Kh. Qeiyafa

The ancient tel of Khirbet Qeiyafa. It is located along the Elah Valley within the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah

One of the sites we visit when we go south on our Israel tours is Khirbet Qeiyafa. It is an archaeological tel (“ancient ruin”) located along the Elah Valley within the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. Over the span of a few hundred years of Israelite history, this region served as a buffer zone between the Hill Country of Judah to the east and the Coastal/Philistine Plain to the west.

The site of Kh. Qeiyafa is relatively small, only 5.7 acres in size. However, the site has two 6-chambered gates, quite unusual for an ancient city this small. Because of the identification of two gates, some scholars identify the site as biblical ShaaraimThe city is mentioned in passing at the end of the David vs. Goliath narrative (1 Samuel 17:52). Shaaraim in Hebrew specifically means “two gates.” Also unique to archaeological sites is that Kh. Qeiyafa only has one level of ruins. This means that after it was destroyed and/or abandoned, it was not occupied at all in later periods (although small traces of ruins from the Byzantine Period – around 400 AD – were uncovered in one area).

Qeiyafa inscription

The paleo-Hebrew inscription found in 2008. It mentions the transition to a “king.” Could this king be Saul or David?

Khirbet Qeiyafa was excavated between 2007-2013. Yosi Garfinkel served as the lead archaeologist. Based on both pottery but also more speifically the Carbon 14 dating of 28 burned olive pits (found in pottery within a residential house), the site dates to somewhere in the 10th – 9th century BC. The olive pits dated to between 1020-980 BC. This places the site at the time of Saul, David, and later Solomon.

12,000 animal bones were found at the site as well. In contrast to biblical Gath (a Philistine city where Goliath was from and where pig bones were found), only the bones of sheep, goats, fish, and cows were found.

Cultic messabot (“standing stones”) were also found. One was found at the entrance of the one gate, and others were found in residential houses. Three small shrines were uncovered as well, one of them being carved from the local limestone. The facade of this particular shrine was probably meant to resemble the Temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon. In this cultic room a flat stone offering table, an incense basalt altar, and a libation vessel for fermented drinks that were poured over an offering were also found.

shine at Qeiyafa

This building model from Khirbet Qeiyafa depicts an elaborate doorframe surrounding an opening. This model may unlock the meaning of a mezuzah in the Bible regarding the description of Solomon’s Temple. Photo: G. Laron/Courtesy of the Khirbet Qeiyafa Expedition.

Two inscriptions were also found. The one found in 2008 included five lines written in very “broken” paleo Hebrew: “Do not oppress… and serve God… despoiled him/her… the judge and the widow wept; he had the power over the resident alien and the child, he eliminated them together; the men and chief officers have established a king. He marked 60 servants (?) among the communities/ generations.” Most significantly, this inscription contained all of the essential components of the biblical narrative describing the transition from the time of the Judges to the selection of Saul (or David) as the leader/king of Israel.

Gate at Qeiyafa

One of our groups standing at the 6-chambered gate

Later in 2012, a Canaanite inscription was found, complete with the name “Ishba’al son of Beda.” (see I Chr. 8:33, 9:39). This was the first time the name Ishba’al was discovered. The name was not used later in the First Temple Period during the days of the Divided Kingdom (post 930 BC).

This newly-produced video (that appeared on Israel National News) features some of the discoveries from Kh. Qeiyafa. These discoveries from Kh. Qeiyafa have been on display at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem since June, 2016.

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