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Khirbet Qeiyafa

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Khirbet Qeiyafa

Qeiyafa-western-gate1 cr.jpg

Basic Information

Location 31.696389, 34.957222
Country Israel
City Beit-Shemesh

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Website http://qeiyafa.huji.ac.il/
Geographical Coordinates 31.64757,34.91827


Khirbet Qeiyafa (Elah Fortress) is the site of an ancient city overlooking the Elah Valley.The ruins of the fortress were uncovered in 2007, near the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, 20 miles (32 km) from Jerusalem. It covers nearly 6 acres (2.4 ha) and is encircled by a 700 metres (2,300 ft) long city wall constructed of stones weighing up to eight tons each. Archaeologists suggest that it may have been the biblical city of Shaarayim or Netaim.



The meaning of the Arabic name of the site, Khirbet Qeiyafa, is uncertain. Scholars suggest it may mean "the place with a wide view." Local Bedouin refer to the site as Khirbet Daoud, or Davids ruin. The modern Hebrew name, Elah Fortress, derives from the location of the site on the northern bank of Nahal Elah, one of six brooks that flow from the Judean mountains to the coastal plain.


The Elah Fortress lies just inside a north-south ridge of hills separating Philistia and Gath to the west from Judea to the east. The ridge also includes the site currently identified as Tel Azekah. Past this ridge is a series of connecting valleys between two parallel groups of hills. Tel Sokho lies on the southern ridge with Tel Adullam behind it. The Elah Fortress is situated on the northern ridge, overlooking several valleys with a clear view of the Judean Mountains. Behind it to the northeast is Tel Yarmut. From the topography, archaeologists believe this was the location of the cities of Adullam, Sokho, Azekah and Yarmut cited in Joshua 15:35. These valleys formed the border between Philistia and Judea.

Site and excavation history

The site of Khirbet Qeiyafa was surveyed in the 1860s by Victor Guérin who reported the presence of a village on the hilltop. In 1875, British surveyors noted only stone heaps. In 1932, Dimitri Baramki, reported the site to hold a 35 square metres (380 sq ft) watchtower associated with Khirbet Quleidiya (Horvat Qolad), 200 metres (660 ft) east. The site was mostly neglected in the 20th century and not mentioned by leading scholars. Yehuda Dagan conducted more intense surveys in the 1990s and documented the visible remains. The site raised curiosity in 2005 when Saar Ganor discovered impressive Iron Age structures under the remnants.

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa began in 2007, directed by Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and continued in 2008. Nearly 600 square metres (6,500 sq ft) of an Iron Age IIA city were unearthed. Based on pottery styles and two burned olive pits tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University, Garfinkel and Ganor have dated the site to 1050–970 BC, although Israel Finkelstein contends evidence points to habitation between 1050 and 915 BC.

The initial excavation by Ganor and Garfinklel took place from August 12 to 26, 2007 on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology. In their preliminary report at the annual ASOR conference on November 15, they presented a theory that the site was the Biblical Azekah, which until then had been exclusively associated with Tell Zakariya. In 2008, after the discovery of a second gate, they identified the site as the biblical Shaarayim ("two gates" in Hebrew).

History and time period


Releasing the preliminary dig reports for the 2010 and 2011 digging seasons at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the Israel Antiquities Authority stated: "The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the late eighth century BCE or at some other later date."

Discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa are significant to the debate about the veracity of the Biblical account of the United Monarchy at the beginning of Iron Age II. As no archaeological finds were found that could corroborate claims of the existence of a magnificent biblical kingdom, various scholars have advanced the opinion that the kingdom was no more than a small tribal entity. Garfinkel, who said in 2010 that the debate could not "be answered by the Qeiyafa excavations", is of the opinion that "what is clear, however, is that the kingdom of Judah existed already as a centrally organized state in the tenth century B.C.E"


In 2010, Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa identified Khirbet Qeiyafa as the “Netaim” of 1 Chronicles 4:23, due to its proximity to Khirbet Ğudrayathe (biblical Gederah). The inhabitants of both cities were said to be "potters" and "in the Kings service", a description that is consistent with the archeological discoveries at that site.

Yehuda Dagan of the Israel Antiquities Authority also disagrees with the identification as Shaarayim. Dagan believes the ancient Philistine retreat route after their defeat in the battle at the Valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17:52), more likely identifies Shaarayim with the remains of Khirbet esh-Sharia. Dagan proposes that Khirbet Qeiyafa be identified with biblical Adithaim (Joshua 15:36).

The fortifications at Khirbet Qeiyafa predate those of contemporary Lachish, Beersheba, Arad, and Timnah. All these sites have yielded pottery dated to early Iron Age II. The parallel valley to the north, mentioned in Samuel I, runs from the Philistine city of Ekron to Tel Beit Shemesh. The city gate of the Elah Fortress faces west with a path down to the road leading to the sea, and was thus named "Gath Gate" or "Sea Gate." The 23-dunam (5.7-acre) site is surrounded by a casement wall and fortifications. The top layer of the fortress shows that the fortifications were renewed in the Hellenistic period.

Garfinkel suggests that Khirbet Qeiyafa was a Judean city inhabited by 500–600 people during the reign of David and Solomon. Based on pottery finds at Qeiyafa and Gath, archaeologists believe the sites belonged to two distinct ethnic groups. "The finds have not yet established who the residents were," says Aren Maeir, a Bar Ilan University archaeologist digging at Gath. "It will become more clear if, for example, evidence of the local diet is found. 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."[19] Evidence that the city was not Philistine comes from the private houses that abut the city wall, an arrangement that was not used in Philistine cities. There is also evidence of equipment for baking flat bread and hundreds of bones from goats, cattle, sheep, and fish. Significantly, no pig bones have been uncovered, suggesting that the city was not Philistine. Nadav Naaman of Tel Aviv University nevertheless associates it with Philistine Gath, citing the necessity for further excavations as well as evidence from Bet Shemesh whose inhabitants also avoided eating pork, yet were associated with Ekron.

Special discoveries

Archaeological finds

The site consists of a lower city of about 10 hectares and an upper city of about 3 hectares (7.4 acres) surrounded by a massive defensive wall ranging from 2–4 metres (6 ft 7 in–13 ft 1 in) tall. The walls are built in the same manner as the walls of Hazor and Gezer, formed by a casemate (a pair of walls with a chamber in between). 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.

The site has "a town plan characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites, e.g., Beit Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim and Beersheba. A casemate wall was built at all of these sites and the citys houses next to it incorporated the casemates as one of the dwellings rooms. This model is not known from any Canaanite, Philistine or Kingdom of Israel site."

The site is massively fortified, "including the use of stones that weigh up to eight tons apiece."

"500 jar handles bearing a single finger print, or sometimes two or three, were foundied Marking jar handles is characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah and it seems this practice has already begun in the early Iron Age IIA."

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, and also features both Hellenistic and Iron Age layers. Surveys on the surface have also revealed sherds from the early and middle Bronze Ages, as well as from the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic, Mameluke and Ottoman periods.

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. 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.

Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription

A 15-by-16.5-centimetre (5.9 in × 6.5 in) ostracon, a trapezoid-shaped pottery sherd with five lines of text,[25] was discovered during excavations at the site in 2008.

Although the writing on the ostracon is poorly preserved and difficult to read, Émile Puech of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française proposed that it be read:

1 Do not oppress, and serve God … despoiled him/her 2 The judge and the widow wept; he had the power 3 Over the resident alien and the child, he eliminated them together 4 The men and the chiefs/officers have established a king 5 He marked 60 servants among the communities/habitations/generations and understood the ostracon as a locally written copy of a message from the capital informing a local official of the ascent of Saul to the throne. Puech considered the language to be Canaanite or Hebrew without Philistine influence.

Gershon Galil of Haifa University proposed the following translation:

1 You shall not do [it], but worship (the god) [El] 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 poor and the slave / [supp]ort the stranger. On January 10, 2010, the University of Haifa issued a press release stating that the text was a social statement relating to slaves, widows and orphans. According to the document: "It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as `asah ("did") and `avad ("worked"), which were rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah ("widow") are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local languages. The content itself was also unfamiliar to all the cultures in the region besides the Hebrew society: The present inscription provides social elements similar to those found in the biblical prophecies and very different from prophecies written by other cultures postulating glorification of the gods and taking care of their physical needs." Gershon Galil claims that the language of inscription is Hebrew and that 8 out of 18 words written on inscription are exclusively biblical. He also claimed that 30 major archeological scholars do support this thesis.

Other readings are possible, and the official excavation report presented many possible reconstructions of the letters without attempting a translation. The inscription is written left to right in a script which is probably Early Alphabetic/Proto Phoenician, though Rollston and Demsky consider that it might be written vertically. Early Alphabetic differs from old Hebrew script and its immediate ancestor. Rollston also disputes the claim that the language is Hebrew, arguing that the words alleged to be indicative of Hebrew either appear in other languages or dont actually appear in the inscription. Millard believes the language of the inscription is Hebrew, Canaanite, Phoenician or Moabite and it most likely consists of a list of names written by someone unused to writing. Hebrew University archaeologist Amihai Mazar said the inscription was very important, as it is the longest Proto-Canaanite text ever found.

In 2010, the ostracon was placed on display in Iron Age gallery of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Khirbet Qeiyafa shrines

In May 2012 archeologists announced the discovery of three large rooms that were likely used as cultic shrines. While the Canaanites and Philistine practiced their cults in separate temples and shrines, they did not have separate rooms within the buildings dedicated only to religious rituals. This may suggest that the rooms did not belong to these two cultures. According to Garfinkel the decorations of cultic rooms lack any human figurines. He suggested “that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed at least two biblical bans, on pork and on graven images, and thus practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines,” Also, three smaller portable shrines were discovered. The smaller shrines are boxes shaped with different decorations showing impressive architectonic and decorative styles. Garfinkel suggested the existence of a biblical parallel regarding the existence of such shrines. (Samuel II ch:6). One of the shrines is decorated with two pillars and a lion. According to Garfinkel, the style and the decoration of these cultic objects is very similar to the Biblical description of some features of Solomons Temple.

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