The Rise of Ancient Israel, the book I just finished posting about, was from the early 1990‘s. Much has happened since then in terms of archeological finds in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria that bear upon the question. However, it is still hard to get a handle on the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. There is still no definitive answer for what Merneptah‘s scribe meant by Israel and the other questions from around -1200 and the Late Bronze Age collapse.
Avraham Faust has worked on a slightly later period to argue that Israel’s cultural rise was over against the Philistine people and culture.
But the most promising new material concerns the period around -1000, when the Kingdom of David supposedly arose.
A new article has just come my way through academia.edu: Y. Garfinkel 2017. “Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah: Data and Interpretations”. In S. Schroer and S. Münger (eds.) Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Shephelah. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 282, pp. 5–59. Fribourg: Academic Press.
Yoseph Garfinkel was the leader of the dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a well-preserved site 18 miles west of Jerusalem along the Elah river on the route to Philistine Gaza. What he has exposed is an ancient fortress city that must have been similar to fortress cities like Hebron and Jerusalem itself. The thing about this city, however, is that it only existed for a little while. According to Garfinkel the city came to an end by -970 and only existed for 20 or 30 years before that.
We do not know exactly, but David’s reign may have begun in Hebron in about -1010 . So Garfinkel estimates that Kherbet Qeiyafa existed in the later part of his reign. Along with Hebron and Jerusalem it would have constituted one of the three major military and administrative centers of his kingdom.
In a polemical section about different interpretations of the Davidic kingdom, Garfinkel speaks of postmodernist attempts to deconstruct that kingdom. First, there was an effort to claim the whole biblical account was written after -400 with no historical knowledge of the situation in -1000. He calls this the mythological interpretation. It fell apart when references to the House of David showed up in a Tel Dan inscription and probably in the Moabite inscription. Garfinkel ironically calls the mythological interpretation a “modern myth”.
The next phase was an attempt to change the chronology by 75 to 100 years in order to make David and Solomon just local tribal chiefs, rather than kings with a realm. This involved technical arguments about radio-carbon dating. But Garfinkel says it all fell apart because of his dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
The next fall-back position was to argue that Khirbet Qeiyafa was not a Judean site. The implication of Khirbet Qeiyafa is that it was an administrative center for a sophisticated polity. If that polity was Judah, then David and Solomon were more than war lords living in tents.
So some claimed, just on the basis of geography, that it was a Philistine site. However, this did not work as we discovered major differences between the material culture at Khirbet Qeiyafa and that uncovered in the dig at nearby Gath.
Some proposed that it was a center for some otherwise unknown Canaanite kingdom. Again, though, the material culture, especially the architecture and urban planning, does not resemble that of any Canaanite cities we know about.
Israel Finkelstein, still clinging to the low chronology and the primitive existence of Judah at the time, proposed that the site was an outpost of the Kingdom of Israel in the north. But Garfinkel compares the material culture found at Khirbet Qeiyafa with what we have found at sites in the north, particularly in the Jezreel Valley. He says that “small fortified field cities with casement city walls” have not been found in the area of the Kingdom of Israel during this period. Also, he questions the geopolitical and strategic value for northern Israel of putting a stronghold so far south.
Garfinkel then gives his interpretation of the fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa. First of all, it showed a kingdom seeking to control territory. This fortress blocked the approach to central Judah through the valley. The heavy fortification and the number of weapons found show that it was a military site. Also, the fact that it was soon destroyed shows that it stood in a contested and volatile area.
Second, it showed a kingdom that controlled a population. The main ways city states controlled the surrounding population were through conscription of labor and taxation. Garfinkel thinks the construction of the site involved much labor proving that the there was a state powerful enough to institute forced labor. Storage facilities at the site point to the gathering of goods from taxation. He found large storage jars, which he envisions leaving the city empty and returning full of produce confiscated from farmsteads and villages in the area.
I found his arguments from architecture most interesting. Not only does the city itself show a distinctive plan for walls and houses built out from them, but he found what he thinks is a small model shrine. This may show the architecture eventually applied to Solomon’s Temple. It has unique recessed windows and doorframes.. It shows that a particular style of urban architecture had developed in Judah by the 10th century, 150 years before we find examples of it in real royal buildings. This would have been quite an advance over William Dever’s “Canaanite” style in the villages of the 12th century.
If Garfinkel is at all on the right track with his interpretation, it raises historical questions for me. Just as Israel Finkelstein has a theory that questions the biblical united monarchy by minimizing Judah, Garfinkel questions the biblical scenario by minimizing the northern kingdom. Yet Garfinkel’s conclusions would point to the biblical writers actually having some historical information rather than composing purely literary stories. It is instructive of his view that he says the Bible locates the David and Goliath story near Khirbet Qeiyafa because it really was a point of conflict with the Philistines. However, he clearly does not think the story itself is historical.
So where does Khirbet Qeiyafa fit into the narrative texts? The scenario where David is there serving with Saul’s army is surely a misreading of the historical situation. What about the narrative that David became a servant and ally of Gath? There are references to David defeating the Philistines on certain occasions. But there are also references to Philistines serving in David’s army and body guard. There is no biblical reference to a Philistine victory that would have marked the destruction of Khirbet Qeiyafa.
Many scholars have resisted Garfinkel’s findings. It really undermines parts of several books about David and the beginnings of the monarchy, for instance: those of Baruch Halpern and Joel Baden. In the past, I had a quite different understanding of David. But I am beginning to doubt myself.
Some historical scenarios occurred to me to explain the fall of Khirbet Qeiyafa. Garfinkel puts its existence in the later part of David’s reign, after he was ruling from Jerusalem. An enemy could well have taken advantage of Judah’s weakness at the time of Absalom’s rebellion. On the other hand, suppose that Absalom held Khirbet Qeiyafa. Gath could have attacked it in support of David.