For the first time, archaeologists have delved into the lives of ancient Biblical kings – exploring a shrine that pre-dates Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by three or four decades.
It’s the first evidence of a Judaic religion in the area at the time of King David – with the inhabitants of the ruins observing a ban on pork and on ‘graven images’ of animals or humans.
Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University excavated at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, and found pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects.
Because these shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years, they provide the first physical evidence of a Judaic religion in the time of King David.
The implications are huge – for archaeologists, biblical experts and the religious.
Located approximately 18 miles. southwest of Jerusalem in the valley of Elah, Khirbet Qeiyafa was a border city of the Kingdom of Judah opposite the Philistine city of Gath.
The city, which was dated by 10 radiometric measurements (14C) done at Oxford University on burned olive pits, existed for a short period of time between ca. 1020 to 980 BCE, and was violently destroyed.
The biblical tradition presents the people of Israel as conducting a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East by being monotheistic and an-iconic (banning human or animal figures).
However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if indeed during the time of the monarchy (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.
The absence of cultic images of humans or animals in the three shrines provides evidence that the inhabitants of the place practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines, observing a ban on graven images.
The findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa also indicate that an elaborate architectural style had developed as early as the time of King David.
Such construction is typical of royal activities, thus indicating that state formation, the establishment of an elite, social level and urbanism in the region existed in the days of the early kings of Israel.
These finds strengthen the historicity of the biblical tradition and its architectural description of the Palace and Temple of Solomon.
According to Prof. Garfinkel, ‘This is the first time that archaeologists uncovered a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. Even in Jerusalem we do not have a clear fortified city from his period. Thus, various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong.’ Garfinkel continued,
‘Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found. This suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans—on pork and on graven images—and thus practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines.’