The Fortress on the Elah

­It looks like my access to Wi-Fi will be iffy for the next week.  So here is something for any who care about archeology and Israel’s history to chew on for a while.

In a couple recent posts I have provide links to George Athos and John Hobbins on new finds at a site in Israel called Khirbet Qeiyafa.  This site has provided a number of provocative finds.  By radio carbon dating confirmed by pottery the place seems to be a fortress from the 10th or 11th centery before Christ.  This was the time of kings Saul and David.  Some had questioned whether writing and literacy existed then in Israel.   But an ink inscription on a pottery shard has been found.  The writing has become pretty hard to read after all these centuries.  But it seems to be Old Hebrew and to say something about a judge and a king.  So there was writing and reading in the culture.

Professor Yosef Garfinkel announced this month new finds of religious objects. 

So does this site give us evidence for the truth of the Bible?  Garfinkel draws connections. 

Bible History Daily quotes him:

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’.”

But was it Judean and was it from the time of King David

The site is in the territory eventually recognized as Judah.  Judah was a work in progress, however, in the period in question.  Simeonites, Calebites, Kenites, and possibly some of the clans of Reuben became part of Judah around this time.  Whether Khirbet Qeiyafa was considered part of Judah at the time is not something we can know. 

The political situation that required a fortress city was a confrontation between the Sea People of Philistia and the Hill People the interior.  The Hill People might have been Judeans.  But they might also have been King Saul’s coalition of Giliad, Asher, Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin (2 Samuel 2:9).   They also might have been Canaanites. There were nearby independent Gibionite cites.  Until well into David’s reign, there was a Jebusite city state at Jerusalem.  All the Hill People probably avoided pork, so the absence of pig bones at Khirbet Qeiyafa doesn’t really tell us which group had the fortress city.

The pig bone thing does tell us this isn’t a Philistine city.  Gath was a few miles further down the Elah valley.  It was one of five Philistine city states.  Khirbet Qeiyafa seems have been a buffer against Gath.

The tradition was that David as the leader of an elite military group had once fought against the giants of Gath (2 Samuel 21:22 and 1 Samuel 17).  But King David seems to have reversed Saul’s foreign policy and made peace with Gath and Ammon, Saul’s enemies.  When David was a war lord rebelling against Saul, he found protection with Achish, the king of Gath (1 Samuel 27).  I don’t see any evidence that this relationship broke down when David became king.  In 2 Samuel 15:18 we learn that 600 soldiers from Gath backed David in the civil war with Absalom.

So with a nod to Baruch Halpern, I suggest that the Philistines were not monolithic. As king, David may have fought Ekron or other Philistine city states, perhaps even in league with Gath.

This suggests that Khirbet Qeiyafa as a buffer against Gath would not have been needed during David’s reign.  I understand that its time was only about 20 years.  Perhaps its demise came after Saul’s reign as a result of disarmament.

I am not proposing a cut-and-dried theory,  just trying to show that there are other possibilities.  I am looking forward to many making suggestions about the finds at  Khirbet Qeiyafa.  And I am looking forward to more finds. 

I am far from being a minimalist about the history of Israel.  But  that history has to be carefully discerned ­in a literature that isn’t itself history, but epic, poetry and theology.  I believe God has revealed himself in the history of Israel.  But a lot of people prematurely claiming that archeology proves the Bible have embarrassed themselves in the past.  So I hope people won’t exclude possibilities until we know much more. 

About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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1 Response to The Fortress on the Elah

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Hi David. Why would pig bones by absent from a hill country? I’m just curious. It’s been a while since I read the pros and cons of trying to identify settlements as Israelite.

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