During the past 30 years, the biblical narrative relating to the establishment of a kingdom in Biblical Judah has been much debated. Were David and Solomon historical rulers of an urbanized state-level society in the early 10th century BC, or was this level of social development reached only at the end of the 8th century BC, 300 years later? Recent excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the first early Judean city to be dated by 14C, clearly indicate a well planned fortified city in Judah as early as the late 11th-early 10th centuries BC. This new data has far reaching implication for archaeology, history and biblical studies.
Khirbet Qeiyafa is located ca. 30 km southwest of Jerusalem, on the summit of a hill that borders the Elah Valley on the north. This is a key strategic location in the biblical Kingdom of Judah, on the main road from Philistia and the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem and Hebron in the hill country.
The city has the most impressive First Temple period fortifications, including casemate city wall and two gates, one in the west and the other in the south. The gates are of identical size, and consist of four chambers. This is the only known city from the First Temple period with two gates.
The urban planning of Khirbet Qeiyafa includes the casemate city wall and a belt of houses abutting the casemates, incorporating them as part of the construction. Such urban planning has not been found at any Canaanite or Philistine city, nor in the northern Kingdom of Israel, but is a typical feature of city planning in Judean cities. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example of this city plan and indicates that this pattern had already been developed by the time of King David.
At the close of the seventh season of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the Hebrew University Professor Yosef Garfinkel and IAA archaeologist Saar Ganor announced the discovery of “the two largest buildings known to have existed in the tenth century B.C.E. in the Kingdom of Judah” with great fanfare. One of these buildings is a centrally located 100-foot-long palatial structure decorated with elegant imported vessels. Garfinkel siad that “there is no question that the ruler of the city sat here, and when King David came to visit the hills he slept here.” The other structure, a pillared storeroom, features hundreds of storage jars “stamped with an official seal as was customary in the Kingdom of Judah for centuries” .
Tel Aviv University’s Israel Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin published an article calling this an unsensational archaeological and historical interpretation critiquing Garfinkel’s methods, chronology and interpretations.
Khirbet Qeiyafa has produced numerous exciting and controversial finds that have kept the Biblical archaeology world buzzing. Overlooking the Valley of Elah in the Judean foothills, the fortified Judahite site of Qeiyafa, on the border with the Philistines, has produced persuasive evidence to support the kingship of David at the beginning of Iron Age II, when the Bible says he ruled. The unique presence of two gates at the site has led Garfinkel to identify it as Biblical Sha’arayim, which means “two gates” in Hebrew.
The 2008 discovery of the Qeiyafa Ostracon has captivated the attention of epigraphers and archaeologists alike, and the diversity of translations and interpretations have simultaneously kept the sherd from Khirbet Qeiyafa in the spotlight and shrouded in mystery. The highly regarded French epigrapher Émile Puech provides one of the most groundbreaking interpretations, presenting the Qeiyafa Ostracon as the earliest text on the formation of the Kingdom of Israel and the only artifact referencing King Saul.