The biblical blogosphere is abuzz with comment in the wake of the recent Khirbet Qeiyafa press conference (go here for the press release). Two facts are indisputable. (1) Khirbet Qeiyafa continues to produce finds of exceptional interest that threaten closely held theories and scholarly commonplaces. (2) In a first blast of scholarly output which resembles a case of Montezuma’s revenge, the finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa are engendering new hypotheses and new scholarly reconstructions that are even less grounded than the ones they threaten. The comments online of greatest interest so far are those of Todd Bolen, George Athas, Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, and the joint reflections of Seth Sanders, Matthew Suriano and Jacqueline Vayntrub. Below the fold, an analytical roundup.
The press release is riddled with statements and conjectures that are unlikely to stand the test of time. Todd Bolen takes issue with this press release statement:
The biblical tradition presents the people of Israel as conducting a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East by being monotheistic and an-iconic (banning human or animal figures). However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if indeed during the time of the monarchy (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.
Bolen pushes back:
In other words, the presence of cultic material outside of Jerusalem challenges the biblical claim that Israelites worshipped only one God in one place. But there is no such biblical claim. Scripture is very clear that though the Lord commanded the Israelites to worship only at the central altar (Deut 12), the Israelites perennially failed to keep this command. … What discoveries like these from Qeiyafa show is not that monotheism evolved only late in Israel’s history but that God’s covenant people failed to worship in the prescribed way, just as the Bible records.
The trouble with Bolen’s pushback is that the prescriptions of Deut 12 as usually interpreted (it’s about time that Adam Welch’s work is dusted off and read again; go here) and the cult centralization program initiated under King Josiah stand in contradiction to prescriptions found in Exod 20:21-22 (“in every place”). It is not a question of prescription in contradiction with description. It is a question of prescription in contradiction with prescription. Given Exod 20:21, it comes as no surprise that an 8th cent. BCE prophet like Amos demonstrates no awareness of a “one place of worship” rule. His critique of goings-on at Bethel, Gilgal, Dan, and Beersheba has nothing to do with a “one place of worship” rule.
George Athas on his part takes issue with the ark of God nonsense. Then he turns around and offers speculation that is no better grounded:
The most likely explanations for this state of affairs [the fact of the single stratum at KQ datable with some plausibility to ca. 1000 BCE] are that either there was a localised authority in the Shephelah region (cf. David Ussishkin’s perspective), or someone up in the highlands of Judah had a hand in this. Are the spotlights converging on us finding the kingdom of David in archaeology? Well, if there was a House of David (which I argue is another name for Jerusalem) that could be a player on the international stage in c.800 BC as per the Tel Dan Inscription, and there is an organising authority in the Valley of Elah in c.1000 BC, it’s not inconceivable that the two entities could end up aligning, such that we eventually have some strong evidence for a Kingdom of Judah in the time of David and Solomon.
What? Now we have two entities? The House of David is another name for Jerusalem? Hurowitz (fifth comment on the thread) calls him on it: “I think both you and Yossi have gone overboard.”
What should we conclude in the wake of the finds of Khirbet Qeiyafa? The best anyone can do is offer controlled speculation of the kind that clearly distinguishes premises and conclusions. I herewith offer my own controlled speculation in interaction with that of Sanders, Suriano, and Vayntrub, whose post is the most substantial to appear so far.
SSV note first of all that the press release’s claims about the new discoveries might easily be characterized as “exaggerated, self-contradictory,” “fundamentalist,” and “hasty.” As if the claims were designed to launch sales of a new book about KQ, Footprints of King David. It is hard to argue with SSV on this score.
SSV go on to note:
if the new object is a temple model from around 1000 BCE, and Judahite, it suggests people here were already aware of, and perhaps worshipped in, temples before the Jerusalem one. This is the world that was drawn on, and rearranged, to produce Samuel and Kings' memories of an earlier Jerusalem
But it would be more accurate to say that (premise 1) if the 1000 BCE date for the Iron Age I terminal/Iron Age IIA initial stratum of KQ with which the inscription, the gates, the clay shrines, and the other blockbuster finds are associated is correct, and (premise 2) if KQ is a Judahite site, both reasonable but not indisputable premises, the world said stratum at KQ presents to us was, to conclude, that “drawn on, and rearranged, to produce Samuel and Kings' memories of” realities in ancient Israel before Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem.
SSV go on to note:
if the excavators are right in dating it [the said stratum and associated finds; in particular, the inscription] so late -- against the paleography and probably the pottery -- it shows that the writer of Qeiyafa was nearly contemporary with, but separate from the standar[d]ized scribal culture that spread from the Phoenician coast to Israel and Judah.
However, one might just as well note that (premise 1) if the stratum and associated finds, including the inscription, reflect the culture of a perimeter site of a polity which ran from Beersheba in the south to Beth-Shemesh to the north, the center of which and eastern limits of which cannot be pinned down on the basis of archaeological finds alone, a polity that (premise 2) contended with another, that of the Philistines, another polity for which we would not have a name if we did not credit biblical literature with at least some degree of accuracy in terms of its passed-down cultural memories relative to a time frame with a conceivable lower limit of 970 BCE, both reasonable but not indisputable premises, said finds, including the inscription, are compatible with the notion that, to conclude, a standardized scribal culture did not spread from the Phoenician coast to the aforementioned non-Philistine and non-Canaanite polity before the reign of King Solomon (or someone with a different name who did things similar to those attributed to him in the Bible).
Why will some scholars balk at the formulations just offered? Some scholars, Israel Finkelstein in primis, are heavily invested in a theoretical framework in which the biblical sequence Saul-David-Solomon is deliberately called into question. Fine. Bring it on. But many others, with greater justification in my judgment, will counter that the Saul-David-Solomon sequence and the specific cultural transitions the sequence implies is one of the things biblical tradition is unlikely to have gotten completely wrong.
My take: the finds from KQ Yossi Garfinkel and his team continue to present to the public with great fanfare are boring. They are compatible with biblical traditions about the time period in question. They also fail to confirm those traditions in the sense of proving that, for example, someone named Saul based in the northern highlands contested the Philistines, only to be succeeded by someone named David based for a time in Hebron and then in Jerusalem, to be succeeded by someone named Solomon who developed organic ties with the Phoenicians of Tyre and endowed Jerusalem with a state-sponsored temple.
NOTE: A number of statements I make in this post will be hard to follow by anyone who has not read the relevant bibliography by Kang and Garfinkel, and the relevant articles by Singer-Avitz and Finkelstein in recent issues of Tel Aviv. Those who want pdfs of said articles are free to email me and ask for them. Further background reading, with bibliography, is available at Avi Faust's place. Note especially his article entitied "The Archaeology of the Israelite Cult." For Nadav Naaman's (far from convincing, but interesting) take on the recent finds, go here. For comment by qualified archaeologists, check out Aren Maeir here, and Owen Chesnut here.