During the 2010 excavation we uncovered what the archaeologists were calling a ‘cultic building’ near the southern Iron Age gate. ‘Cultic’ is the term archaeologists use for any religious or worship-related find. (There’s a standard joke that whenever excavators cannot identify a find, they label it a ‘cultic’ object.)
In this case, the ‘cultic’ finds are no joke. The photo below shows what appears at first glance to be a simple, intact pottery jar.
The other side of the shrine is shown below:
We found a small figurine nearby but it was photographed and put away before the volunteers’ cameras could come out. The figurine was a bit smaller than my little finger.
This shrine dates to Iron IIa as does everything Iron Age at Qeiyafa. This is the first part of the 10th century B.C., the time of King David in the Bible.
Is it surprising to find evidence of idol worship in Israel during David’s time? It should not be any surprise. The Israelites used idols before and after David’s time. They never put them completely aside until after the return from Babylon. The Bible text mentions that David captured and burned Philistine idols on one occasion (1 Chronicles 14:11-12), but there is no mention of David systematically removing idols or high places from Israel.
This shrine is a remarkable find. To illustrate this, let’s visit the excavations at the city of Ashkelon, in Philistine territory. This dig began back in the mid-1980’s and continues today. Of their many discoveries over the past quarter century, look at the one they feature on their web site. The Ashkelon shrine dates to the first part of the 16th century B.C., before the arrival of the ‘Sea Peoples’ who became the biblical Philistines we know and love. The Ashkelon shrine is around 500 years older than the one found at Qeiyafa this past summer.
Advantage Ashkelon: Their shrine is older, and came with a silver-plated calf.
Advantage Qeiyafa: Ours came intact. No restoration needed.
Perhaps we see some Philistine influence at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which sat along the Philistine/Judah border. Just as south Texas eats Tex-Mex, the Judahites at Qeiyafa would have seen some level of cultural exchange in the border region. I do not know if this type of shrine was used throughout Canaan or was unique to the southwestern region.
I plan to attend the ASOR Annual Meeting in a few weeks. Some of the latest research and conclusions will be presented about many sites, including Qeiyafa.
Update: One of the volunteers who discovered the Qeiyafa shrine and the figurine reported to me there is no obvious connection between the two. The shrine may or may not have been for the figurine itself, though they were found in the same area.
Ferrell Jenkins just posted on these kinds of shrines. They are fairly common throughout Canaan. The design varied from the simple, such as those from Qeiyafa and Ashkelon, to the ornate such as one from Tirzah shown in Ferrell’s post.
Final Update (April, 2016): The Khirbet Qeiyafa Excavation Report, Vol. II notes that the object I initially described as a “figurine” is in fact a decorated bone (p. 450). This item was typically used as personal jewelry, not a cultic object. To date, no religious figurines have been discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa.