Discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa: an Intact Shrine

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.

This intact, plain-looking piece is actually a shrine for a household idol. This is how it appeared when first uncovered. The reverse side is the more interesting to examine. (Photo by Akiva Sanders.)

The other side of the shrine is shown below:

The shrine found at Khirbet Qeiyafa in July, 2010. An idol figurine “lived” in the small shrine, which was on display inside the cultic building. Think of the shrine as a simpler version of the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the Israelite Tabernacle/Temple, but for a small idol. (Photo by Akiva Sanders.)

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.

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About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in 2010 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Publications & Study Materials and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa: an Intact Shrine

  1. Akiva Sanders says:

    So no big deal, but I think those are actually my photos, and I do actually have a photo of the figurine.

  2. afrankangle says:

    Interesting because I admit not having a clue about the idols of the time. Movies framed my image of large gold idols … of course the gold is for the rich … but small figurines in a vase-like shrine wasn’t in my mind … so thanks!

  3. Pingback: Model shrines from biblical sites | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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