Archaeologists in an Uproar Over David-and-Goliath-Era Finds at the Contested Edge of Jerusalem

Archaeologists in an Uproar Over David-and-Goliath-Era Finds at the Contested Edge of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel with a stone shrine model that was found during excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa
(Courtesy of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Scholars hope that recent discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa, an archeological site southwest of Jerusalem, will shed new light on the ancient history of present-day Israel, and even corroborate the story of David and Goliath recounted in the Bible. Though leaving ample room for debate, Yosef Garfinkel, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has told MSNBC that several objects found by his team strongly suggest the heretofore disputed presence of Israelites from the southern kingdom of Judea.

Students of ancient archeology generally place Khirbet Qeiyafa near Gath, a Philistine city that thrived modestly in the early first millenium BCE. An area of contention between Philistines and the neighboring Judeans, Gath is described in the Bible as the hometown of a giant soldier named Goliath. Goliath's battle with the young sling-shot-toting David, the future king of Israel, is the Bible's best-known underdog story, related in countless works of art and music over the centuries, and famously captured by actor Gregory Peck in the 1951 film "David and Bathsheba."

 

Though uninterested in verifying parables from the Bible, Garfinkel contends that his finds confirm that Khirbet Qeiyafa was an embattled outpost occupied by Israelites during the time of David. By his estimation, the columns, façades, and recessed doorways on the model shrines found at the site correspond strikingly to Solomon's temple. "For the first time in history," reads a statement from the Hebrew University, "we have actual objects from the time of David which can be related to monuments described in the Bible." Garfinkel furthermore points out that although archaeologists at the site have found thousands of bones of sheep, goats, and cattle, they have found no bones from pigs, which may suggest a dietary prohibition on swine like that observed by Hebrews.

While the news has made headlines across Israel, Garfinkel has failed to convince many Biblical scholars who know Khirbet Qeiyafa well. Prof. Nadav Na'aman, a historian and archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, was unmoved by the lack of pig bones at the site. "The Canaanites also did not eat pork," he told Ha'aretz. "Only the Philistines ate a great deal of pork at this time." Responding to Garfinkel's description of the artifacts as "totally different from Philistine, Canaanite or the cult in the Kingdom of Israel," Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University told the Times of Israel that that Biblical distinctions between Israelites and Philistines are "fuzzier than the way they are often described."

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