Thursday morning, August 5th:
Some volunteers were cleaning the site for photography, while others (including myself) were erecting fences around the excavated areas. I looked up at a random moment and recognized Israel Finkelstein walking toward the gate area where I have excavated for two weeks.
Israel Finkelstein is a professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. For years, he has been a leading face of Biblical Minimalism, which is a perspective that seeks to minimize the Bible as a relevant source of historical information. He has advocated a revised history of the early Iron Age in his published articles, in a best-selling book, and on various television documentaries. Finkelstein’s revisionist conclusions include:
- The tribes of Israel were not organized under any significant central government in the 10th century B.C. (According to the biblical timeline, this would be when David established his monarchy.)
- If David and Solomon existed, they were not monarchs of any significant kingdom. According to Finkelstein, they would have been something like hill-country chieftains or glorified bedouins in (according to him) the poor, small fortified village of Jerusalem.
- The biblical stories of the early Davidic monarchy, its power and its might are largely fictitious, and must have been crafted centuries later by Israelite priests who desired to create a more glorious history for their people.
On what basis does he advocate these points? Much of it boils down to a lack of evidence. Archaeologists had found plenty of material remains (pottery, structures, etc.) from the centuries before and after David’s time, but very little from the early Iron Age in the 11th and 10th centuries B.C. (Saul, David and Solomon would be in the early Iron Age.) This is not a complete synopsis of Finkelstain’s arguments, but I will save that for another post.
It is risky to argue from what has not been found, because it is possible someone will eventually find it. This is why the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation has become important. The evidence there so far points to an organized, strong, Jerusalem-centered kingdom in the 10th century B.C. – the early Iron Age of David.
- Khirbet Qeiyafa has produced pottery and olive pits that have been dated to the early Iron Age – the time of the biblical King David.
- An inscription discovered in 2008 appears to be in Hebrew, which helps to link the city to the Israelites.
- Numerous animal bones have been found, but none of them (so far) have been from pigs. This is a key indicator of Israelite sites since pigs were forbidden under Jewish Law. Sites from Philistine and other Canaanite cultures typically produce bones from pigs and other non-kosher animals.
- The Iron Age city had 200,000 tons of stone in its fortifications. This amount is way out of proportion to the city’s size and resources, indicating that a strong centralized government was behind its construction.
- The city is situated to guard a major highway to Jerusalem, which would explain its strong fortifications.
If this season’s excavations continue to point toward a fortified, early Iron Age Israelite city, it will be strong evidence for the Bible accounts and a powerful blow to Biblical Minimalism. Israel Finkelstein’s visit to Khirbet Qeiyafa is no small thing. We will continue to monitor the evidence and the debate.