Khirbet Qeiyafa poses a challenge to Israel Finkelstein’s hypothesis that the basic outline of the biblical narrative found in 1 Sam – 1 Kgs 11 is a figment of the imagination of much later writers who manipulated inherited tradition in order to place legendary figures of a distant past in a sequence and a set of historical contexts of their own devising (Finkelstein 2006).
The reason is simple. KQ reflects a terminal Iron I/ early IIA horizon: I sum in this formulation the mildly different conclusions of Kang and Garfinkel (2009; 2009) and Singer-Avitz (2010). On Finkelstein’s chronology in its current iteration (Finkelstein and Piasetzky 2010), that horizon, which he relates to late Iron I alone, is fitted with a long chronology: 1050-915 bce. At the tail end of that horizon and time frame, Finkelstein locates a putative conquest by Sheshonq I of Saulide territory (2006; subject at that time to a Saulide on F’s reconstruction; for a critique, see Mazar 2008: 110, n. 18). But it is impossible to regard KQ and the Saulide entity reconstructed by Finkelstein as in any way connected. They have nothing in common, according to Finkelstein’s first principles.
The result: Finkelstein will be forced to posit another polity, apparently erased from Israel’s collective memory, to account for Iron Age KQ. Or he will have to associate KQ with a member of the house of David headquartered in Jerusalem still deadlocked, according to his larger hypothesis, with the house of Saul headquartered in Benjamin, ca. 915 bce.
It boggles the mind.
The biblical narrative, which describes the transformation of (1) a loose confederation of tribes led by a warrior-sheikh who sat with his fellow rogues under a tamarisk tree on a height in Benjamin into (2) a precariously united monarchy in the person of a usurper who (3) seized Jerusalem for his mountain stronghold and fortified it further, (4) with a territory consisting of Shechem, the valley of Sukkoth, Gilead, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Judah as “his scepter” (per Psalm 60), (5) a capability of force projection to be reckoned with, and ultimately, at endpoint before disintegration and collapse, (6) a well-oiled administration over a larger area, (7) a process that unfolded under kings whose turbulent rules spanned a century – (8) Saul, David, and Solomon, in that order - is more plausible than that.
Regardless, how can KQ be reconciled with Finkelstein’s oft-defended revisionist synthesis? Once again, in Finkelstein’s mind, the kingdom of David, the bare historicity of which he does not deny, was a polity with (1) a limited administrative capacity at most, encompassing a territorial domain spanning a few neighboring villages; and (2) a weak capability of force projection, offensive and defensive, relative to neighboring external polities.
If so, one would never have expected to find what Garfinkel and company have found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. KQ, a site by all accounts in the Judean Shephelah, was a massively fortified late Iron I/early Iron IIA settlement with public structures at its heart and on its perimeter.
KQ’s casemate walls and pottery assemblage are dramatically dissimilar to the equivalents at the far larger, coeval “competing” sites in the facing Philistine Shephelah – Gath, 8 miles to the east and Ekron, 10 miles to the northeast, but dramatically similar to the pottery assemblage and casemate walls of late Iron I/early Iron IIA Beth Shemesh 4 and 3, respectively (go here and here for first introductions). Beth Shemesh is a neighboring site 4 miles to the north of KQ in the Judean Shephelah – one of the administrative centers of Solomon’s second district according to 1 Kgs 4:8.
Unless the methodology of biblical archaeology, that of comparing and contrasting the results of archaeological excavations and surveys on the one hand, and critical inferences made on the basis of written sources and traditions biblical and extra-biblical on the other, is suddenly set aside, it is difficult to avoid proposing that (1) the kingdom of David may well have sought to develop a defensive infrastructure capable of giving the powerful Philistine city-states on its western border a run for their money; that (2) KQ – coeval with Beth Shemesh 4 - was a planned and executed component of that infrastructure; and that (3) Beth Shemesh 3 superseded KQ during the reign of Solomon. The chronological window that dovetails best with textual and extra-textual sources relative to KQ’s period of settlement is in fact the first half of the 10th cent. bce.
The above solution is far more compelling than the one Finkelstein adopts, which forces him to treat the synchronism offered by 1 Kgs 14:26, which places Shishak’s (= Sheshonq I’s) Levantine campaign in the 5th year of Rehoboam, as a rank invention. That, of course, is an example of rank speculation on Finkelstein’s part.
Sooner or later someone will aver that KQ was a component of a polity which has no left no trace in inscription or tradition. To be sure, an assertion of this kind smacks of desperation. That road to nowhere has yet to be traversed. Don’t be surprised if someone soon does so. Scholarship thrives on disagreement of precisely this kind.
Nevertheless it is more parsimonious to propose that (1) the Philistine challenge embodied by Gath and Ekron triggered a case of secondary state formation; that (2) KQ is an eloquent witness thereto; and (3) that the state in formation was none other than the one associated with David in biblical tradition.
The archaeologist Aren Maier, excavator of Philistine Gath, said it well: "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.” We owe Gordon Govier big time for collecting informed comment from Seth Sanders, James Hoffmeier, Chris Rollston, William Schniedewind, and Aren Maeir in this CT article.
The balance of probability rests with a hypothesis of the kind Maeir articulates. But if that is the case, the minimalist theses of a Davies and the skeptical theses of a Finkelstein are dead in the water. No doubt Philip Davies, a first-rate apologist for the religion of minimalism, will find a way to minimalize the implications of the KQ finds. But I don’t think Israel Finkelstein will let himself off so easily.
To be continued.