Tel Qeiyafa – חורבת קייאפה A Revolutionary Archaeological Mound
The digs on this historical mound have created a revolution in Israeli archaeology with academic as well as political repercussions. The only known Judahite fortified city dating to the time of Saul and David, Khirbet Qeiyafa has reshaped debates on urbanism during the early Israelite monarchy. Put it on your must list.
Khirbet Qeiyafa is located ca. 30 km southwest of Jerusalem, on the summit of a hill that borders the Elah Valley on the north. The nearest village is Kibbutz Netiv Ha-Lamed Hei. 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 was constructed on bedrock, 2.3 hectares in area, surrounded by massive fortifications of megalithic stones.
The Archaeological excavations were led by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Mr. Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority). The city has the most impressive First Temple period fortifications, including an 800 meter 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. Prof. Garfinkel concludes that this is the Biblical city of Sha’arayim, which name means “two gates”, which were actually found in the excavations. The city of Sha’arayim (“two gates”) was one of the cities of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15: 20, 35-36): “This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Judah according to their families…. Socoh, and Azekah, And Sharaim,…”.
In this area one of the world’s most famous battles took place, the battle between David and Goliath. The city also appeared in the Biblical account of the aftermath of the battle between David and Goliath of Gath. (1 Samuel 17: 52) “And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron”.
The West Gate
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This is not the first time archaeologists have announced what they believe to be evidence of the figure. In 2008, Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar said that she found what she believed to be King David’s palace in an ancient area of Jerusalem by using Biblical descriptions to guide her excavations. However, the Times of Israel notes that Mazar’s findings remain controversial.
The Southern Gate
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: Beersheba, Tell Beit Mirsim, Tell en-Nasbeh and Tell Beth-Shemesh. 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. This conclusion has drawn academic critique by Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University.
Our Guide, Uriel Feinerman
Thus, during five excavation seasons (2007-2011), very rich assemblages of stone tools and metal objects were found, as well as many cultic objects, scarabs, seals and pottery of Iron Age (early 10th century BCE) and Hellenistic period.
The most famous discovery is the “Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon”, an inscription written with ink on a pottery shard. 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.