The latest big archaeological news is the press announcement that a Palace of King David has been discovered in the Judean foothills at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a city dating to the time of his reign. Besides the palace, a large pillared storehouse to manage taxes in kind (oil, wine, grain, etc.) was discovered along the northern edge of the city.
These discoveries are from the site I’ve worked the past five seasons. I mentioned the Iron Age fortress (“David’s Palace”) last year in a post that included a photo. The long wall was identifiable as the central building of the Iron Age city and was a large factor in the decision to excavate one more season at Qeiyafa in 2013.
The “David’s Palace” title is certainly tweaked for media exposure. For better and for worse, it worked. The story hit Israeli news sources and moved to American media in less than a day. Some interested parties have already written to criticize the sensationalism of the announcement. I understand that point of view. The media consists of people whose training is journalism, not archaeology. Many will readily soup up a headline and a story to gain readers. On the other hand Bible-related stories tend to hit big, so perhaps we should acknowledge up front that any discovery with Davidic implications will not stay small anyway. In any case, I’ll leave this discussion for others and move on.
I have worked Khirbet Qeiyafa for five years and even helped to uncover the pillared “storehouse” building in 2012. My M.A. thesis addressed the transition of Israelite society in the late-11th and early-10th centuries. Having been involved in the site and the period, here are some of my initial thoughts:
Clarify the terminology: The term “palace” does not refer to an opulent castle or some luxurious, spacious estate. It should be understood as an administrative center or fort that extends the influence of some political or military authority. In a relatively poor society such as early Iron Age Israel/Judah, such a building would have practical rather than aesthetic value. It is no surprise one of the surviving rooms has evidence of metal industry for producing weapons and/or tools. It was not built as a royal residence, though a ruler or governor would probably stay there during a visit.
Parallels? This reminds me of the Iron Age fortress building at Lachish. Like the structure at Qeiyafa, it’s by far the largest building at its site and is clearly public in nature. The Lachish structure is a bigger, later building with a couple of expansions, but probably served some similar purpose. Ancient fortified cities typically had a fort or “palace” that served administrative and defensive functions. There are later Iron Age parallels for “palaces” and storage buildings at other sites in Israel and Judah. I’d be interested in a study comparing/contrasting some of them with what has been found at Qeiyafa.
Implications: At this moment the fortress structure and the site in general point to a centralized authority over the region in the late-11th or early-10th century B.C. Ancient texts, including the Bible, give us Philistine, Canaanite, and Israelite/Judahite possibilities for that place at that time. The city is clearly not Philistine but carries several markers suggesting Israelite/Judahite inhabitants. Was it Canaanite? That must be demonstrated, along with a purpose for building the city where it is. Whoever built it did so under the nose of the Philistines, who apparently were unable to prevent its construction. Did it belong to an Israelite or Judahite polity led by David? Quite possibly, maybe even probably, though we can’t prove anything that specifically right now. Some individuals are professionally/personally invested in a “fictitious David” paradigm to the extreme and will automatically deny anything suggesting the contrary. Still, we cannot yet rule out other possibilities even if they seem less likely.
Don’t want to accept Israelite or Judahite explanations? One must then ask, who else would be defending the Elah Valley corridor from the Philistines, and why? We have no textual evidence for another expansionist polity in that region at that time. In my view, with the present evidence, it’s hard to make a case for a Canaanite polity producing Qeiyafa. The simpler answer is usually the better one, which points to Israelites/Judahites.
Many words have been and will be written about this fortress and its implications. Here are a few more thoughts, in no particular order.
- Scholars with opposing views of Kh. Qeiyafa still agree on the general timeframe of the Iron Age city – around the late-11th/early-10th century B.C. This date range comes from the pottery assemblage and multiple C14 results. Barring some evidence to the contrary, the central Iron Age fortress should date to the same period.
- At this point people have only portions of the puzzle with which to work. When all excavation data is published (within the next two or three years, perhaps) scholars everywhere can analyze everything and form grounded conclusions.
- Scholarly skepticism is a healthy thing. It keeps people honest and raises standards.
- However… some people have wired themselves to immediately disparage anything that appears to support contested portions of the Bible. Be skeptical of their skepticism.
- Only a few seem willing to accept the excavators’ conclusions at this point. That’s okay. The Qeiyafa staff have been immersed in the site and its finds for years. We should expect them to have formed strong conclusions. Most everyone else is just now seeing portions of the evidence for the first time. Give it time, publish everything, and we’ll see how people come to think about things.
- Those of us who believe in the Bible should learn from the past. Well-meaning people, along with some rascals, have repeatedly “discovered” Noah’s Ark (in many different places), underwater chariot wheels in the Red Sea, the Ark of the Covenant, and other remarkable things that ended up being untrue. There is nothing lost by being patient and, like the residents of Roman Berea, waiting to examine the actual evidence “to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
- Remember… Archaeology can never provide all of the answers.
The Qeiyafa staff is working to publish the remaining seasons. The 2007-2008 volume has been out for a while. Two more volumes will cover the 2009 to 2013 seasons.
I was surprised by the press release this morning. I had been planning to post on the Area W building down the hill from the city. It dates several centuries later and turned out to be very interesting. I’ll now hold off on that for a few days. What we have here in the early Iron Age is already generating plenty of discussion.