Qeiyafa western gate1

Khirbet Qeiyafa (Elah fortress), Western gate

Khirbet Qeiyafa (Elah Fortress), recently proposed as the biblical Sha'arayim, is an archaeological site overlooking the Elah Valley where, according to the Biblical account, David fought Goliath. [1] It was a key location in the kingdom of Judah along the main road from Philistia and the Coastal Plain to the eastern Hill Country.


The site is understood to have been occupied for a period of only about 20 years in the tenth century BCE, before being destroyed. The tenth century is the period ascribed to the kingdoms of David and Solomon. The site is dated by pottery styles and by two burned olive pits tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University and found to date from between 1050 and 970 B.C., the period most scholars consider to be during the reign of King David.[2] As of October 2008, two more olive pits are being tested.[3]

Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription

A 15 cm x 16.5 cm trapezoid pottery sherd (ostracon) with five lines of text written in ink was discovered at the site in 2008 during excavations carried out by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel.[4]. The inscription cannot be dated directly, but according to the New York Times article noting the discovery, C14 dating tests on two burnt olive pits place the date of the site, and hence by inference the ostracon, to between 1050-970 BC.[5]

On 7 January 2010 Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa issued a press release in which he claimed to have deciphered the inscription as a legal document:

1 you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
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.[6]

Prof Galil's translation is in contrast with that given by Prof. Hagai Misgav, supported, with variations, by professors Yardeni, Ahituv, and Schniedewind, at a conference on the inscription held at Hebrew University in October 2009:

1 Do not do [anything bad?], and serve [personal name?]
2 ruler of [geographical name?] . . . ruler . . .
3 [geographical names?] . . .
4 [unclear] and wreak judgment on YSD king of Gath . . .
5 seren of G[aza? . . .] [unclear] . . .[7]

The University of Haifa press release included a claim that the inscription proved that "the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”[8] These claims have not been supported by the scholarly community (the University has been accused of "donation-harvesting")[9] Dr. Christopher Rollston of Johns Hopkins University although accepting that Israel was some sort of a “state” at this point warns that "these recent attempts to sensationalize [the ostracon] should be rebuffed," and makes the following observations:

  • The script is definitively not Old Hebrew, but rather Early Alphabetic/Proto Phoenician; (Note: this is a comment about the script, not the language)
  • Those claiming the language to be Old Hebrew are going beyond the evidence;
  • It is commonly agreed that although literacy was present during the 10th century throughout the fledgling Southern Levantine states (Israel, Moab, Ammon), it was confined to a particular group of elites (i.e., scribes). Moreover, scholars such as Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman have dated certain portions of the biblical text (namely poems such as Exodus 15 and Judges 5) to periods prior to the 10th century, and it is therefore not surprising to discover a 10th century BC Old Hebrew epigraph; and:
  • The ostracon is poorly preserved and difficult to read and various renderings have been proposed. "It seems to me that it is prudent simply to state that at this time the interpretation of this inscription is at a preliminary stage."[10]

This view that it is Hebrew is also shared by the orginal translator of the inscription Hagai Misgav[11] who also argues that the language is Hebrew not Phoenician.

Archaeological findings

Qeiyafa city wall1

Qeiyafa city wall

The Philistine city of Gath, located seven miles west, has been demonstrated to have different pottery types than Qeiyafa, establishing the distinct ethnic identities of the two sites.[3][12]

The initial excavation by Saar Ganor and Yosef Garfinklel took place from August 12 to 26, 2007 on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Institute of Archaeology. They presented a preliminary report at the annual ASOR conference on November 15. During this public lecture, they hypothesized that the site could be Biblical Azekah, which until then had been exclusively associated with Tell Zakariya[13]. In 2008 when they discovered another gate, they identified the site with biblical Sha'arayim.[2]

The site consists of a lower city of about 10 hectares and an upper city of about 3 hectares surrounded by a massive defensive wall ranging from 2-4 metres tall. At the center of the upper city is a large rectangular enclosure with spacious rooms on the south, equivalent to similar enclosures found at royal cities such as Samaria, Lachish, and Ramat Rachel. On the southern slope, outside the city, there are Iron Age rock-cut tombs.

Area "A" extended 5x5 metres & 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. Aside from these two strata, there were also some small Bronze Age sherds.

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 5 tons.[14]

The archaeologist Aren Maier, who is excavating nearby at Gath, has said "I believe that the size of Gath in the 10th-9th century reflects not only its size and importance, but also, most likely, the fact that the Gath polity existed in relationship to a competing polity in the east...Now the finds from Qeiyafa seem to provide strong archaeological evidence for this Israelite kingdom."[15]


In the city list of Judah's tribal inheritance Sha'arayim appears after Socoh and Azekah (Jos 15, 36). After David killed Goliath the Philistines run away through the “way to Sha'arayim " (1 Sam 17:52). In the city list of the tribe of Simeon, Sha'arayim is mentioned as one of the cities “unto the reign of David" (1 Chr 4:31).


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. Reuters Archaeologists report finding oldest Hebrew text By Ari Rabinovitch October 30, 2008
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures Volume 8, Article 22 ISSN 1203-1542 Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha’arayim by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ethan Bronner (2008-10-29). "Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-05. 
  4. University of Haifa press release, 7 Jan. 2010
  5. nytlogo379x64 "Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David," Ethan Bonner, "New York Times" 2008
  6. University of Haifa press release, 7 Jan. 2010
  7. Translation by Prof. Hagai Misgav at "Ancient Hebrew Poetry" blog
  8. University of Haifa press release, 7 Jan. 2010
  9. Neil Silberman, "Hallelujah or Caveat Emptor?"
  10. Dr Christopher Rollaston, "Reflections on the Qeiyafa Ostracon"
  12. Haaretz Have Israeli archaeologists found world's oldest Hebrew inscription? Associated Press 30 October 2008 The finds have not yet established who the residents were, says Aren Maier, a Bar Ilan University archaeologist who is digging at nearby Gath. It will become more clear if, for example, evidence of the local diet is found, he said: "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," he said. Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription was very important, as it is the longest proto-Canaanite text ever found. But he suggested that calling the text Hebrew might be going too far.
  13. PDF file containing ASOR 2007 Conference abstracts dead link
  14. Israel Antiquities Authority Horvat Qeiyafa: The Fortification of the Border of the Kingdom of Judah by Yossi Garfinkel – Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; Sa’ar Ganor – 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.
  15. Govier, Gordon "Archaeology: What an Ancient Hebrew Note Might Mean" Christianity Today 1/18/2010 [1]

See also

External links

Coordinates: 31°41′47″N 34°57′27″E / 31.6963°N 34.9575°E / 31.6963; 34.9575

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