Garfinkel Announces New Religious Finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa (photos)

Yossi Garfinkel recently presented finds from a cultic room unearthed at Khirbet Qeiyafa in 2010. He sent me some photos for this blog just before his presentation in Jerusalem. They are shown here with his permission.

Here is my own summary of what we know of Kh. Qeiyafa at this point. It was a planned fortress city constructed around the beginning of the 10th century B.C. – the time of David’s monarchy in the Bible. It sits at the border of ancient Judah and Philistia along the Elah Valley, where David fought Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. The population at Kh. Qeiyafa appears to have been Judahite for the following reasons:

  • The city’s architecture is similar to other cities in Judah. It is different than that of the nearby Philistines, or even the northern tribes of Israel.
  • Five seasons of excavation have yielded virtually no pig or dog bones. Pig and dog bones are common at Philistine and Canaanite sites but rare-to-nonexistent in Israel and Judah, who considered both animals to be unclean.
  • The pottery at Qeiyafa is clearly not Philistine, even though ancient Gath is just a few miles away. It bears closer resemblance to Israelite and Judahite ceramics.
  • Finger impressions on storage jars at Qeiyafa may be precursors to the later LMLK stamps that marked government property in the Kingdom of Judah.
  • An inscription discovered at Qeiyafa in 2008 is believed by many to be Hebrew. The inscription’s language is clearly Semitic, not the Indo-European language of the Philistines.
  • The city’s unique two-gate design leads the excavators to identify it as Shaaraim (Heb. – “two gates”). Joshua 15:36 lists Shaaraim as a city of Judah. 1 Chronicles 4 mentions it as a possession of Simeon, a tribe that existed in the midst of Judah.

Here are photos of the cultic (religious) room discovered in 2010. Human and animal figurines are common in Philistine, Canaanite and even northern Israelite cultic sites, but none were found in this room. These finds may offer a window into pre-Temple religion in Judah during David’s time.

A cultic room unearthed at Kh. Qeiyafa in 2010. The room adjoins the casemate city wall. A massebah (standing stone) is visible in the elevated part of the room. A bench sits along the far wall. A drain opening is visible just to the left of the bench.

The massebah (standing stone) in the 2010 cultic room at Kh. Qeiyafa. These stones frequently represented a god, sometimes perhaps YHWH, the God of Israel. A flat stone "offering table" is visible on the right side.

This incense basalt altar was unearthed at Kh. Qeiyafa in 2010. Altars from other peoples, including the later Kingdom of Israel, are typically engraved with human or animal figures. This Kh. Qeiyafa altar shows markings that might indicate a palm tree, but human or animal images are notably absent. Garfinkel believes this reflects the prohibition on "graven images" in Israelite religious law. (Exodus 20:4-5)

This is a vessel specifically designed for libations - fermented drinks that were poured over an offering. Vessels similar to this one were displayed on the "Table of Showbread" in the Israelite Tabernacle. (Numbers 4:7) Libations were an important component of sacrificial offerings in the Law of Moses.

Details on these finds have recently been published in Hebrew in the journal Qadmoniot. An English article was sent to BASOR (Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research) but it was reportedly rejected because the reviewer stated that an aniconic cult (religion with no icons/images) is not possible for that period. We will see how things develop as more data comes in.

Speaking of more data, Garfinkel announced the discovery of two additional cultic rooms at Qeiyafa from the 2011 excavation season. Garfinkel sent me this comment on our 2011 finds:

“In the two new cultic rooms various cultic objects were found, but no human or animal figurines. They confirm the results of the 2010 excavation season. The new cultic items are still under cleaning, restoration and documentation, so they will not be presented at the lecture.”

I helped to unearth one of the cultic rooms in 2011. It was certainly rich with finds, but as Garfinkel mentions we didn’t find any figurines or engraved images. Yossi plans to publish in the near future, so we should have access to more data soon.

Judah in the 10th century B.C. is comparatively sparse for archaeologists. These finds are filling in blanks in the archaeological narrative. These finds are consistent with the textual narrative we find in the Bible.


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 with the North Terrace Church of Christ and has participated in multiple archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke leads informative, meaningful tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
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6 Responses to Garfinkel Announces New Religious Finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa (photos)

  1. Todd Bolen says:

    Luke – thanks so much for sharing this report. I look forward to reading a detailed article about the discoveries. Some questions that I hope will be answered include:
    1. What parallels exist for this type of incense altar?
    2. Was evidence of burning found in this room?
    3. Did the drain in this room serve the cultic practice? If so, how?
    4. Was the standing stone found standing or was it re-erected by the excavators? In either case, what is the evidence that it was used for religious purposes?
    5. What is the best explanation for the lack of figurines and engraved images?
    6. Are there explanations besides a cultic one that would explain the finds in these rooms?
    Thanks again!

  2. lukechandler says:

    Thank you, Todd. I have some hunches on a few of your questions, but want to be sure before posting any answers myself. I don’t know when an English article by Yossi will be available, but perhaps in the near future. Hoo-Goo Kang, one of the staff at the Qeiyafa dig, is presenting on Qeiyafa at ASOR this year, but I believe his presentation is limited to the date of the Iron Age level. When I am more certain of any answers, I’ll offer them here or in a new post.

  3. Thomas Middlebrook says:

    BASOR is right to critique the claim that an aniconic site is unknown from this period (not that this should preclude publishing the article). If Garfinkel would like to write “no human or animal figurines,” that is fine, for now. But it is only a matter of time before most arguments from silence get jettisoned. There is no reason to believe pre-monarchic Israel was any truer to the graven image law from the Bible, and we must take the accidents of discovery with an eye towards the larger picture of the pervasive use of icons in religion throughout Israel and Judah.

    • lukechandler says:

      No problem here with critiquing the article. Healthy debate is good. The concern is that standing theories based on silence (“We have no evidence of aniconic cultic practice in pre-monarchic Judah/Israel.”) may trump the introduction of fresh information. Granted, one late-Iron I/early-Iron II room is a relatively small thing, but it is from a well-preserved site in a region that has produced few finds from that period. If we find additional evidence of cultic activity at Qeiyafa and still have no figurines or images, the argument is strengthened. We also need to consider what evidence of a prohibition on images would look like.

      The biblical text does indicate an inconsistent (at best) adherence to the prohibition on images in Judah and Israel. Is it reasonable that we may find such a prohibition upheld in certain places, in certain periods? A lot of information from Qeiyafa is still being processed. (Remember the last-minute finds from this past season?) It will be interesting to see what other things come out of the ground… or don’t.

      Thanks for your comment, Thomas. Still planning to return in 2012?

      • Thomas Middlebrook says:

        Yeah, I’d love to, but I am thinking we might be headed for baby number two in that time period. I will be heading over during the winter break though, to share a little bit of my passion for the Land with the mrs. 10 day trip and Qeiyafa won’t be missed 😉

        (concerning the “last-minute finds,” do you know if they being presented at the conferences this year?)

        Peace and grace,

  4. Pingback: Raiders of the Lost Arks? Garfinkle unveils new finds, interpretations from Kh. Qeiyafa | Tom Powers — VIEW FROM JERUSALEM

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