|Alternate name||Elah fortress|
|Periods||Iron Age, Hellenistic|
|Excavation dates||2007 –|
|Archaeologists||Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor|
|Website||Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological Project|
Site and excavation history
Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa began in 2007, directed by Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew Universityand Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and continued in 2008. Nearly 600 square metres (6,500 sq ft) of an Iron Age IIA city were unearthed. Based on pottery styles and two burned olive pits tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University, Garfinkel and Ganor have dated the site to 1050–970 BC, although Israel Finkelstein contends evidence points to habitation between 1050 and 915 BC.
The initial excavation by Ganor and Garfinklel took place from August 12 to 26, 2007 on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology. In their preliminary report at the annual ASOR conference on November 15, they presented a theory that the site was the BiblicalAzekah, which until then had been exclusively associated with Tell Zakariya. In 2008, after the discovery of a second gate, they identified the site as the biblical Sha'arayim ("two gates" in Hebrew).[2
Discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa are significant to the debate about the veracity of the biblical account of the United Monarchy at the beginning of Iron Age II. As no archaeological finds were found that could corroborate claims of the existence of a magnificent biblical kingdom, various scholars have advanced the opinion that the kingdom was no more than a small tribal entity. Garfinkel, who said in 2010 that the debate could not "be answered by the Qeiyafa excavations", is of the opinion that "what is clear, however, is that the kingdom of Judah existed already as a centrally organized state in the tenth century B.C.E"  In addition to Garfinkel's theory there are two other hypotheses: one, supported by Nadav Na’aman and Ido Koch holds the ruins to be Canaanite, based on strong similarities with the nearby Canaanite excavations at Beit Shemesh. The third hypothesis, advanced by Israel Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin, maintains that the site shows affiliations with a North Israelite entity.
Elah fortress walls
Yehuda Dagan of the Israel Antiquities Authority also disagrees with the identification as Sha'arayim. Dagan believes the ancient Philistine retreat route after their defeat in the battle at the Valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17:52), more likely identifies Sha'arayim with the remains of Khirbet esh-Shari'a. Dagan proposes that Khirbet Qeiyafa be identified with biblical Adithaim (Joshua 15:36).
The fortifications at Khirbet Qeiyafa predate those of contemporary Lachish, Beersheba, Arad, andTimnah. All these sites have yielded pottery dated to early Iron Age II. The parallel valley to the north, mentioned in Samuel I, runs from the Philistine city of Ekron to Tel Beit Shemesh. The city gate of the Elah Fortress faces west with a path down to the road leading to the sea, and was thus named "Gath Gate" or "Sea Gate." The 23-dunam (5.7-acre) site is surrounded by a casement wall and fortifications. The top layer of the fortress shows that the fortifications were renewed in the Hellenistic period.
Garfinkel suggests that it was a Judean city with 500–600 inhabitants during the reign of David andSolomon. Based on pottery finds at Qeiyafa and Gath, archaeologists believe the sites belonged to two distinct ethnic groups. "The finds have not yet established who the residents were," says Aren Maeir, a Bar Ilan University archaeologist digging at Gath. "It will become more clear if, for example, evidence of the local diet is found. Excavations have shown that Philistines ate dogs and pigs, while Israelites did not. The nature of the ceramic shards found at the site suggest residents might have been neither Israelites nor Philistines but members of a third, forgotten people." Evidence that the city was not Philistine comes from the private houses that abut the city wall, an arrangement that was not used in Philistine cities. There is also evidence of equipment for baking flat bread and hundreds of bones from goats, cattle, sheep, and fish. Significantly, no pig bones have been uncovered, suggesting that the city was not Philistine.Nadav Na'aman of Tel Aviv University nevertheless associates it with Philistine Gath, citing the necessity for further excavations as well as evidence from Bet Shemesh whose inhabitants also avoided eating pork, yet were associated with Ekron. Na'aman proposed identification with the Philistine city of Gob.
The site, according to Garfinkel, has "a town plan characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites, e.g., Beit Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim and Beersheba. A casemate wall was built at all of these sites and the city’s houses next to it incorporated the casemates as one of the dwelling’s rooms. This model is not known from any Canaanite, Philistine or Kingdom of Israel site."
The site is massively fortified, "including the use of stones that weigh up to eight tons apiece."
"500 jar handles bearing a single finger print, or sometimes two or three, were found. Marking jar handles is characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah and it seems this practice has already begun in the early Iron Age IIA."<
Area "A" extended 5x5 metres and consists of two major layers: Hellenistic above, and Iron Age II below. Area "B" contains four squares, about 2.5 metres deep from top-soil to bedrock, and also features both Hellenistic and Iron Age layers. Surveys on the surface have also revealed sherds from the early and middle Bronze Ages, as well as from the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic, Mameluke and Ottoman periods.
The Hellenistic/upper portion of the wall was built with small rocks atop the Iron-II lower portion, consisting of big boulders in a casemate design. Part of a structure identified as a city gate was uncovered, and some of the rocks where the wall meets this gate are estimated to weigh 3 to 5tons. The lower phase was built of especially large stones, 1–3 meters long, and the heaviest of them weigh 3–5 tons. Atop these stones is a thin wall, c. 1.5 meters thick; small and medium size fieldstones were used in its construction. These two fortification phases rise to a height of 2–3 meters and standout at a distance, evidence of the great effort that was invested in fortifying the place.
Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription
Although the writing on the ostracon is poorly preserved and difficult to read, Émile Puech of theÉcole Biblique et Archéologique Française proposed that it be read:
- 1 Do not oppress, and serve God … despoiled him/her
- 2 The judge and the widow wept; he had the power
- 3 over the resident alien and the child, he eliminated them together
- 4 The men and the chiefs/officers have established a king
- 5 He marked 60 [?] servants among the communities/habitations/generations
Gershon Galil of Haifa University proposed the following translation:
- 1 you shall not do [it], but worship (the god) [El]
- 2 Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
- 3 [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
- 4 the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king
- 5 Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
Other readings are possible, however, and the official excavation report presented many possible reconstructions of the letters without attempting a translation. The inscription is written left to right in a script which is probably Early Alphabetic/Proto Phoenician, though Christopher Rollston and Demsky consider that it might be written vertically. Early Alphabetic differs from old Hebrew script and its immediate ancestor. Rollston also disputes the claim that the language is Hebrew, arguing that the words alleged to be indicative of Hebrew either appear in other languages or don't actually appear in the inscription.
Millard believes the language of the inscription is Hebrew, Canaanite, Phoenician or Moabite and it most likely consists of a list of names written by someone unused to writing. Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription was very important, as it is the longest Proto-Canaanite text ever found.
In 2010, the ostracon was placed on display in Iron Age gallery of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.