Interview with Yosef Garfinkel Director of the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations and Professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University

An archaeologist who excavates a biblical site which is mentioned in the Bible, but ignores the relevant biblical information is like an archaeologist who doesn't collect the all pottery shards or animals bones from his excavation.

See Also: Data, Paradigms and Paradigm-Collapse Trauma: from Biblical Archaeology to Brutal Biblical Archaeology

By Eldad Keynan
Bar Ilan
September 2013

1. Did the press run with the title 'David's house at Qeiyafa'? Or did you say this?

We said it's a central administrative building, a palace that served King David's administration in the city and the entire Judean low lands. Figures like high ranked commanders and officials who ran the kingdom lived here. A kingdom is not an abstract, but a social organization with geographical and physical aspects. Building fortified cities according to a well defined plan is well known in Judah. This planning includes the casemate city wall and a belt of houses abutting the casemates and incorporating them as part of the construction. This typical city planning is known in the cities of Khirbet Qeiyafa, Beersheba, Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell en-Nasbeh and Tel Beth-Shemesh. Who planned and organized the building processes, with complicated aspects of manpower, engineering skills, food supply and budget? Who collected taxes, kept them, and then sent supply to the different location in which it was needed? Such a system must have offices, warehouses, roads, beasts of burden for transportation and literacy. In Khirbet Qeiyafa we've found a central structure in which all these requirements have been organized. This is the reason we call it "a palace". When we look at the structure's functionality, Qeiyafa palace is similar to the Kings of Judah palace that has been unearthed in Lachish.

Clearly, this structure was not the private house of King David and his wives and children; such a palace was located in Jerusalem. But when King David was traveling across the Kingdom once in a while, to see that all is running well, he certainly slept there a few nights every year.

2. Why do you think this building is a palace?

We have three reasons to call this building "a palace".

A. Location: it located in the central and highest point in the site, thus it is the best observation point over the city and its close and remote vicinity. From this palace one can see Ashdod in the west and the mountains of Jerusalem and Hebron in the east.

B. The structure's size: about 1000 square meters. Unfortunately, in the Byzantine period (1,400 years later) a fortified farmhouse was built exactly in the same spot, and destroyed much of the building. Nevertheless, the preserved part runs 30 meters from corner to corner in the south. In addition there are some preserved parts in the west and north, and when they are all put together we get the largest known building of this period in Israel.

C. Thickness of walls: The buildings' walls are much thicker comparing to the walls of the other buildings in the city. It is at least twice as thick. Thus, this central building had two or three floor levels.

All these aspects are more than just architecture: it is a statement of power. The building symbolized the authority of the kingdom and the new social order. The large and high structure in the center of the city makes it very clear who controls the city and its vicinity, who is the landlord.

3. How do you answer your detractors when they call this old time Biblical Archaeology?

In the past, sites have been excavated and dated according to Biblical traditions. Thus circular situations have been created. Yadin, for instance, dated the six chamber gates in Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer to King Solomon's time, since the Bible described buildings activities in these cities in his time. Thus, archaeological remains were dated according to the Bible, and then the physical finds matched the text.

We work differently. Dating the city of Khirbet Qeiyafa is based on 10 olive pits, tested in Oxford University. This is an objective method which is not dependent on biblical traditions. The city ethnic identification is based on the data. We clearly have a belt of houses abutting the casemate city-wall and incorporating them with each other. This city planning is known only in Judah. This urban planning was not found in any Canaanite, Philistine or northern Israelite city. So where is the biblical text in all this?

Our initial interpretations are not dependent upon the biblical traditions. Only at a later stage do we use the Bible. So what do we have at hand?

A. We have according to scientific dating a site dated to the time of King David.

B. We have a fortified city with typical Judean urban planning.

C. We do not have pig bones at all, which characterized Philistine sites west of Qeiyafa.

D. We do not have nude female figurines which characterized Canaanites or sites in the northern Kingdom of Israel.

E. We are only one day walk from Jerusalem.

F. We are on the Valley of Elah, just 12 km from Tell es-Safi (Philistine Gath).

G. Khirbet Qeiyafa was heavily fortified.

H. The site was destroyed a short time after its construction, perhaps 30 years later.

I. Many iron and bronze weapons were uncovered in the destroyed city.

According to the biblical text there were many battles in the Valley of Elah between the Philistines and the David, or the Kingdom of Judah. I think that Khirbet Qeiyafa indicates that, indeed, this region was an area of constant conflict between the Kingdom of Judah and the Philistine city state of Gath. Is this "old time Biblical Archaeology"?

We can't ignore the Biblical tradition in this case. It deals with the same time period and the same geographical location. It is on our table and tells us about the era and place we are researching. It's an information source we have to study, analyze, and from which we have to draw conclusions. An archaeologist who excavates a biblical site which is mentioned in the Bible, but ignores the relevant biblical information is like an archaeologist who doesn't collect all the pottery shards or animals bones from his excavation.

4. Do you believe you have permanently damaged minimalist theories on the history of Judah?

Yes I do! Before the Qeiyafa excavation we didn't know any Judean fortified city from King David's times. Even in Jerusalem, no such clear stratum has been found. There was, therefore, a logical base to a large part of the minimalists' arguments. But now the situation has been changed completely. Now we do have a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. And if there is one, there are probably others waiting to be exposed. Scholars who refuse to accept the new data lose their will and become out-of-date dinosaurs.

5. What is the latest research concerning the Qeifaya ostracon? (More on the ostacon

The shard was the focus of more than ten different articles in many languages: Hebrew, Dutch, English, German and Polish. The basic details set by our epigraphist, Haggy Misgav, are still valid. The shard is inscribed in a Semitic language, written from left to right, while the upper line is on the edge of the ostracon. One may turn the ostracon upside down and read the upper line as the lower one, and switch the reading direction from right to left. Yet such a reading yields no meaning, thus no scholar suggests doing so.

6. Can you explain why there are no other examples of writing at this site?

During the last years similar inscriptions from Jerusalem and Beth Shemesh have been published. Thus we learn that by the end of the 11th and during the 10th centuries BCE literacy was much more common than what we believed until now.

7. What can you say about burials? How many graves have you found?

We didn't find even a single grave within the city boundaries. Similarly, we didn't find even one skeleton in the destruction stratum of the city. I assume there was a graveyard outside the city. Hopefully, archaeologists will find it someday, if graves robbers do not do so earlier.

8. Do you believe that Qeiyafa has settled the issue of dating for the 10th century?

The answer is yes. We have 10 radiometric (14 Carbon) samples testifying that the site is dated 1020-980 BCE. Any manipulation within this time frame will take the dating a few decades up or down. So what? Nothing will change. One way or another, we do have a fortified city, in Judea, from the time of King David.

We must not forget that the minimalist central argument was that urbanization in Judah began only at the end of the 8th century BCE; that is 300 years after Khirbet Qeiyafa. Qeiyafa clearly shows that urbanization in the area began already at the end of the 11th century BCE, the time of King David.

9. What other aspects do you think Qeiyafa contains that are important but have not been reported in the press?

The economic picture is important. We do have evidence of a wide range of economical connections in the Levant. First, commercial contact with the Philistines in the west; there was the importation of decorated pottery and stone tools from places on the Mediterranean shore, 15-25 km away. There is evidence of basalt tools imported in large numbers, maybe from Transjordan or north Israel, distances of ca. 100 km. Bronze was imported also, including copper and tin ingots. The copper mines in the Araba are ca. 200 km away from Qeiyafa. Cyprus made pottery have been imported. We have Egyptian scarabs and alabaster tools. As we can see, Qeiyafa was a powerful economic center, able to draw in a variety of products and exotic merchandise from long distances.

10. How much more of the site can be excavated?

We have excavated about 30% of the site, and about 30% of it is naturally exposed bedrock. So there are only 40% or so to excavate in the future. This portion is located mainly in the peripheral areas adjacent to the city walls. Our expedition closed the field work and now it will concentrate on studying and analyzing the data, and writing the final excavation reports.

We are moving to Tel Lachish. During the summer of 2013 we already made a short field season of five days, to test a few potential areas for excavations. During the Summer of 2014 we will excavate Tel Lachish on a large scale. All are invited to join and help!!

Storage Area at Qeiyafa.
Storage Area at Qeiyafa.








Comments (7)

Thank you for putting this comment in your first answer: "But when King David was traveling across the Kingdom once in a while, to see that all is running well, he certainly slept there a few nights every year." From that, I was certain that I wouldn't read the rest, so you saved me some time and exasperation.

#1 - Mark Erickson - 09/17/2013 - 02:50

I am puzzled as to how Garfinkel can say he is working differently from old-style Biblical Archaeology when he assumes from the outset that the biblical King David existed. I am also puzzled by his poor understanding of minimalism and have already corrected him on this in an earlier contribution to this site. But he doesn't seem to read anything other than the Bible to inform his work.

#2 - philip davies - 09/17/2013 - 07:53

Biblical minimalists come from the perspective that the Bible is not true and can't be trusted. The other side of the coin is those who believe the Bible is true and can be trusted. Two opposite mindsets. Funny how some people won't even read the rest of an article because one statement early in it sets up a criteria of closed mindedness. The data Garfinkel has found isn't set in concrete so to say but all the evidence certainly points in one direction when looked at as a whole.

#3 - David K - 09/22/2013 - 01:14

Is there really a 'minimalist position' regarding settlement in the Shephelah?
I wish I had a clear reference for Garfinkel's statement: "We must not forget that the minimalist central argument was that urbanization in Judah began only at the end of the 8th century BCE; that is 300 years after Khirbet Qeiyafa."
This is not an argument of any minimalism I recognize.
I have written about Iron I and the Judean highlands and about Jerusalem in both Iron I and Iron II, but the assumption that Khirbet Qeiyafa was part of a 10th century kingdom, let alone part ofthe Assyrian period patronage kingdom of Judah of the 8th century, is a bit more than we know. I think Garfinkel's biblical archaeology is quite far from either David or minimalism. He should find another way of raising funds.

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

#4 - Thomas L. Thompson, Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen - 09/29/2013 - 19:20

" He should find another way of raising funds.

Thomas L. Thompson "

Instead of giving a single response, or refutaion, Thompson resorts to personal meanness, a trait not uncommon in his group.

Uri Hurwitz

#5 - Uri Hurwitz - 09/30/2013 - 16:35

Great article Eldad! I'm pleased to see you making a good noisy ruckus in the hallowed halls. I envy you your access to Israeli soil.


#6 - Nathaniel Merritt MetD - 10/22/2013 - 21:03

Excellent article. Mr Keynan always makes his subject matter interesting.

#7 - Tao Jones - 09/14/2016 - 19:20

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.