Questions on Khirbet Qeiyafa’s 2010 cultic room

Todd Bolen commented with a series of questions on my previous post about the Qeiyafa cultic room from 2010. Todd wrote:

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?

I can provide some answers to a few of these questions. Remaining questions will hopefully be answered in coming publications by Yossi Garfinkel and the Qeiyafa staff.

Question #1: In his 2010 ASOR presentation, Garfinkel showed photos comparing the 10th century Qeiyafa incense altar with another 10th century altar found at Tel Rehov in Israel. A photo of the Rehov is available here from the Tel Rehov official site. The Rehov altar shows images of two human females with a palm tree between them. The Judahite altar from Qeiyafa is devoid of human figures. Perhaps this is reflective of greater tolerance in the north for images in cultic practice? This question should be explored in greater detail.

Question #2: The room itself was not destroyed by fire. I am checking on evidence of cultic burning (offerings, sacrifices).

Question #3: The drain channel is in an adjacent room but an opening was built into the wall of the cultic room. You can see an aerial photo of the room/drain layout here in a .pdf version of Garfinkel’s 2010 ASOR presentation (from Qeiyafa’s official site). Scroll down to the eleventh slide, which shows a series of numbered rooms attached to the casemate wall. The cultic room is room #7. The drain channel is clearly visible in room #6 along with the drainage hole in room #7. Clearly, the drain was shared by the two rooms. I do not know the use of the drain in cultic ritual apart from the obvious disposal of residue from whatever happened inside the room.

One additional detail… 2011 excavations revealed that buildings 6 and 7 share an entry corridor from the city interior. With a shared entryway and drainage channel, these buildings had some common relationship, perhaps as a mini-compound?

Question #4 – The standing stone was indeed found in its standing position. To my knowledge no reconstruction work has been done in the cultic room.

Evidence for the stone’s religious use would include the incense altar and libation vessel found in the same room, the position of the stone on the “high place” in the room, and the offering table in front of the stone.

Interestingly, someone facing the stone would be looking north. In later periods worshipers were expected to face the temple in Jerusalem, where the Ark of the Covenant and main altar were located. (2 Chronicles 6:21) From Qeiyafa this would have been to the east-northeast. Prior to the temple the Ark of the Covenant and the primary altar were in Khiriath-jearim and Gibeon, also to the east-northeast of Qeiyafa. Is there significance in worshipers in Qeiyafa facing north, or is it simply the direction one happens to look due to the layout of the city? Did the cardinal direction of worship matter in early Judah? Do the other standing stones at Qeiyafa line up in a particular way? Perhaps something on this will be noted in publication.

I’ll post soon on other recent discoveries from Khirbet Qeiyafa.

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Correction: There is no reason to label the altar from Qeiyafa as an “incense” altar. It could have been used for various kinds of small offerings.

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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1 Response to Questions on Khirbet Qeiyafa’s 2010 cultic room

  1. Todd Bolen says:

    Luke – thank you for checking into these things and sharing the information with us. It is much appreciated. I look forward to hearing more about this.

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