King David’s Palace at Khirbet Qeiyafa?

In a press release today, the Israel Antiquities Authority reports that the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa have unearthed a palace of King David, along with a storehouse.

Here’s some of what the release has to say:

Today (Thursday) the excavation, which was conducted over the past seven years, is drawing to a close. According to Professor Yossi Garfinkel and Sa’ar Ganor, “Khirbet Qeiyafa is the best example exposed to date of a fortified city from the time of King David. The southern part of a large palace that extended across an area of c. 1,000 sq m was revealed at the top of the city. The wall enclosing the palace is c. 30 m long and an impressive entrance is fixed it through which one descended to the southern gate of the city, opposite the Valley of Elah. Around the palace’s perimeter were rooms in which various installations were found – evidence of a metal industry, special pottery vessels and fragments of alabaster vessels that were imported from Egypt. The palace is located in the center of the site and controls all of the houses lower than it in the city. From here one has an excellent vantage looking out into the distance, from as far as the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Hebron Mountains and Jerusalem in the east. This is an ideal location from which to send messages by means of fire signals. Unfortunately, much of this palace was destroyed c. 1,400 years later when a fortified farmhouse was built there in the Byzantine period”.

…The palace and storerooms are evidence of state sponsored construction and an administrative organization during King David’s reign. “This is unequivocal evidence of a kingdom’s existence, which knew to establish administrative centers at strategic points”, the archaeologists say. “To date no palaces have been found that can clearly be ascribed to the early tenth century BCE as we can do now. Khirbet Qeiyafa was probably destroyed in one of the battles that were fought against the Philistines circa 980 BCE. The palace that is now being revealed and the fortified city that was uncovered in recent years are another tier in understanding the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah”.

The identity of the ‘administration’ at Khirbet Qeiyafa has, to my knowledge, not yet been definitively proved. Nonetheless, this 10th century BC site in the Shephelah is very important for understanding the era. It will be interesting to see how discussion of this pans out.

The full press release can be read HERE. The release also includes a link to some nice hi-res images.

HT to Antonio Lombatti.

A New Ceramic Inscription from Jerusalem (10th century BC?)

A new inscription purportedly dating to the 10th century BC has been discovered in excavations at Jerusalem. The inscription was inscribed on the shoulder of a large ceramic pithos jar that was turned up in Eilat Mazar’s excavation in the ‘City of David’ area (just south of the Old City walls). The Hebrew University of Jerusalem has issued a statement about the find, which I copy below at the end of this blog post (see blue section). Two photos accompanied the statement, and I have included them here in this blog post, too.

Here is the first photo:

This jar fragment bearing an inscription in the Canaanite language was unearthed near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar. Dated to the tenth century BCE, it is the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Noga Cohen-Aloro.)

My initial thoughts:

There is some confusion in the media statement (see blue section below) about the dating of this inscription. On the one hand the statement claims the inscription is in a Proto-Canaanite script and dates to the era before Israelite rule, but then it claims the inscription comes from the 10th century BC and dates to Israelite rule. I think what the statement is probably trying to say is that the letters of the inscription appear to be in a script that is known from the era before Israelite rule, but the piece of pottery itself comes from a period during Israelite rule, specifically Iron IIa (10th century BC).

To me the script certainly looks very old. I’m not sure I’d label it ‘Proto-Canaanite’, though. On first glance I would say tenth century BC seems about right, with the script bearing some resemblance to Phoenician. This is, of course, a preliminary estimate, because although there is a hi-res photo of the inscription here, I’d need to see the pottery up close in person to make a more definitive evaluation.

Also, the statement says that the letters seem to be (left-to-right) mqphn, (possibly) l, and n—that is ן לנחפקמ. I would suggest a few other possibilities (again, this is only on first impression). The first letter (that is, the rightmost) seems to be the top half of a nun (נ) fairly clearly. Then, moving leftwards, there is a gap, followed by some strokes above the breakage that appear to be the upper portions of what may be a beth (ב) that does not quite join up at the top. However, these two strokes could belong to completely different letters, which is perhaps given more weight by the fact that there seems to be the bottom portion of an elongated stroke a little way below. If this matches up with the second of the strokes above the breakage, then I’d suggest it may well be a mem (מ). On that basis, I’d propose the previous stroke might belong to a lamed (ל).

Moving further left, the next letter, which is the first complete letter, is very problematic. It appears to have the shape of a nun (נ), but in reverse (compare it with the first stroke on the very right hand side). Other than nun, though, I can’t see what other letter this might be. So I’m going for it as an anomalous nun (נ).

The next letter seems to be a ḥeth (ח). The next two letters, however, are difficult to decipher. The first is touted as a pe (פ) in the media release, but I’m not convinced. Looking closely at the hi-res photo, I think the right part of the letter is not completely rounded, but has a kink at the point where it bends downwards. Also, I think there may be a small tail stroke on the bottom of that right hand portion. To me, this suggests a somewhat truncated form of tsade (צ), though I couldn’t rule out an odd-shaped taw (ת) either. The next letter was touted as a qoph (ק), and while this is a plausible suggestion, it looks more like a resh (ר) to me. The final visible letter appears unambiguously to be a mem (מ).

Thus, on a preliminary deciphering, I would propose the letters might be read ן למנחצרמ (n lmnḥṣrm). However, since I have not seen the fragment itself and only have the photo to go on, I won’t set that reading in stone (or ceramic!). It is purely a first impression. As I clearly learnt with the Tel Dan Inscription, you cannot rely solely on photographs of inscriptions, no matter how good the photos appear to be. Nothing beats an actual physical inspection made in person, because photos can unwittingly mask critical features (like the extra letter on the Tel Dan Inscription).

What might this preliminary rendering of the letters mean? Well it might refer to something coming from the ‘courtyards’ (ḥaṣerim: חצרים), perhaps of the temple or the palace. Alternatively, perhaps the pithos jar held something ‘from Hadramaut’ (lemin ḥaṣramawt: למן חצרמות)—the biblical Hazarmaveth. The first possibility would be significant in and of itself as providing some evidence of a royal and/or cultic installation in Jerusalem during the 10th century BC. The second possibility would be stupendous, providing evidence of contact between Jerusalem and southern Arabia during the tenth century BC. However, as enticing and sensational as these possibilities are, we have to wait further work on this ceramic piece and get the eyes of a few more epigraphers onto it. We also have to ensure we understand the stratum in which the ceramic piece was found properly. This will come with further excavations in coming years.

Nonetheless, even if this inscription doesn’t quite live up to the deliciously sensational possibilities I’ve just mentioned, it is still significant as evidence of officialdom in (most likely) 10th century BC Jerusalem. The average person generally did not write things into their newly made ceramic jars. It was usually an administrative authority of some kind that needed to do that kind of thing. So this inscription should make us sit up and take notice. It does not tell us who was in Jerusalem, but it suggests that there was someone there with enough officialdom to require large pithos jars to be labelled in some way. This would have been to distinguish the jar either for its source, its destination, its function, its content, or its owner. Thus, this little inscription is a very neat find of considerable historical significance.

The language of the inscription is difficult to ascertain from so few letters, but there is good reason to think it is probably Hebrew. First, it was found in Jerusalem! Second, the ceramic piece probably dates to the tenth century BC. Third, the (visible) mem (מ) might be the masculine plural substantive ending. Fourth, we might have the preposition מן (‘from’) in a form with the preposition ל—a construction known from biblical texts (cf. Micah 7.12) While these last two reasons are still speculative at this stage, it seems sensible, given the first two reasons, to propose that this is a Hebrew inscription—one of the earliest we have (cf. the Tel Zayit Abecedary, Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon, and Gezer Calendar).

Feel free to interact with or challenge my suggestions here. As I’ve mentioned, they are only first impressions, so I’m very open to correction, improvement, or updating.

Here now is the official media release from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem:

Inscription From the Time of Kings David & Solomon
Found Near Southern Wall of Temple Mount
in Hebrew University Excavations

Jerusalem, July 10, 2013 —Working near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city.The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city’s history.

Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE.

A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

The discovery will be announced in a paper by Dr. Mazar, Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Dr. David Ben-Shlomo of the Hebrew University, following their extensive research on the artifact. Prof. Ahituv studied the inscription and Dr. Ben-Shlomo studied the composition of the ceramic materials. The paper, “An Inscribed Pithos From the Ophel,” appears in the Israel Exploration Journal 63/1 (2013).

Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar displays a jar fragment unearthed near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount bearing an inscription in the Canaanite language. Dated to the tenth century BCE, it is the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Oria Tadmor)

The inscription was engraved near the edge of the jar before it was fired, and only a fragment of it has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same type. The fragments were used to stabilize the earth fill under the second floor of the building they were discovered in, which dates to the Early Iron IIA period (10thcentury BCE).  An analysis of the jars’ clay composition indicates that they are all of a similar make, and probably originate in the central hill country near Jerusalem.

According to Prof. Ahituv, the inscription is not complete and probably wound around the jar’s shoulder, while the remaining portion is just the end of the inscription and one letter from the beginning. The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.

Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to mqphn, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription’s meaning is unknown.

The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.

Excavations at the site are conducted in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the East Jerusalem Development Company. The site is in the national park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, near the southern wall of the Temple Mount compound. The Israel Antiquities Authority maintains the excavation site as a national park open to the public.

The excavations are made possible through a generous donation by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York. Participants in the dig include Israeli students and workers, along with students or alumni of Herbert W. Armstrong College sent to Jerusalem from Edmond, Oklahoma to participate in the excavation.

For more information:
Dov Smith

Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison
02-5882844 / 054-8820860 (+ 972-54-8820860)

Here also is a YouTube clip featuring Eilat Mazar and Shmuel Ahituv talking about the inscription and their understanding of it as a Canaanite (non-Hebrew) text.


Christopher Rollston has given his own analysis. I also have some further thoughts in light of his.

Gershon Galil also elaborates on his own suggestion.

Aren Maeir also gives his preliminary perspective.

A word of caution about Khirbet Qeiyafa

Christopher Rollston writes a very sensible piece on the ASOR blog cautioning us to take proper stock of what the archaeological evidence coming out of Khirbet Qeiyafa does and does not tell us. Looking particularly at the Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon and the various theories about what it says, he urges for logically restricting our firm conclusions to the specific evidence before us. It sounds like Chris is just stating the obvious, and to an extent he is. But given the excitement with which artifactual evidence coming out of the ground in the Middle East can be greeted, and the flames of speculation that it often fans (cf. last week’s announcement of the box shrines from Khirbet Qeiyafa), it’s sage advice.  There must be congruence between the scope of the evidence and what we make of it, without feeling the need to fill the gaps in our knowledge with what we’d like to be there. Let the evidence say what is says—no more, and no less. Possibilities can and should be stated, so long as we remember that they are possibilities, not confirmed actualities. He writes:

…the decisive manner in which the site of Qeiyafa has been associated with a particular king or a particular “kingdom” (e.g., David) is pressing the data much harder than I would.  Or, to put it another way, even if we could contend that this site was Judean or Israelite, could we definitively state that it is to be associated with a particular king of one of these states?  I would suggest that without decisive epigraphic evidence, the answer must be no.  Rather, we must be content to refer to some possibilities, and to leave it at that.

[…]In the final analysis, it must be said that there is a sincere human desire on the part of scholars to fill the gaps in our data, to fill in the lacunae.  That is honest and it is sincere.  Nevertheless, it is also imperative that we attempt to be sober, disinterested scholars, restricting our conclusions to the data at hand…That is, it is imperative that a concerted effort be made to avoid going further than the data would allow.

You can click HERE to access the whole article.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon

More on the finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa

After another perusal of a somewhat difficult to decipher précis of yesterday’s (May 8th) news conference, it may be that Garfinkel and Ganor are not arguing for two distinct Arks of God. Rather, they are probably claiming that there was just one Ark, with the boxes revealed yesterday being replicas in miniature. Even so, the connection between these two artefacts and the Ark is still quite tenuous in my opinion. I’m just not convinced.

Tom Verenna argues fairly convincingly against the theory put forward yesterday by Garfinkel and Ganor. He argues that the two boxes are not mini-replicas of the Ark, but rather represent a type of portable shrine that probably housed a small idol (eg. of Asherah). His blog post is well worth reading and includes images (excuse the pun) of comparable portable shrines discovered previously.

Aren Maeir, excavator at Tell es-Safi (Gath), also speaks some sense in an article by Times of Israel. To quote from the article:

Model shrines of the type presented Tuesday have been found at many other sites belonging to other local cultures, and their similarity to Temple architecture as described in the Bible has already been noted, said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, who leads a dig at the ruins of the nearby Philistine city of Gath. And the existence of lions and birds on the clay model undermine the claim that no figures of people or animals have been found at Qeiyafa, he said.

Aren Maeir in 2002

Aren Maeir

Qeiyafa indeed appears to have been inhabited by Israelites, Maeir said, but the cultural lines among the various peoples of the Land of Israel at that time, he said, were “fuzzier than the way they are often described.”

The new finds do not prove conclusively who residents were or provide dramatic new evidence for any side in the ongoing dispute among biblical archaeologists, he said.

“There’s no question that this is a very important site, but what exactly it was — there is still disagreement about that,” Maeir said.

Finally, here is a nice photo of all three artefacts presented publicly in Jerusalem yesterday.

The Ark of God found at Khirbet Qeiyafa?

No, the Ark of God hasn’t been found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. But at a press conference this morning, Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, presented some artefacts that they think are related to the Ark of God in some way. However, as you’ll see, at this stage I’m a little sceptical about their claim.

So what did they announce? Well, Garfinkel and Ganor presented three artefacts: two small boxes, one of stone and the other of clay, and a fragmentary stone artefact that looks like some kind of cultic stand. They were discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which is a single stratum fortification in the Valley of Elah (30 kms southwest of Jerusalem) dating to c.1000 BC. It’s a significant archaeological site because it gives us a window onto life in the region at the beginning of the Iron II period, and some would argue bolsters the claim for the historicity of a monarchy under David and Solomon. The two boxes presented are, according to Garfinkel and Ganor, miniature models of the Ark of God. They were among a cache of artefacts discovered within three large rooms that appear to have been shrine installations at the site. Amongst the other objects found were five standing stones (or massebot), two basalt altars (was one of these the third artefact displayed at the press conference?), and two clay vessels for libations.

The two boxes found at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which Garfinkel and Ganor claim are miniature models of the Ark of God.

Below is an excerpt from Demotix relating some of the details given at the press conference (you can go to their website for their full story):

The three shrines are part of larger building complexes. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples—separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. The biblical tradition described this phenomenon in the time of King David: “He brought the ark of God from a private house in Kyriat Yearim and put it in Jerusalem in a private house” (2 Samuel 6).

The cult objects include five standing stones (Massebot), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.

Two portable shrines (or “shrine models”) were found, one made of pottery (ca. 20 cm high) and the other of stone (35 cm high). These are boxes in the shape of temples, and could be closed by doors.

The clay shrine is decorated with an elaborate façade, including two guardian lions, two pillars, a main door, beams of the roof, folded textile and three birds standing on the roof. Two of these elements are described in Solomon’s Temple: the two pillars (Yachin and Boaz) and the textile (Parochet).

The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements. The first are seven groups of roof-beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the “triglyph,” is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone, a landmark in world architecture.

The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of doors or windows is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. This was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.

The stone model helps us to understand obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kings 7, 1-6. The text uses the term “Slaot,” [צלעות] which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs. The text also uses the term “Sequfim” [שקפים], which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as “triple recessed doorway.”

Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6, Verses 5, 31-33, and in the description of a temple by the prophet Ezekiel 41:6). These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia. Now, with the help of the stone model uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the biblical text is clarified. For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.


My first impression is that we have here some excellent examples of the religious practices at the beginning of Iron II, and they seem to be similar to what we have found at other Iron II religious sites throughout Judah, Samaria, Jezreel, and Galilee. But at the same time, I think Garfinkel and Ganor may be reading too much into these artefacts. To say that these boxes are miniatures of the Ark of God is a claim that can only be made with reference to the descriptions of the Ark in biblical literature. This raises a methodological issue as to whether they are letting the biblical text colour their thinking of ordinary artefacts. But besides that, the boxes don’t seem to resemble the descriptions of the Ark very closely.

Now this is where things get a little hazy with the reports. Garfinkel and Ganor perhaps realise the discrepancy between these two boxes and the description of the Ark in the Bible. And so, it appears that they are arguing that the biblical description of the Ark is based on a ‘desert’ Ark, but that the Ark in use in Solomon’s day was different somehow. If this is indeed what Garfinkel and Ganor are arguing, then it seems to be an argument based on silence. There is nothing other than their tentative suggestion that these boxes are Ark miniatures to suggest that there was more than one Ark of God. I’m afraid this sounds like cart-before-the-horse kind of logic. I’m just not convinced.

Furthermore, Garfinkel and Ganor point to similarities between the carvings on these boxes and the description of Solomon’s temple. Yet, if one follows the biblical narratives, Solomon’s temple is at least a generation later than these artefacts, in which case, the boxes are not demonstrating specifically biblical artistic motifs, but rather generic religious motifs evident throughout the wider region. The connection with Solomon’s temple is, therefore, weakened. Thus, it seems a bit of a stretch to go basing clarifications of some of the architectural terms in the Hebrew narrative of 1 Kings based solely on these boxes.

What is missing from the reports so far is a detailed description of how these boxes were found. These details would perhaps give us more of an insight into their function and help us to evaluate more precisely Garfinkel and Ganor’s thesis. Until then, they’re just nicely crafted boxes found at a religious installation dating to c.1000 BC. I’d love them to have some kind of connection to Solomon’s temple, but I’m just not convinced of one at this stage. At this stage, it looks more like wishful thinking than probability. I’m certainly willing to be swayed, but we need more information.

What these artefacts do seem to confirm for us is that there is a significant religious installation in the Valley of Elah during a time when some scholars are questioning the existence of a Kingdom of Judah/Israel. These finds by no means prove that such a kingdom existed. However, they do suggest some kind of organised or official religion. Just how official (local, district, realm, or regional) is unknown. But it points to some kind of organisation in religion on the fringes of Judah in c.1000 BC. The single-stratum nature of Khirbet Qeiyafa is quite critical in discerning this. These wares are not merely hangovers from previous eras, but objects and installations produced specifically at the beginning of Iron II. In other words, some kind of ruling authority was operative in this area, and it seems more and more to have been different from the Philistines just a stone’s throw away.

The most likely explanations for this state of affairs are that either there was a localised authority in the Shephelah region (cf. David Ussishkin’s perspective), or someone up in the highlands of Judah had a hand in this. Are the spotlights converging on us finding the kingdom of David in archaeology? Well, if there was a House of David (which I argue is another name for Jerusalem) that could be a player on the international stage in c.800 BC as per the Tel Dan Inscription, and there is an organising authority in the Valley of Elah in c.1000 BC, it’s not inconceivable that the two entities could end up aligning, such that we eventually have some strong evidence for a Kingdom of Judah in the time of David and Solomon. However, we don’t have that yet. Even with these artefacts announced today, we have not confirmed that the two entities do align. We must await further archaeological evidence to fill in the two-century gap between Khirbet Qeiyafa (c.1000 BC) and the Tel Dan Inscription (c.800 BC) before we can make a call either way on that.

UPDATE: Some more comments on the finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa can be found HERE.

Upcoming Press Conference about Finds Relating to David, Solomon, and the Temple

A Media Release has been issued:
On Tuesday, May 8, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will hold a press conference and private tour to announce all-new findings related to the time of Kings David and Solomon, including presentation of artifacts never before seen by the public related to construction of Solomon’s temple and palace.
The findings relate to the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa—a site that has led to a storm of debate about the origins of the kingdom of Judah. It’ll be interesting to see what is announced tomorrow.

Khirbet Qeiyafa