Archaeologists found the ancient city where David battled Goliath

casemate walls discovered at Qeiyafa
Casemate walls discovered at Qeiyafa

Archaeologists believe they have found the location where the battle between David and Goliath took place in a mysterious two-gated city from 3,000 years ago.

The site, known by its modern name, Khirbet Qeiyafa, in Israel’s Elah Valley, is 20 miles south-west of Jerusalem. The city lies between Sokho and Azekah, on the border between the Philistines and the Judeans. It is mentioned in the Torah in 1 Samuel 17: 1-2.

casemate walls discovered at Qeiyafa
Casemate walls discovered at Qeiyafa. Credit: Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman. source

Excavation went for nearly seven years and was led by Professor Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Chair of Archeology at Hebrew University’s Institute of Archeology in Jerusalem, along with Sa’ar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Michal Hazel of the Southern Adventist University of Tennessee.

The archaeologists were able to date the city back to the time of Kings Saul and David through the carbon dating of some 28 charred olive pits. According to Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, “no one can argue with this data.”

The site’s unique features consist of its two gates, one facing west, toward Philistia, and the other to the south, facing Judah. The presence of more than one gates for a relatively small city of 5.7 acres is quite uncommon, according to Bible Lands Museum curator Yehuda Kaplan. It was this discovery that led excavators to identify it as the city where David fought Goliath since the biblical name for that location is “Sha’arayim,” meaning “two gates.” In Hebrew.

Bible Lands curator Yehuda Kaplan.
Bible Lands curator Yehuda Kaplan. Credit: Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman. source

Examining the pottery styles archaeologists came to the conclusion that Khirbet Qeiyafa was a Judean site. Less than 2% of the style of pottery found was comparable to typical Philistine pottery. If the community had not been Judean a minimum of 20% of the pottery designs would have been Philistine, according to Kaplan. Out of the 24 weapons and tools discovered, a vast majority (67%) were made from iron and the rest from bronze, similar to archaeological finds elsewhere in the biblical Kingdom of Judah, such as in Arad and Beersheba.

More evidence that supports the Jewish presence at Khirbet Qeiyafa were the presence of thousands of sheep, goat, cow and fish bones, and the absence of non-kosher pig bones, added Kaplan.

Proof of cultic activity was also unearthed, along with two inscriptions written in the Canaanite script. One was engraved on a jar and has the Hebrew name “Eshbaal [man of Baʿal], son of Beda.” The other was inscribed on a pottery fragment with only “king” and “judge” as among the few identifiable words.

Many of the letters represent Hebraic script, and Garfinkel said he believes this is the earliest written documentation of the Hebrew language discovered to date.

Finally, casemate walls – an iconic two thin, parallel walls with empty space in between and a belt of houses abutting the casemates, incorporating them as part of the construction— are also reminiscent of the type of urban planning unique to Judah and Transjordan.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa discoveries have generated debate among historians and archaeologists since they were first discovered, but according to Professor Garfinkel, this data is beyond any doubt.

“The biblical tradition has historical memory,” Garfinkel added. “If we ask where archaeology supports biblical tradition, we start with Khirbet Qeiyafa.”

“Everything you touch at Khirbet Qeiyafa brings you to this biblical period,” Kaplan said.

While the site stirs the biblical imagination, it also serves a political role.

Biblical Minimalists, a band of biblical scholars and archaeologists who try to deny the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel by claiming that there’s no reliable evidence of a connection with ancient Judean kingdoms can be negated by findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Within 10 days of his publishing the first paper on Qeiyafa, another article was published claiming the site as Palestinian, Garfinkel said

“This happens a lot,” explained Jacob L. Wright, associate professor of Hebrew Bible studies at Emory University in Atlanta. “In no other area of the world do you have such a connection to the biblical imagination.”

“One has to separate the bible and archaeology, ” Wright said, “The Minimalists want to deny the state of Judah and Israel; they are politically driven and have a loose agenda… But it does not help when the ‘maximalists’ try to connect everything they find on the ground with Jesus or King David.”

There’s only one other instance of archaeological reference to King David found in Israel, an Aramaic inscription from the mid-9th century BCE discovered at Tel Dan. This inscription is attributed to Hazel, king of Damascus, who boasts about killing a king of Israel and a king of Judah, the latter of which is referred to as “King of the House of David.”

The archaeological findings of Khirbet Qeiyafa can now be explored b the public in a new Bible Lands Museum exhibition entitled “In the Valley of David and Goliath,” which opened earlier this week in Jerusalem.

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