Khirbet Qeiyafa (credit: Professor Jon Waybright)

Now, my son, the LORD be with thee; and prosper thou, and build the house of the LORD thy God, as he hath said of thee. – 1 Chronicles 2

Last week in Part 1 we studied the location of the archaeological site Khirbet Qeiyafa, the history of the people, the construction of the walls, and discovery of royal buildings and pottery with an inscription. All these artifacts, gathered over seven seasons of excavation pointed archaeologists towards a city built by King David. As one of the archaeologists noted, the moment that Khirbet Qeiyafa was discovered, it was no longer a myth. Tradition doesn’t come out of thin air. Does additional evidence affirm this?

Charred olive pits from Khirbet Qeiyafa, which were used to date the site, on display at The Bible Lands Museum, September 2016. (Oded Antman/Bible Lands Museum)

The excavation began with this discovery of some iron shards at the the site. But what took center stage was the smallest artifacts recovered. The charred afterthoughts of a meal; olive pits. While there is some controversy over the accuracy of carbon dating, it is worth noting that when tested the olive pits were dated to sometime between 1020 and 980 BC. Using conventional dating, this would place the city in the early Iron age and biblically align with the time of David.

Another exciting discovery were pieces of crushed limestone. When it was reassembled it revealed something remarkable. As reported in the Times of Israel, “…three model shrines found at the site, one bearing pillars flanking the entrance similar to elements of the Jerusalem temple and tiny lions guarding the doorway. But it’s a limestone model shrine found smashed to pieces, bearing architectural stylings but neither statues nor decoration, that bears a haunting similarity to the biblical description of Solomon’s Temple. While it likely doesn’t depict the First Temple itself, Garfinkel says this ‘most amazing find’ has architectural features described in the Book of Kings — triglyph roof beams and a recessed doorway — that offer a better understanding of how the Jerusalem shrine may have appeared.” The limestone piece also bears inscriptions that researchers at the site label as “Canaanite.” One of these inscriptions has a name found in the Biblical story of David.

Yosef Garfinkel with a shrine model made of stone, found at Khirbet Qeiyafa (Courtesy of Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

A 10th century inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa with the name Ishba’al. From right to left: aleph, shin, bet, ayin, lamed. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

In addition to the smaller artifact, detail in the large walls caught one researchers attention. Early on, one gate (now called the Western gate) had been discovered which is typical for a fortified city. No other excavated city in this region had more than one gate. However, when a second gate was discovered, the evidence once again pointed to a city mentioned in the Bible from the time of David.

An amatuer who also contributed in financing part of the excavation, Joseph Silver, made the discovery. He was closely examining the southern wall and thought it needed a further look. Convinced there was a gate, he insisted Garfinkel and Ganor take another look. They determined that, yes, this was a gate that had been later filled in.

Khirbet Qeiyafa, The southern city gate, Israel (photo credit/courtesy: Kobi Zilberstein)

As Jay Wile notes, the Old Testament references a city with this description three different times (Joshua 15:36, 1 Samuel 17:52, and 1 Chronicles 4:31). “It is called ‘Shaaraim,’ and in Hebrew, that means ‘two gates.’ This excavation is in a location consistent with how Shaaraim is mentioned in the Old Testament, and it has been dated to the corresponding time period. In addition, since the excavation is the only one from that time period with two gates, this gives strong supporting archaeological evidence for those passages in the Old Testament. Most likely, then, the excavation known as Khirbat Qeiyafa is an excavation of the Biblical city of Shaaraim!”

And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron.- 1 Samuel 17:52 (ESV)

As noted in the Times of Israel, the lead archaeologists agree. Hebrew University archaeologists Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor, who began excavating the fortified city’s ruins in 2007, contend that given the unusual discovery of two gates it may be the biblical town of Shaaraim. The absence of pig bones or a central cultic shrine or graven images, the profusion of iron objects, and the discovery of proto-Israelite writing at the site point to it being occupied by Judeans before its destruction sometime in the early 10th century.

The second, southern gate is the key to identifying Qeiyafa with Biblical Shaaraim, Hebrew for “two gates.” (photo credit/courtesy: SkyView)

© Copyright 2007, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Furthermore it is situated between the ancient sites of Socoh and Azekah, on the border between the Philistines and the Judeans, where the biblical narratives place the battle between David and Goliath; with one gate pointing towards Philistia and the other opening down to the Elah Valley that eventually connects to Jerusalem, solid evidence that Khirbet Qeiyafa is the biblical city of Shaaraim.