Dr. Dov Gera, who studied the inscriptions, determined that the fragments were actually the lower portion of "The Heliodoros stele". This discovery confirmed the assumption that the stele originally stood in one of the temples located where Maresha-Beit Guvrin National Park stands today.

The new fragments were discovered in a subterranean complex by participants in the Archaeological Seminars Institute's "Dig for a Day" program.

As published by Professors Cotton and Wörrle in 2007, this royal stone stele bears a proclamation by the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (father of Antiochus IV). The contents of the stele shed light on the Seleucid government's involvement in local temples, mentioning an individual named Olympiodoros, the appointed "overseer" of the temples in Coele Syria - Phoenicia, including Judea.

The order of the king was sent to Heliodorus, who was probably the same person mentioned in the book of II Maccabees. According to the story in Maccabees, Heliodorus, as the representative of King Seleucus IV, tried to steal money from the Temple in Jerusalem but instead was severely beaten as a result of divine intervention.

The rest of the story is here.  The Israel Antiquities Authority has a press release and two high-resolution photos.

HT: Joe Lauer

Maresha from west aerial, tb011606749ddd Maresha from west

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Qeiyafa video and Gath website

Archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel discusses his discovery of the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostraca in a 2.5 minute video posted on youtube.  There is a transcript in the right sidebar. 

The website of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project has been thoroughly revised and updated.  You can read about what has been discovered in previous seasons, as well as learn more about how to volunteer for the coming season.  The website also includes a photo gallery and a virtual tour of the tell.  Many of the images link to high-resolution versions.

HT: Paleojudaica and Aren Maeir

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Conference: New Light on the Period of King David

In the Fields of Archaeology, Ancient History, and Epigraphy


Ben-Gurion University
'David's Victory' Foundation

In the Fields of Archaeology, Ancient History, and Epigraphy

The conference will take place in the auditorium of the central building in the Industrial Park of Omer (near Beer-Sheva) on Thursday, February 12, 2009.

Program of the Conference:

16:00 – 16:30  Gathering and Light Refreshments

16:30 – 16:40  Greetings and Introductory Remarks:

  • Mr. Aharon Yadlin, Assistant Chairman of the Executive Board of Ben-Gurion University and Former Minister of Education and Culture of the State of Israel
  • Prof. Vladimir Berginer, President of the 'David's Victory' Foundation
  • Chairman of the Session: Prof. Chaim Cohen, Academic Advisor of the 'David's Victory' Foundation

16:40 – 17:30  Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Sa`ar Ganor, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University: "Sha`arayim – A Judaean City from the Time of King David in the Elah Valley"

17:30 – 18:05  Dr. Eilat Mazar, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University: "The Palace of David in the City of David"

18:05 – 18:40  Dr. Haggai Misgav, The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University: "The Ostracon (the New Inscription) from Khirbet Qeiyafa"

18:40 – 19:00  Prof. Vladimir Berginer, President of the 'David's Victory' Foundation: "The 'David's Victory' Foundation and the Memorial Site Commemorating David's Victory over Goliath in the Elah Valley" [including the screening of a new six-minute film]


Free parking is available alongside the entrance gate to the Industrial Park of Omer, opposite the Luzzato Building.

The Academic Conferences Organized by the 'David's Victory' Foundation:
2003 – First Academic Conference
2006 – Second Academic Conference
2009 – Third Academic Conference

HT: Agade (via Joe Lauer).

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 8 of 2008: Archaeological Discoveries Related to the Bible

2008 was a good year for archaeology.  You can read about the top ten archaeological discoveries in the world this year, but my goal here is simply to suggest what I perceive to be the most significant discoveries for understanding the Bible and its world.  Both the selection and the ranking is purely subjective; there were no polls, editorial committees, or coin tosses.  For another opinion, take a look at the list of Dr. Claude Mariottini

1. Khirbet Qeiyafa (and inscription).  The new excavations of this fortified site in the Shephelah ranks as #1 for the following reasons: 1) The site was occupied for only a limited time during the reign of King David. 2) The site is located near the battle location of David and Goliath. 3) A strongly fortified site is indicative of a strong central government, at a time when scholars question the existence of such.  4) A early Hebrew inscription discovered this summer points to the site’s owners (Judeans) and the state of literacy in this period.  5) These discoveries will certainly shed light on what is currently the most debated issue in biblical archaeology: the nature of Israel/Judah during the 10th century.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606779 marked Elah Valley from the west

2. Gath excavations.  It’s not a single discovery that puts the excavations of this Philistine city in the number two spot, but rather the cumulative results of a very profitable season.  This includes possible early Iron IIA material (see above debate), a 10th century seal impression, two Assyrian destruction layers, methodological advances, as well as other significant remains from the Early, Middle, and Late Bronze Ages.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, Area E excavations from east, tb060906085dddGath excavations, Area E, Summer 2006

3. New discoveries at Herod the Great’s tomb.  The tomb was discovered and identified in 2007, but on-going excavation in 2008 revealed additional coffins, including one that may belong to one of Herod’s wives and another to one of his sons.  They also found a theater that sat 750 people and included a VIP room with beautiful wall paintings.  All of this further confirms the previous identification that Herod’s tomb was located on the slope of the Herodium.

4. The “First Wall” of Jerusalem.  A well-preserved portion of the Hasmonean wall (2nd century B.C.) was uncovered on the south side of Jerusalem.  While parts of this wall have been excavated previously, there are two advantages to the current excavation: 1) It is being carried out with the latest in archaeological knowledge. 2) The remains will be preserved and visible to visitors.

5. Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli. The Kuttamuwa Stele is a large well-preserved funerary inscription from the 8th century B.C. city of Sam'al (modern Zincirli) that sheds light on the beliefs of the afterlife of one of Israel’s northern neighbors.  For more on the content of the inscription, see this.  This is the only discovery on this list which is also on Archaeology Magazine’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2008.

6. Iron Age Seals from Jerusalem.  Many inscriptions were found in Jerusalem at different times this year, including the Seal of Shlomit (aka Temah), the Seal of Gedaliah, the Seal of Netanyahu, and the Seal of Rephaihu.  The first two were discovered in Eilat Mazar’s excavation of the potential area of “David’s palace,” and the other two were found relatively close by (Western Wall and Gihon Spring).  Gedaliah is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38:1, and Shlomit may be mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19.  Some might rank these discoveries higher in the list, but I have not because so many have already been found, including many in this area and many that mention other biblical figures.

7. Pre-8th century B.C. neighborhood in the City of David.  This report received little notice, as far as I could tell, but could be quite significant in our understanding of the growth of Jerusalem in the earliest centuries of Judean rule.  While these discoveries were made in 2007, they were only publicized in 2008 (thus qualifying them for this list).  In short, the archaeologists found five Iron Age strata which included a group of houses that dated “earlier than the 8th century.”  Excavators rarely uncover houses in Jerusalem, and these would be the earliest I know of from the Iron Age.

8. Philistine temple near Gerar.  I heard very little of this discovery, but it makes the list because Philistine temples are both rare and of biblical interest (see Judges 16:23-30 and 1 Samuel 5:2-5).  Other Philistine temples have been excavated at Tel Qasile and Ekron (and Aren Maier has teased that he may have another at Gath).

Other discoveries that did not make the top 8 include the sarcophagus fragment of the son of the High Priest in Jerusalem, the “Christ Inscription” in Egypt, and a Jerusalem quarry found in Sanhedria.  The on-going Temple Mount sifting project deserves mention (and support).

Other finds that did not make the list are the perfume bottle that Mary Magdalene used to anoint Jesus’ feet and the water tunnel that David used to conquer Jerusalem.  Perhaps more information or discoveries will convince me that these are more than attempts to gain publicity.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa: Two New Articles

The Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review has a summary of the Kh. Qeiyafa excavations.  Most of the information has already been reviewed at this blog and others, but the article is nicely presented with beautiful photographs (online teaser here).  The article concludes with editor Hershel Shanks pressing excavator Yosef Garfinkel to release photographs of the ostracon.

So what does the inscription say? The decipherment has been assigned to Haggai Misgav, a Hebrew University epigrapher. “So can we see a high-resolution image of the inscription?” I asked Garfinkel. “Maybe our readers would have some helpful suggestions for Misgav,” I urged. All to no effect. Yossi stuck to the time-honored tradition that a readable picture of the inscription remain a secret until the scientific report is published in a scientific journal by the scholar assigned to publish it: Remember the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Be a hero! Break the mold,” I urged Yossi. No way, he responded. He did tell us that the first line contains the Hebrew words “don’t do,” and that “king,” “judge” and “slave” also seem to be legible, but “it is still premature to talk about the content,” he maintains.

So when will we see a picture of the inscription with all of its indistinct letters? If the past is any guide, it will be a year or more. Is this any way to run a railroad?

Haggai Misgav has a reputation for being a very competent epigrapher. But he can only be helped, not hurt, by what other scholars (and even amateurs) have to say prior to his official publication. You can be sure, he will show the ostracon and high-resolution pictures (and infrared images as well) to friends and colleagues. He will take some of their suggestions and thank them in his publication of the ostracon. So why not enlarge the circle? It cannot hurt, and it may help. In any event, an early look at the inscription will not detract from his fame as the publisher of the famous ostracon from Qeiyafa.

As an aside, if you have this issue of BAR, or online access by personal or institutional subscription, take a look at the third article in the “Strata” column, “Gold-Plated Building Stone Found Near Temple Mount.”  Very interesting. (HT: Joe Lauer)

The discussion about the site identification of Qeiyafa is continued by Nadav Na’aman in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (8/24; full pdf online).  He disagrees with Garfinkel’s identification of the site as Shaaraim, in his article entitled “Shaaraim – The Gateway to the Kingdom of Judah.”  The abstract reads:

The article discusses the location of the city of Shaaraim mentioned in Josh 15:36 and 1 Sam 17:52. It first argues that its proposed identification with Khirbet Qeiyafa, north of the Elah Valley is mistaken. Then it argues that Shaaraim is located on the main road that led from the Valley of Elah to the city of Gath. This article proposes that the place-name Shaaraim means “gate" and that the city was named so because it was located on the western border of Judah with Philistia, a place that was seen as the gateway to the kingdom of Judah.

Na’aman makes some points that I have made previously, and that I think are obvious and difficult to circumvent.  I am working on an article on the subject and thus will restrain myself from further analysis at this time.


Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Primer

I’m in the midst of compiling my “Top Five” list of archaeological discoveries of the year, and since Khirbet Qeiyafa stands a chance at making the top of the list, I thought it might be appropriate to share a recent “introduction” to the site that was included in the latest BiblePlaces Newsletter.  This may be especially helpful to those who have not had the time to read some of the lengthy posts here.

Defining terms: Khirbet is a word with a meaning similar to "tell."  Whereas a tell has many layers, a khirbet consists of one or two, meaning that people only lived there in one or two periods in ancient times.  Khirbet is often translated "ruin," as opposed to a tell, which is translated as "mound." Qeiyafa is the name the locals gave to this particular ruin.  Sometimes the modern names preserve the ancient name (for instance, Beisan was the Arabic name of biblical Beth Shean). 

Where is it?:  Kh. Qeiyafa is located in the western foothills (Shephelah) of the Judean hill country.  More specifically, it sits on the northern side of the Elah Valley.

Elah Valley, that sounds familiar: Yes, that's because when David fought Goliath, the two armies were situated on hills on opposite sides of the Elah Valley (1 Sam 17:2-3).

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606772_marked

David and Goliath?: That's where this whole story gets real interesting.

Tell me more: After two seasons of excavating, the ruins at Kh. Qeiyafa date to approximately 1000 B.C.  According to the biblical chronology, David became king over Judah in about 1000 B.C.

Too bad they didn't find an inscription: Actually, they did!  It may be the earliest Hebrew inscription.  It is quite difficult to read, which is why a translation has not yet been published.

Is Qeiyafa in the Bible?: Maybe.  The excavator once suggested that the site was Azekah (1 Sam 17:1).  Now he has proposed that it is Shaaraim (1 Sam 17:52).  Another scholar has identified the site as Gob (2 Sam 21:18-19).  I have argued that it may be Ephes-dammim, where the Philistine army was camped when they fought David (1 Sam 17:1).

What's the bottom line: 1) This is an important site from the time of David. 2) Critical scholarship that has tended to minimize the importance of the Israelites during this time may need to revise their conclusions.  3) The inscribed potsherd is likely to be a big story when it is translated.  4) Continued excavations will likely reveal more in future years.

Where can I find more?: You can google Qeiyafa, go straight to the excavation's website (#1 and #2), read my analysis of why the site may be Ephes-dammim, and why I don't think it is Shaaraim or Gob.  Other posts I have written (or will write) may be found here.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Qeiyafa: An Apple Tree or a Copernican Revolution?

I have more to say about Khirbet Qeiyafa, but time is tight right now and a more careful presentation will have to wait.  But there are a few developments I can note and a few comments I can respond to, all in brief fashion.

First, G. M. Grena posted on the comments here this morning that the PowerPoint presentation that excavator Y. Garfinkel gave at the ASOR meeting last week is now available in pdf format.  This is a great resource for those who want to know more but couldn’t be there. 

Second, if you’re interested in following the ostracon on its tour of the most expensive cameras in the world, you can do that here.  Thanks again to G. M. Grena for alerting us.

Now, to an article by Bloomberg about Qeiyafa which includes two quotations from scholars.  The first is from N. A. Silberman, known for his extreme views that much of the Old Testament was written very late by priestly propagandists.

“To find an apple tree in some town in the Midwest doesn’t mean the Johnny Appleseed legend is exactly correct,” said Silberman, co-writer with Israel Finkelstein of “The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts.”

This is really quite an apt analogy.  Except for the fact that the site was found precisely in the exact area where the battle of David and Goliath was fought.  And it dates precisely to the time period when the Bible says that David lived.  Sorry, sir, you can’t wish this away so easily.

The excavator of Qeiyafa, unfortunately, doesn’t do much better.

Garfinkel, gesturing toward a nearby hill where he said the Philistine city of Gath once stood, said he believes his find brings to life the tale of David killing the Philistine giant Goliath with just two stones.

He said he would have agreed with Silberman’s views on David before the dig: “Once it was excavated, it changed the whole situation.”

So until this summer Garfinkel apparently held to the view that Silberman espouses, which is that Judah was a sparsely populated hinterland during the time of David (and for the next several hundred years).  But he finds a small walled city and a potsherd with writing on it, and suddenly, everything has changed?  This tells me either that he has a super-high estimation of the value of what he found, or he is ignorant of some important data.  How does Qeiyafa revolutionize things when decades ago, a much more impressive fortification from the 10th century was found at Gezer (11 miles to the north)?  What about Azekah about 1 mile to the west?  True, it hasn’t been excavated (by someone other than Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister 100 years ago), but shouldn’t that very fact give someone (both Silberman and Garfinkel) pause before concluding that Judah was weak and impoverished in the “time of David”?  Who knows what you’ll find at Azekah!  Just down the road is Gath, which is proving to look quite similar to what we would expect from the biblical account. 

Now, perhaps Garfinkel was speaking not of the (lack of unique) fortifications, but rather of the ostracon.  Surely, this is an important discovery.  Just how important we may not know until the text is recovered by photography and it is published.  But, is it really accurate to say that on the basis of this one as-yet-undeciphered ostracon that “it changes the whole situation”?  It’s not like we don’t have other 10th century inscriptions from the area--the Gezer Calendar has been known for 100 years, and the Tel Zayit inscription was discovered a few years ago.  So we have known that ancient Judah was literate and had fortified cities in the Shephelah for a long time now.  But Garfinkel (apparently) denied these realities meant anything because he would have agreed with Silberman’s views.  But now, on the basis of his finds, everything has changed in his mind.  This all suggests to me that some scholars come to conclusions without carefully considering all of the evidence.

Chris Heard at Higgaion has posted a few comments that I want to note.  The first point is outstanding and in sharp contrast to the two quotes above:

Reports of the “low chronology’s” death may be greatly exaggerated, or premature, but Khirbet Qeiyafa must surely influence our picture of 10th-century Judah. Let us not overstate the case: what we (the interested public) know of Khirbet Qeiyafa at this point hardly “proves that David killed Goliath” or anything of that sort. However, Khirbet Qeiyafa does counterbalance the increasingly common portrayal of 10th-century Judah as a cultural backwater.

Yes, indeed.  Overstatements are far too common among scholars talking to journalists.  But this part I cannot agree with:

The identification of the site as Sha‘arayim seems quite likely now, completely independent of anything learned from the ostracon.

This conclusion is unwarranted on the basis of the current evidence.  It seems to rely on the excavator’s word, and not the data.  But I urge caution.  1) Last year the excavator said the site was Azekah.  Frankly, that’s most unlikely on many accounts.  It comes from the urge to have your site be something important.  It demonstrates that the excavator did not properly consider the data from history and geography in making the identification.  2) Historical geography seems to have been ignored in this identification of Qeiyafa as Shaaraim as well.  I have discussed this before and will be saying more about it.  3) The sole basis for identifying Qeiyafa as Shaaraim is this: Shaaraim means “two gates.”  (The three reasons listed on slide 33 all argue against identifying Qeiyafa as Shaaraim, which I will demonstrate in the future.) The excavator has excavated one and eyeballed what he believes is another one from the same time period.  No excavations have been done of the second gate.  The meaning of the name is significant, but my question is: does it override other evidence?  Again, I simply suggest that more study occur before we decide that the identification as Shaaraim “seems quite likely now.”

If all of this is too basic for you and you’d prefer to read about some analysis about radiocarbon dating related to Qeiyafa, see this post by Abnormal Interests.  John Hobbins also has some more thoughts about the site identification, to which I’ll respond in the future aforementioned post.

Update (12/5): I have removed reference to the Ephes-dammim credit line in the pdf file as that has now been updated (see comment below).

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Photographed

The LA Times has a good article on the recent photographing of the 5-line early Hebrew ostracon found at Khirbet Qeiyafa.  One portion:

The result is hundreds of high-resolution images shot with different light filters. Using a process called spectral imaging, Boydston and Bill Christens-Barry, another imaging expert, aimed to maximize the contrast of the ink, made of charcoal and animal fat, against the terra-cotta piece.

Although they didn't find any hidden text, the images will be sent back to Israel. Other high-tech images were produced -- using slightly different imaging techniques -- at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and two other technical shops on the East Cost. [sic]

Once the shard's message is fully scrutinized and decoded, findings will be published in scholarly journals by Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who led the dig. A few words already deciphered -- "slave," "king," "land" and "judge" -- indicate that it may be a legal text, lending weight to some scholars' belief that King David wielded considerable power over the Israelites.

The article gives much background about the firm that took the photographs, including mention of an early digital camera that they created – that weighed 300 pounds (136 kg)! 

HT: Paleojudaica (who also notes some speculation about the contents of the ostracon)

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

National Geographic on Qeiyafa

The Book and the Spade radio program just posted the first of two interviews with Qeiyafa excavator Yosef Garfinkel (the link there is updated every week for the current program).

National Geographic reports on the Qeiyafa excavation.  Much of the story reports what has been covered elsewhere, but there are some problems with the article.  (Does mentioning these help to prevent their perpetuation by journalists or others?)

The article begins:

The remains of an ancient gate has pinpointed the location of the biblical city Sha'arayim, say archaeologists working in Israel.

In the Bible, young King David is described as battling Goliath in the city, before eventually killing him in the Elah Valley.

Ahem.  Is it really that hard for the NG journalist (Mati Milstein) to open the Bible (1 Samuel 17) and read the story of David and Goliath?  The battle did not occur in a city, and Shaaraim is mentioned only as a point on a road that the Philistines used to flee.  It’s quite a creative re-telling that puts the battle in the city, but Goliath’s eventual death in the valley.  Even if the writer couldn’t find a Bible (or locate one on the Internet), couldn’t he have asked the archaeologist he was interviewing?  Since this is the entire reason why anyone cares about this excavation as opposed to the hundreds of others in Israel (and this is evidenced by its placement in the first two paragraphs), shouldn’t NG try to get at least this right?  If they can’t, can you trust anything in the article?

Later in the article, archaeologist Amos Kloner comments on the site identification:

"This is an initial idea, all aspects of which must be examined," he said. "[But] it doesn't matter if there is a second gate … This provides no indication of a Judean population there."

Apparently Garfinkel hasn’t convinced everyone that the mere presence of a second gate absolutely and infallibly confirms that Qeiyafa is Shaaraim.  I think, however, that Kloner is wrong if he follows Garfinkel in the idea that Qeiyafa must be a Judean site in order to be Shaaraim.  In fact, as I argued before, I think a better case can be made from the only source that we have that at the time of the battle, Shaaraim was in Philistine hands. 

The article closes with this quote from Garfinkel:

Garfinkel said he will continue to explore the Elah site in search of further evidence.

"Maybe we'll find an inscription on the gate indicating who built the city: 'I David, son of Yishai, built this city,'" he said with a laugh.

That’s a typical archaeologist kind of joke, and it wouldn’t be worth a response, except that Garfinkel has suggested elsewhere that he is serious about the possibility that David built the Qeiyafa fortress.  I think it is entirely possible that David built the Qeiyafa fortress, but if he did, Qeiyafa is not Shaaraim.  You can have one, but not the other, unless you believe the biblical account is completely confused.  This is the big problem with those scholars who want to claim the “middle ground” between maximalists and minimalists: they claim validation for their results based upon data which they believe is faulty.  In other words, the scholar says, our evidence that Qeiyafa is Shaaraim is the biblical text which mentions this site (Shaaraim) in this area (Elah Valley).  The Bible says that Shaaraim existed before David became king.  We can believe the Bible that Shaaraim was a city in this area, but we can’t believe the same biblical story that Shaaraim existed before David.  This is very typical scholarly logic, but it is usually dressed up in fancy language, and supported by one questionable hypothesis built upon another dubious theory.

UPDATE (10 p.m.): The initial paragraphs of the NG article have been changed:

The remains of an ancient gate have pinpointed the location of the biblical city Sha'arayim, say archaeologists working in Israel.

In the Bible young David, a future king, is described as battling Goliath in the Elah Valley near Sha'arayim.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Qeiyafa, Looting, and Buried Secrets

Owen Chesnut has blogged about Archaeologist Yosi Garfinkel’s presentation (and questions) yesterday at the ASOR meeting about Khirbet Qeiyafa.

The excavators have posted a “chronicle” of events related to the discovery of the Kh. Qeiyafa ostracon, including when they celebrated with a beer and when (and by whom) details leaked to the public. (HT: Yitzhak Sapir).

National Geographic has a good article on the problem of the looting of archaeological sites in Israel.  If you’ve ever bought an antiquity, you help to create the demand, and perhaps this article will help shed light for you on just how destructive the antiquities market is.

PBS broadcast a special earlier this week on the Bible and archaeology, entitled “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.”  You can watch the entire 2-hour show online, get a summary, or read the whole transcript.  The perspective was decidedly mainstream, with no indication that there is a large group of conservative scholars who reject many of the conclusions of mainstream scholars.  The program was well produced and featured interviews with many scholars. 

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Qeiyafa: Is it biblical Shaaraim?

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that excavator Yosi Garfinkel believes Khirbet Qeiyafa is Shaaraim (Shaarayim), and this is confirmed by David Willner on the excavation website. This suggestion does not need to deny the David and Goliath story to find support (as does the Gob identification). Garfinkel will make a presentation (or two) this week about the site, but from what has been revealed thus far, there are two bases for his conclusion. 1) Shaaraim is mentioned in the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam 17:52). 2) Garfinkel found a second gate at the site last week. This is suggestive because the name “Shaaraim” means “two gates.”

This portion of the article is worth quoting:

Garfinkel, who has excavated numerous sites in Israel, says he discovered the second gate after noticing an apparent break in the massive stone wall as he walked along the 2,100-foot long structure that faced the road to Jerusalem. After two days of digging, his hunch paid off. A second entrance constructed from massive stones lay just a few feet beneath the topsoil.

"This is the only city from the Iron Age in this region ever found with two gates," said Garfinkel as he clambered over the huge structure. "It was probably a mistake. It made the city more vulnerable. It might explain why it appears to have been settled only twice, for very short periods."

Garfinkel says he is certain the newly-found massive stone gate was the main entrance to the city that existed at the beginning of the 10th century B.C. and then again for a few years at the time of Alexander the Great.

"It is enormous, it has symbolic value demonstrating authority and the power of the kingdom," Garfinkel said while describing the huge building blocks of more than 3 feet square and 10 feet long, each weighing more than 10 tons. "They are the largest ever found from the Iron Age. If King David ever came here from Jerusalem, he entered from this gate. It is likely we are walking in the footsteps of King David."

Khirbet Qeiyafa, 10th c casemate wall, ar080731445 Casemate wall at Khirbet Qeiyafa, 10th century B.C.

This is very significant, for not only are there very few early 10th-century fortifications in Israel, I don’t know of any with two gates. There are, however, some potential problems. 1) Apparently only a few days have been spent in excavation of this second gate, which would suggest that caution in conclusions at this point is wise. 2) Who built this massive gate? If it dates to the early 10th century, then one might connect it with David’s kingdom. But if that is so, then it was not the scene of his pre-kingship battle with Goliath. Perhaps, then, it was built by King Saul. The problem with that is that scholars don’t believe he had any real power. 3) Why were two gates built? Did someone who went to all the work in moving stones weighing more than 10 tons really not think through the problem of having two gates? I have trouble believing that we today understand their warfare better than they did.

There are some other potential problems with this identification. The only other place where Shaaraim is mentioned in the Bible is in a list of cities of Judah.

Joshua 15:33-36 (NASB) In the lowland: Eshtaol and Zorah and Ashnah, 34 and Zanoah and En-gannim, Tappuah and Enam, 35 Jarmuth and Adullam, Socoh and Azekah, 36 and Shaaraim and Adithaim and Gederah and Gederothaim; fourteen cities with their villages.

This text proceeds roughly from north to south (Sorek Valley, then Elah Valley). The sites in the Elah Valley appear to proceed from east to west: Adullam, Socoh, Azekah. If so, this suggests that Shaaraim would be located west of Azekah. If Shaaraim was Qeiyafa, it would logically fit between Socoh and Azekah.

This location (west of Azekah) seems to be supported by the David and Goliath account. Shaaraim is mentioned only at the end of the story. The Philistines fled west from the battle to Gath and Ekron, dying on the way of Shaaraim.

1 Samuel 17:52 (NASB) The men of Israel and Judah arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines as far as the valley [or Gath], and to the gates of Ekron. And the slain Philistines lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron.

Normally, this construction “way of [place]” means the road to a certain place (e.g., 1 Sam 13:17-18; 2 Sam 2:24; for a myriad of examples, see Dorsey, Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel, 47-50, where he finds only one road in the Bible not named after its destination, Num 20:17). It is difficult to conceive of a battle scenario where the road they are fleeing on would be called the “way of Shaaraim” if Shaaraim = Qeiyafa. 1) If the Philistines were encamped on the south side of the valley and the Israelites were encamped on the north side near Qeiyafa, why would the Philistines flee on the “way of Shaaraim”? 2) If the battle was much farther to the east, and the Israelites were encamped in the lower slopes of the hill country and the Philistines were encamped on the eastern end of the Elah Valley, a) one wonders why it was called the way of Shaaraim and not the way of Azekah, the bigger and more well-known city nearby and b) one cannot account for the Philistines being encamped “between Azekah and Socoh.” In short, Shaaraim is best located on the far (eastern, northern, or southern) side of Azekah, and not on the side closer to the battlefield. This also makes sense of the following phrase “the way of Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron.”

John Hobbins interacts with Garfinkel’s proposal of Shaaraim. I agree with him on point #1 but do not think he goes far enough (as I have above). I disagree on point #2, as it seems that if the Philistines are fleeing towards Shaaraim, then this would likely be in their territory. To say it another way, if Qeiyafa = Shaaraim, we should expect it to be a Philistine site (at least at the time of the battle). Garfinkel’s evidence suggests that Qeiyafa is an Israelite site.

This does not address the reality of “two gates” at Qeiyafa. If we are certain that both were in use at the same time, and we know that there are no other sites in the area that had two gates, this would be strong evidence. I don’t know how certain the excavators are that the two gates are contemporaneous. I’m very hesitant to say that there are no other sites with two gates, since until a week ago, even Qeiyafa was not known to have two.

By way of conclusion: If Qeiyafa is Shaaraim, either 1) the Israelites were encamped here at the time of the battle of David and Goliath or 2) the Philistines were not encamped between Azekah and Socoh or 3) Shaaraim = Ephes-dammim. Of the three, I find #1 to be most likely, but it then is strange that a) Shaaraim is not mentioned as the place of Israel’s encampment and b) the Philistines are said to have fled on the way of this Israelite site. From the Philistine perspective, the road from Gath to the east might be called the “way of Shaaraim” (though it requires ignoring Azekah), but the biblical record was not written from the Philistine perspective.

Neither this post, nor the previous one, furthers my suggestion that Qeiyafa is Ephes-dammim. But they do, I believe, make the identifications with Gob and Shaaraim less attractive. Everyone in the discussion is working with a fraction of the total evidence. Garfinkel, as excavator, has more of the evidence available to him, but it is not difficult to imagine future discoveries that significantly clarify or alter the picture. To that end, we wish the excavators great success in their on-going work.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Qeiyafa: Is it biblical Gob?

Nadav Na’aman has written an article (pdf) in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures suggesting that Kh. Qeiyafa is Gob.  Na’aman begins with the conclusion that Qeiyafa is a Philistine site.  He does this by dismissing three lines of evidence from the excavators (pottery, absence of pig bones, Hebrew inscription).  I am unconvinced by this part of the discussion, but I don’t think it undermines the rest of his presentation.

The next paragraph is of most interest to me, as I previously suggested that Qeiyafa be identified with Ephes-dammim.  Let’s follow Na’aman’s line of reasoning.  It’s important to note that his cursory dismissal allows him to move to a more radical proposal.  His text is in bold and my comments are in brackets.

The description [of 1 Sam 17:1-2] indicates that the story was written after the consolidation of the kingdom of Judah, when Socoh (and Azekah) were Judahite cities. [He presupposes, contrary to the biblical account, that Judah was only formed many years after the time of David.] According to the description, the Philistines encamped south of the Elah Valley, where Ephes-dammim must be sought, and Saul and his army arrived from the northeast and encamped north of the valley. [Read 1 Sam 17:1-2 again.  It says nothing about the Philistines being “south.”  Perhaps it was (and I have believed for many years that it was), but it only says that Ephes-dammim is between Azekah and Socoh, and as my photos here show, Qeiyafa is both between the two sites and north of the Elah Valley.] Although the Israelite army encamped not far from Khirbet Qeiyafa, this important stronghold is not mentioned in the story. [Whoa, see how he did that?  He just jumped right over the possibility that Qeiyafa is Ephes-dammim, because it “must” be on the south side.] Evidently, the site was destroyed and deserted at the time when the story was written. [This is typical of Na’aman’s work: one possibility, however unlikely, becomes the foundation for another possibility, which then becomes certainty, and the foundation for a larger theory (see the rest of the article).  But if you pull out one card, the house comes falling down.  Since his creative theory developed in the rest of the article requires precluding Qeiyafa from being Ephes-dammim, he must not allow this very real possibility to detain him.]

Elah Valley and Azekah view nw from Socoh, tb021707830

View from Socoh looking west towards Azekah

Na’aman then proceeds to 2 Samuel 21:19, and he concludes that the David and Goliath story (1 Sam 17) is a later and much embellished (and distorted) retelling of the former.  He does not seem to recognize the following weaknesses with his theory: 1) the victors in the two stories have different names; 2) the fathers of the victors in the two stories have different names; 3) the location of the battles are given in each account, but there is no similarity between the two; 4) the context of the two battles in the larger biblical narrative is unrelated; 5) 1 Chronicles 20:5 gives a parallel account of 2 Sam 21:19. 

If you’re going to continue with Na’aman, you have to accept that 1) the highly detailed account of David vs. Goliath is pure fiction based upon a historic “kernel” that bore no relation to it; 2) the author of Samuel was ignorant (or unconcerned) that he was including the same “story” twice – both the kernel and the later embellishment. 

A better approach is to recognize the close similarities between 2 Sam 21:19 and 1 Chron 20:5 and acknowledge that these are the same story, but 1 Sam 17 is a different event.  There are textual difficulties in the two brief accounts, but you can’t explain David out of the Goliath story of 1 Sam 17 by scribal errors.  Instead you have to believe in deliberate deception and/or incredible ignorance.  (Much of the scholarly approach to the OT is predicated on these two principles: most ancients were stupid, and the few brilliant ones were liars, albeit espousing the worship of a highly ethical God.)

I do not, however, think that a rejection of Na’aman’s proposals to this point necessarily disqualifies his identification of Qeiyafa as Gob.  2 Samuel 21:18-19 mention two battles with the Philistines, and since 1) Qeiyafa is a logical place of conflict between Israelites and Philistines and 2) Gob has not yet been identified, I think it is a plausible idea.  I just think that Na’aman has much less evidence to support it than he thinks he does.

John Hobbins has written a lengthy analysis of Na’aman’s article.  He makes some good points against the identification of Qeiyafa as a Philistine site.  One problem, as I see it, is that we should not assume that the situation was static in this period of Israel’s history.  Quite possibly, sites changed hands.  In fact, that seems to be what is at stake in the narrative of David and Goliath.  The Shephelah was the contestable ground in the 11th century (see also the story of Keilah in 1 Sam 23), and the goal was to expand one’s borders.  In other words, Qeiyafa may have been built as a Philistine fortress but later taken by the Israelites, or vice versa.

Hobbins then agrees with Na’aman’s proposal that Qeiyafa is Gob.  Since the whole thesis depends on 2 Sam 21:19 being accurately preserved and thus contradicting 1 Sam 17 and 1 Chron 20:5, Hobbins and Edgecomb discuss some more technical aspects of textual criticism of these verses in the comments section.  While I agree with Edgecomb on this, I would make this overall point: it’s not reassuring when a grand theory is built upon a difficult text against other easier texts. It is better to follow 1 Sam 17 than to undo it based upon tenuous theories and emendation of brief, problematic verses elsewhere.

Tomorrow I will respond to the proposal by archaeologist Yosi Garfinkel that Qeiyafa is Shaarayim.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Herod, Gath, and Free Maps

National Geographic is promoting its upcoming special on “Herod’s Lost Tomb” with a number of special features on its website, including photos, reconstructions, video clips, and a game.  HT: BibleX

The Gath expedition has produced a DVD of the 2008 season with dozens of photographs and a couple of PowerPoint presentations.  You can get it for $15 including shipping.

If you’ve ever needed a quick, colorful map of a biblical site, can help.  When you arrive at the website, you may be put off with a block of apparently endless text.  Don’t give up though – simply search for the name of your city, click the link, and you’ll have a map.  Click the map box itself and you can get a high-resolution version of the region.  The maps are made using BibleMapper (which we’ve praised before here), and the quality is excellent.  To summarize, on the positive side: incredibly fast, pre-made maps, with liberal usage allowances.  On the negative side, it gives maps labeling cities, not events.  The Bible Atlas is part of a much larger site,, which has many free resources, and more coming.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription Update

There was a flurry of news coverage of the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription yesterday, even though only a few words of that inscription have been translated (or, at least, announced).  Here are a few highlights.

CBS News has a 45-second video showing a man opening and handling the inscribed potsherd (ostracon).  A few letters are visible.

You can watch a 5-minute interview with the excavator, Yosi Garfinkel (in Hebrew) (via Yitzhak Sapir).

A few photos were released, but they appear to be deliberately impossible to read, as the excavators naturally want to translate the inscription before someone on the internet does.  It also has been suggested that high-tech photos may be necessary before the excavators are able to read the inscription in its entirety.  Here are a few photos: ostracon 1, ostracon 2, aerial view of the site and the gatehouse.

There is some debate on the ANE-2 list about whether this is a (Proto-)Canaanite inscription or a Hebrew inscription.

A member of the excavation team has posted some of his thoughts on Jim West’s blog.

The most ridiculous headline belongs to a British rag: 'Proof' David slew Goliath found as Israeli archaeologists unearth 'oldest ever Hebrew text'

And if you prefer your inscriptions on a coffee mug, Eisenbrauns just announced the 2008 Gezer Calendar mug

There are a couple of other stories that I don’t have time to comment on now, but you can read about Eilat Mazar’s discovery of the tsinnor (water shaft) that David used to conquer Jerusalem and about an inscribed stone seal found in Jerusalem.  Don’t believe everything you read.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

The Jerusalem Post has some details about the inscription from today’s archaeology conference in Jerusalem.  Some extracts:

A teenage volunteer found the curved pottery shard, 15 centimeters by 15 centimeters, in July near the stairs and stone washtub of an excavated home. It was later discovered to bear five lines of characters known as proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet.

Carbon-14 analysis of burnt olive pits found in the same layer of the site dated them to between 1,000 and 975 B.C., the same time as the Biblical golden age of David's rule in Jerusalem.

Scholars have identified other, smaller Hebrew fragments from the 10th century B.C., but the script, which Garfinkel suggests might be part of a letter, predates the next significant Hebrew inscription by between 100 and 200 years....

The shard is now kept in a university safe while philologists translate it, a task expected to take months. But several words have already been tentatively identified, including ones meaning "judge," "slave" and "king."

The Israelites were not the only ones using proto-Canaanite characters, and other scholars suggest it is difficult - perhaps impossible - to conclude the text is Hebrew and not a related tongue spoken in the area at the time. Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning "to do," a word he said existed only in Hebrew.

"That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found," he said....

If the inscription is Hebrew, it would indicate a connection to the Israelites and make the text "one of the most important texts, without a doubt, in the corpus of Hebrew inscriptions," Maier said. But it has great importance whatever the language turns out to be, he added.

The full story is here.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa in the NY Times

The New York Times has an article in tomorrow’s print edition about Khirbet Qeiyafa (with thanks to Joe Lauer for pointing it out).  The article appears to me to be a teaser, released on the same day of the excavator’s lecture in Jerusalem, which likely will include some new revelations.  The article quotes a number of archaeologists, but most of the information is already known to those who have followed the excavation here or elsewhere.  I’m going to comment on some portions of the article, but you’ll do best the read the article in its entirety first, and then read my comments.

Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development.

This is a dramatic statement, but the rest of the article ignores the inscription.  The “competition” for the earliest Hebrew text would be the Izbet Sartah inscription (11th century), the Gezer Calendar (10th century), and the Tel Zayit Inscription (10th century).  Interestingly, all of these inscriptions are from the same general vicinity (the western foothills, aka Shephelah).

A great power [like that described of David and Solomon], they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

Hold on here.  Gezer is only a few miles up the road, and the excavations there were pretty decisive that it was a well-fortified city in the time of Solomon.  This is an example of trying to make the site more important by denigrating the significance of others.

Another reason this site holds such promise is that it was in use for only a short period, perhaps 20 years, and then destroyed — Mr. Garfinkel speculates in a battle with the Philistines — and abandoned for centuries, sealing the finds in Pompeii-like uniformity.

This is very important.  The problem with other sites is that they may be used for a long period of time, making it difficult to distinguish exactly what was going on at an earlier point it is history.  For that reason, archaeologists love destructions.  Even better is a single period site with a relatively short-lived occupation.

“The fortification required 200,000 tons of stone and probably 10 years to build,” he said as he walked around the site one recent morning. “There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C.”

These are some numbers that I had not seen before.  It does seem strange that a fortress that took 10 years to build would only be in use for 20 years.  Why was it not rebuilt?  Was it because it was captured by the Philistines?  Or was it because David’s kingdom was strong enough (and its border now further away) that this fortress was no longer necessary?

“This is an important site, one of the very few cases from the 10th century where you can see a settlement fortified in a style that is typical of later Israelite and Judean cities,” said Amihai Mazar, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University. “The question is who fortified it, who lived in it, why it was abandoned and how it all relates to the reign of David and Solomon.”

Mazar certainly asks the key questions.  It’s important to remember that many of these things are interpretive, which means that an archaeologist can interpret the finds one way and another archaeologist can come to a different (even opposite) conclusion.  If only the stones could speak.

The Philistines had a huge city, Gath, some seven miles away, but pottery found there looks distinct from what Mr. Garfinkel has found here.

This suggests that Qeiyafa was an Israelite fort.  That’s a real question because the Shephelah at this time was contested by the Philistines and Israelites.

Seymour Gitin, an archaeologist and a director of the Albright Institute in Jerusalem, a private American institution, who has seen the finds, said: “The real value is that there was an urban center in the 10th century. You can extrapolate and say this helps support a kingdom, a united monarchy under David and Solomon. People will rightly use this material to support that.”

What Gitin is saying is that a fortress like this doesn’t come out of nowhere.  There must be some sort of strong organizing force (government) that financed and directed it.  This compound wasn’t built by three bored Israelites one Sunday afternoon.

“Some of us look at things in a very ethnocentric way — everything is Israelite or Judahite,” [Israel Finkelstein] said. “History is not like that. There were other entities playing a big role in the southern part of the country. And even if it belongs to Jerusalem, fine. So there is a late 10th-century fortified structure there. I don’t believe that any archaeologist can revolutionize our entire understanding of Judah and Jerusalem by a single site. It doesn’t work that way. This is a cumulative discipline.”

Whoops!  Look at how quickly Finkelstein re-dated the whole enterprise by approximately a century.  Earlier in the article the fortress is dated to 1050-970 B.C.  Finkelstein makes it late 10th-century with a wave of his hand.  This is not accidental, as his recent publications are built upon the theory that the biblical history was written very late and is entirely unreliable.  Any discovery which suggests a strong central government in Judah in the 10th century is very inconvenient for his views.

He [Garfinkel] says with some 96 percent of this site still to be unearthed, a process likely to take 10 years, he hopes that more writing, more olive pits and more pottery will be uncovered, and add depth to what he believes is a revolutionary find.

Most critical in the whole discussion is this note of caution.  Too often absolute and sensational conclusions are made after the first discoveries.  We have time.  Any discoveries heralded now, of course, certainly makes recruiting slave labor volunteers much easier.

The New York Times does not have any photos of the site, but we do.  For more photos of the site in relation to the Elah Valley, and my speculation before the Times article or Garfinkel’s lecture, see this previous blog post.  The Times article does not mention the possibility that Khirbet Qeiyafa is Ephes Dammim.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, 10th c four chambered gate, ar080731447

Khirbet Qeiyafa four-chambered gatehouse (10th century B.C.)

Khirbet Qeiyafa stele fragment, ar080731446  Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations with stele fragment

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Gath 2008 Excavation Summary

An update for the 2008 season at Gath (Tell es-Safi) is now posted at The Bible and Interpretation website.  Director Aren Maeir has summarized the discoveries and it’s worth reading in full.  Some of the highlights:

Early Bronze Age: the site was apparently huge

Middle Bronze Age: more excavation of the city wall and glacis

Late Bronze Age: a very large building, with rich collection of pottery

Iron Age I: remains of plants and animals could help determine the Philistines’ diet; Mycenaean IIIC pottery found

Iron IIA (1000-800 B.C.): – all bullet points are direct quotations from the article

  • clear early Iron IIA pottery
  • a well-dated fragment of a seal impression (of the late 21st Dynasty in Egypt, ca. mid-10th cent BCE)
  • several nice clusters of carbonized grape pips. This latter find should be able to provide robust 14C datings for this phase
  • One cannot overemphasize the importance of the finds in this level, since it may provide the first concrete, well-dated (from several perspectives) context from the early Iron Age IIA in Philistia. In fact, the finds from this level may serve as a central key to solving the “hot debate” on the chronology of the Iron Age, raging for now for more than a decade. Hopefully, the 14C results will be available by late 2008.
  • these finds demonstrate conclusively that our original assumption that the city of Gath was very large during the Iron Age IIA, reaching ca. 45-50 hectares [108-120 acres] in size, was correct. This makes it perhaps the largest site in Philistia, and perhaps in the entire Land of Israel during this period. As such, it appears to match the image of Gath that is portrayed in the biblical texts that relate to the early monarchy, in which the city is described as the largest and most important of five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis, the primus inter pares among the five cities.

Iron IIB (c. 700 B.C.): two destruction layers, possibly related to Sargon II and Sennacherib

Methodology: “in-field laboratory (including an IR spectrometer in the field), which was supplemented by the additional laboratories back in the base camp, provided us with “on-line” results of these analyses - which enabled “real-time” understanding of the archaeological finds. This joint program is unparalleled at ANY excavation in Israel, and in fact, in the world. The close integration of a “regular” excavation team with a wide team of archaeological scientists IN THE FIELD, is simply unparalleled anywhere.”

For many reasons, this excavation looks like it will be extremely beneficial for archaeological and biblical studies.

Gath, Tell es-Safi, from east, tb060906175 Gath, view from the east

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Identity of Khirbet Qeiyafa

If I were teaching a course in historical geography now to advanced students, I'd cancel one of the assignments and have them write a paper on the site identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa.  They would be required to use all of the available data in suggesting possible candidates.  Since I'm not teaching such a class, I can post my own thoughts here without fear of hindering their research.

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about Kh. Qeiyafa, so a brief review is in order:  Located next to the Elah Valley where David fought Goliath, Kh. Qeiyafa has been excavated the last two seasons (2007-08).  This summer a 10th century B.C. inscription (ostracon) was discovered (photo), the contents of which have not yet been revealed, but may be very interesting

The place to start in identifying Kh. Qeiyafa with a known historical place name is to look at the general area of the site.  Kh. Qeiyafa is located on the north side of the Elah Valley, roughly north of probable Socoh (Kh. Abbad/Kh. es-Suweikeh) and east of probable Azekah (Tell Zakariyeh).  Those last two identifications are generally agreed upon by scholars, but as far as I know there's no certain proof of either identification (for a good discussion of Socoh and Azekah, see The Sacred Bridge, page 147).  That's important to keep in mind as we proceed under the assumption that Abbad = Socoh and Zakariyeh = Azekah.

Early explorers who identified sites like Hazor, Beth Shemesh, and Beth Shean did not have the advantage of aerial photographs and Google Earth.  But since we have those at our disposal, we will put them to use.

You can locate Qeiyafa on Google Earth using this kmz file.

You can locate Qeiyafa on Google Maps with this link (via G. M. Grena)

You can see the site in relation to Socoh (Abbad) and the Elah Valley on the photo below.

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606772_marked

Archaeology is critical in determining site identification, and Qeiyafa has remains dating to the early 10th century and to the Hellenistic period.  To do a thorough job in my little exercise, one would need to investigate Hellenistic sources concerning sites given in this area.  Because the occupation gap is so large (c. 800 years), it is possible that the Iron Age name was not preserved.  Since I am less knowledgeable about Hellenistic sources, and don't have the necessary time, I am going to ignore this part of the equation.

The textual sources that we have for this time period are limited.  The Bible is the obvious place to start, though as I'll note, some scholars question the traditional dates given to biblical texts.  Another source is the ostracon previously discussed.  It is possible that this ostracon has one or more place names and may single-handedly answer this question.  (Well, not really single-handedly, as it has to be in agreement with the rest of the data, but its relative importance is potentially great.)  Another possible source is Shishak's conquest list as given on the Bubastite Portal in the Karnak Temple.  Since no other sites in the vicinity of the Elah Valley appear to be mentioned by Shishak, I am going to ignore that for now.

What can we learn from the Bible?  It might be instructive to note first that many scholars these days would sneer at this question.  It then would be worth reviewing just how many hundreds of accurate site identifications were made in the last 150 years, using the Bible as the primary source.  That is how Edward Robinson did it, as well as many successors on down to Yohanan Aharoni and his students and "grandstudents" (among whom I count myself).

A good place to start is with the passage of the battle of David and Goliath, as this was situated in the Elah Valley.  The setting is given in 1 Samuel 17:1:

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim (ESV).

Elah Valley aerial from west, tb011606779b
Aerial view of Elah Valley, view to southeast

While the locations of Socoh and Azekah are generally agreed upon (see above), the location of Ephes-dammim is uncertain.  Based on the above text, it seems that it is located “between” the two sites.  “Pas Dammim” is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:13 and could well be the same place, though the event described there is a different one than the David and Goliath story.  A parallel to 1 Chron 11:13 is given in 2 Samuel 23:9; the place name is lacking in the Masoretic Text but is given as "Pas Dammim" in the Septuagint.  These are the only references to Ephes/Pas Dammim in the Bible.

In teaching the David and Goliath story, I’ve pointed to the “gas station” (labeled on the first photo above) as a possible place for Ephes-dammim.  There's no evidence for this, but since no other site has been identified and this sits neatly between Azekah and Socoh on the southern ridge of the valley, it was a convenient marker.

But now a new possibility arises: Could Khirbet Qeiyafa be Ephes-dammim?  There are three points in favor of this identification: 1) Like Ephes-dammim (ED), Qeiyafa is “between” Azekah and Socoh; 2) Like ED, Qeiyafa was inhabited in the 10th century; 3) Since the only textual references to ED are in the 10th century, and Qeiyafa was inhabited only in the 10th century (during the time of the Bible), this too would match. [Note: the biblical chronology seems to put the David/Goliath battle in the late 11th century, but the difference is only a few decades here and archaeology is usually not able to be very precise, especially at this period of time.]

swpelah Kiafa (Qeiyafa) is clearly between Azekah and Socoh

Map from Survey of Western Palestine (1870s)

Some have suggested that the modern site of Damun preserves the name of Ephes-dammim, but as Steven Ortiz notes in the Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible (p. 411), Damum is 4 miles (6.5 km) northeast of Socoh when one would expect it to be west (and east of Azekah).

Another possible text that lists cities from the 10th century (though many scholars think it dates to much later) is the list of Rehoboam's fortifications (2 Chronicles 11:5-10): “Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem and built up towns for defense in Judah: Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth Zur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon and Hebron.”  The location of nearly all of these sites is pretty well agreed on, not suggesting another possibility for Qeiyafa.

A text that many scholars would go to for sites is the city list of Judah from Joshua 15.  Clearly this is the best geographical list for the area, but I didn't start there because I believe (hold your breath) that this list dates hundreds of years earlier than the 10th century.  Most scholars do not, and accordingly, I will not ignore it. Joshua 15:33-36 lists cities of Judah: “In the western foothills: Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, Zanoah, En Gannim, Tappuah, Enam, Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah, Shaaraim, Adithaim and Gederah (or Gederothaim)—fourteen towns and their villages.”  The location of many of these cities is not positively identified.  Based on the sites whose identification is generally agreed on (Eshtaol, Zorah, Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah), the list seems to proceed from north to south.  The Elah Valley sites are all known (Adullam, Socoh, Azekah), and do not give us an extra name to associate with Qeiyafa, particularly between Socoh and Azekah as we might expect from 1 Sam 17:1.  If Joshua 15 is a pre-10th century text, then this is not surprising.

The “prophet of the Shephelah” is Micah, who lived in the late 8th century.  His hometown is given as Moresheth (probably known elsewhere as Moresheth-gath) in Micah 1:1.  He pronounces judgment on many cities in the Shephelah from 1:10-16, a number of which are unknown (particularly in vv. 11-12).  Too little is stated to pin down locations for these (Beth Ophrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth Ezel, Maroth), but none is mentioned in connection with Adullam, a city on the eastern end of the Elah valley.  Again, I wouldn’t expect to find a relevant name here since Qeiyafa was apparently abandoned several hundred years earlier.

Elah Valley and Azekah view nw from Socoh, tb021707830 View from Socoh looking west towards Azekah

Are there other possibilities?  A quick check of Ahituv’s Canaanite Toponyms in Ancient Egyptian Documents, Tabula Imperii Romani, and Eusebius’s Onomasticon do not seem to suggest any other potential site names.

Was Kh. Qeiyafa a Philistine outpost?  This summer the excavations discovered a four-chambered city gate and a 13-foot-wide (4 m) casemate wall. (Photos of excavations here and a 4-minute video of mostly still photos here.)  It certainly was a stronghold, and the only two known powers of the region at this time were the Philistines and the Israelites.  The Egyptians were back home enjoying their Third Intermediate Period, and there does not seem to be any strong contingent of Canaanites in the Shephelah (those would have likely migrated to where there were fewer enemies, such as the Jezreel Valley).

We can speculate further.  Perhaps Kh. Qeiyafa was Ephes-dammim, and it was constructed by the Israelites in the 11th century as they competed with Philistia for the Shephelah.  But one day the Philistines succeeded in capturing the fortress.  That brought Saul and the Israelites down to battle to regain their stronghold.  That could explain the otherwise curious reference in 1 Sam 17:1 to Ephes-dammim, as well as to giving its specific coordinates (since it was not well-known, then or later).  Unfortunately for the Israelites, Goliath wanted to make the battle a contest of champions and there was no one brave enough among the Israelites to respond.  The Israelites were encamped opposite the Philistines on the south side of the valley (which is the opposite of how I have always pictured it), or possibly in the hill country to the east.  David’s victory sent the Philistines fleeing towards Gath and Ekron (1 Sam 17:52), which makes perfect sense given the location of Kh. Qeiyafa.

While the above paragraph is speculative, the data that connects Qeiyafa with Ephes-dammim seems to me to be stronger than that which exists for many biblical sites.  The biblical text is very specific, and Qeiyafa matches exactly.  The dating of the fortress to the early 10th century is very close as well.  It’s certainly intriguing to consider.  Perhaps the ostracon discovered this summer will help to relate Kh. Qeiyafa to the biblical narrative, or even to confirm/deny the possibility that the site is biblical Ephes-dammim.  We’ll be interested to learn more when details are released.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Khirbet Qeiyafa Status Update

I’m working on a lengthy (or two-part) post on Khirbet Qeiyafa, but in the meantime, the excavator of the site has given an update, summarized by G. M. Grena and posted on biblicalist:

Prof. Yossi Garfinkel, co-director of the excavation, has given me permission to share his team's tentative publication schedule (quotes mark his exact words):

1) Their website "is under reorganization and shortly many photos of the site and the excavation will be available to the public."

2) They are still working on an official press release that should be ready "in a week or so."

3) They have already given the Israel Exploration Society "a preliminary text and 7 photos" for the "Notes and News section" of their journal, IEJ.

4) "A larger Hebrew article with 14 photos was given to a book conference to be published in 2 month[s]", but he wasn't sure about the official name of the book yet. "The conference is a cooperation between the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University and the Jerusalem district of the IAA. It will present to the public the latest results of research and excavations carried out in the Jerusalem area in the last year."

In a later post, the location of some new photos of a pottery presentation is given.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Speculation on the Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

With regard to the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription, there are those who know and those who don't.  Those who know have been sworn to secrecy, leaving only those of us who don't know to speculate.  I am happy to oblige and suggest below some reasons on why this inscription is significant, thereby possibly fueling more speculation by others also in the dark.

What is not speculation is the fact that the inscription is being studied by Haggai Misgav, a Northwest Semitic epigraphist (source).  Given the location of its discovery, this is no surprise, but it clearly rules out the possibility that inscription was written in another language.  Misgav Haggai says at present that his conclusions are "doubtful and temporary" and he does not know when he will be ready to publish (reported by Jim West).  That suggests that the inscription is difficult.  I offer some ideas that may explain archaeologist Aren Maier's comment that this inscription "is going to be VERY INTERESTING!!!!"

1. The inscription is long.  This is a guess based upon a photograph of the potsherd and a friend's report that the inscription is 4-5 lines long.  Too many inscriptions are known only from a small portion preserved.  The recent ostracon found at Gath with a name similar to Goliath received much attention, but it contained only two words.

2. The inscription is meaningful.  This is in contrast to other early inscriptions, such as the Tel Zayit abecedary (10th c.) and the Izbet Sartah abecedary (11th c.).  Certainly alphabetic inscriptions are meaningful, and scholars can write much about them.  But the primary reason why they get so much attention is because there are few other contemporary inscriptions.  Sometimes conclusions about the state of writing are made that may be without warrant.  The combination of a brief or ambiguous text with a lack of contemporary material makes possible many wrong interpretations.

3. The inscription was discovered in a stratified context.  This is in contrast to the Gezer Calendar, which was found in the debris pile in 1908.  The Tel Zayit abecedary was found in a wall, not in its original context.  Archaeologists do not have a clear stratigraphical context for many important inscriptions. 

4. The inscription is early.  Khirbet Qeiyafa has occupation from the 10th century and then a gap until the Hellenistic period (2nd c.).  The inscription certainly dates to the time of the settlement, which guarantees a 10th century date (assuming that the site itself has been correctly dated).  There are very few 10th century inscriptions in Israel, and all have some problems.  (The only 10th c. inscriptions from Israel that come to mind are the Gezer Calendar, Tel Zayit abecedary, and the Shishak inscription, but there are probably others.)  The significance of an inscription increases exponentially each century that you go back in time.  A seal impression in the city of David from the 6th century is less rare and thus less valuable than a letter or poem from the 10th century.

5. The inscription dates to a period now highly controversial in biblical archaeology.  In the mid-1990s Israel Finkelstein proposed a "Low Chronology," which essentially re-dated all material believed to be from the 10th century to the 9th century.  The poor material culture from the 11th century was brought down to the 10th century.  Historically, then, Israel and Judah were impoverished and weak, or, more likely, non-existent (according to Finkelstein) at the time when the Bible describes the great United Monarchy.  Like so many theories in biblical archaeology, this one is highly dependent upon a large amount of "white space," in which one's own ideas can be inserted.  Almost certainly this new inscription will fill in some of the gaps, as well as spawn its own controversies.

More speculating remains to be done on the site identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa, but that will need to await a future post.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Qeiyafa Ostracon Photo

G. M. Grena has noted in a comment below and on a post on biblicalist that a photo of the 10th century ostracon is apparently already online here.  You cannot see the inscription, but you get an idea for the size of the potsherd. 

Grena speculates further on biblicalist:

For those not who didn't attend last year's ASOR conference, Prof. Garfinkel had presented a paper, "Khirbet Kiafa: Biblical Azekah":

Though he did not reveal to me anything about the ostracon, in personal correspondence this morning he confirmed that Kiafa "cannot be" Azekah after having completed their first large scale excavation this past summer. Joseph Lauer also brought to my attention a Hebrew University of Jerusalem web page for the excavation, which states the same thing:

"In the past we suggested an identification with the biblical city of Azeka, but the dating of the Iron Age settlement to the early 10th century BC clearly dispro[ves] our first hypothesis."

Normally, it would be somewhat embarrassing to have your thesis "ruined" so quickly (less than a year), but I'm guessing that with the new discovery, nobody associated with the work at this khirbet minds!

The statement that dating the site to the early 10th century means that it cannot be Azekah does not make sense to me, as the story of David and Goliath mentions Azekah at approximately this time (1 Sam 17:1).  Azekah also existed at the time of the Conquest (Joshua 10:10; 15:35), which means that any candidate for the site must have Late Bronze remains.

Another possibility, perhaps too good to suggest, is that the ostracon provides the biblical name of Khirbet Qeiyafa/Kiafa.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

10th Century Inscription from Shephelah

Aren Maier, excavator of Gath, was at a meeting in Jerusalem recently with a group of Israeli archaeologists and Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor presented a newly discovered inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa.  Maier reports on the ANE-2 list:

This absolutely fantastic, fortified Iron Age site (late Iron I/early Iron IIA) has a very nice assemblage of pottery, and what may be the most important Iron Age Semitic inscription found in Israel in the last decade! (to be published by Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University).

I can't give details about it, but OH BOY - this is going to be VERY INTERESTING!!!!

Clearly, the site, its dating, the finds, and their significance, will be of paramount importance in the discussions of the Iron Age southern Levant, and just about anything connected to it, in the near future.

Based on Yossi's previous track record in publishing excavation results, publications should be appearing soon!

I doubt Maier is exaggerating, and this could provide some fun discussion in the months ahead.  It may help some readers if I spell out more of what Maier means by "the site, its dating, the finds, and their significance."

The site: Khirbet Qeiyafa (aka the "Elah Fortress") is located opposite Azekah along a ridge north of the Elah Valley, near the famous battle of David and Goliath.

The date: The site, and therefore presumably the inscription, dates to "late Iron I/early Iron IIA," which is the scholarly way of saying "10th century B.C."  David and Solomon were kings in Jerusalem in the 10th century.

The finds: Some of this has already been reported, but Maier probably is meaning the inscription itself, about which nothing has been revealed to the public.  I reported previously that the ostracon (inscribed potsherd) has 4-5 lines of writing.

Its significance: The major discussion in "biblical archaeology" right now centers on the 10th century.  The newer view (popularized in this book) denies that Judah was a nation-state until hundreds of years later, insisting that the biblical account of the United Monarchy is pure fabrication.  Most archaeologists reject that view.  My guess is that Maier's excitement is because this inscription will play a role in this discussion.

Other inscriptions: It may be worth noting that two (or three) other significant 10th century inscriptions were found in the same region.  To the north, Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister found the Gezer Calendar in the early 1900s. To the south, Ronald Tappy discovered an abecedary (alphabetic inscription) at Tell Zayit a few years ago.  To the west at Gath, Maier uncovered the "Goliath inscription," which dates to the 10th or 9th centuries.  If you're an archaeologist looking for a 10th century inscription, head for the Shephelah.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shephelah Updates

The Shephelah, or western foothills of Judah, is an ideal site for excavations because of 1) its rich history; 2) its close proximity to universities in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; and 3) its moderate climate.  There's enough work to be done in the Shephelah alone to occupy every archaeologist working in Israel for the next 100 years.

Tel  Aviv University has been approved to renew excavations at Azekah.  Though it is one of the most important sites in the Shephelah, it has only been excavated by Robert Alexander Stuart Macalister in a brief dig more than 100 years ago.  Among other things, Azekah is mentioned in the Bible as near the place of the Philistine encampment when David defeated Goliath.  It was one of the last two cities holding out against Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (see Jeremiah 34:6-7 and Lachish Letter #4).  There are undoubtedly a lot of goodies buried under that pile of dirt.

Azekah from northeast, tb030407700
Azekah from the northeast

Bar Ilan University has been excavating Tel 'Eton/Tell Aitun under the direction of Avi Faust.  This year was their third season of excavation and they are finding a destruction level as well as a fortress in the style of a four-room house, only larger. The destruction level seems to pre-date Sennacherib's 701 campaign because pottery is transition form between Lachish III and IV; but also not likely to be Sargon II's 712/711 campaign since it appears he only visited cities on the coastal plain. Scholars have suggested that the site is biblical Eglon (for more on that, see The Sacred Bridge, 128). The website is viewable in MS Internet Explorer, but not Firefox.

 Tell Aitun, possibly Eglon, from south, tb102900331
Tel 'Eton, possibly biblical Eglon, from south

Khirbet Qeiyafa, located directly east of Azekah, is being excavated by Yosi Garfinkel of Hebrew University.  They found a four-chambered gate dating to the 10th century B.C. with a casemate wall and two attached buildings. There was no previous occupation and the nearest subsequent occupation is Hellenistic, so it is virtually a single-period site for Iron IIA. They also found an ostracon (inscribed potsherd) with about 4-5 lines of writing, the contents of which are apparently more sensitive than Israel's plans to bomb Iran.  (This is a good reminder to thank those archaeologists who are quick to share their discoveries with all of their supporters.)  The ostracon will be published by Misgav.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gezer Excavations 2007

The Star-Telegram has a brief article on the recent season of excavations at Gezer. The main finds mentioned are walls burned by the Assyrians in the 8th century and a rare silver coin from the Ptolemaic period. The excavation project is described at, and some general information and pictures of Gezer is available at

Gezer high place with standing stones, db6804053210
Gezer high place in 1968
Photo by David Bivin; from forthcoming CD from

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