Friday, January 8, 2010

Quick Primer on Khirbet Qeiyafa

It's been brought to my attention that a little background might be helpful for my last two posts, so here is a brief rundown on the Khirbet Qeiyafa discoveries and their importance for those of you who don't have time to read all the online discussion that's hit in the last 24 hours.

The key discoveries: The excavation is led by Yosef Garkinkel. I heard him speak at SBL last November. Their results demonstrate that this was a fortified city on the border between Philistia and Judah from the mid-11th century to the mid-10th century BCE. This conclusion creates serious problems for Israel Finkelstein's assertions that there were no fortified cities in Judah before the 9th century BCE. They found evidence at Khirbet Qeiyafa of urban planning of a particularly Judean-style found also at 4 other sites in Judah including Beersheba, Tell en Nasbeh, and Tell Beit Mirsim. The inscription they found has gotten most of the attention, however. The inscription is probably Hebrew found in an 10th century BCE context. Unfortunately, many of the conclusions being claimed for the significance of the inscription would be more effective if placed in the context of the interpretation of the site as a whole.

The significance of the inscription: We're not sure if other inscriptions from this time are technically "Hebrew" or not, so if this is, that's big. The written dialects in the area looked similar and there aren't too many clues to distinguish them. This inscription probably has a few. That pushes us back 100 years or so in our knowledge of ancient Hebrew's development.

The reported over-sensationalized significance: The inscription proves there was a united monarchy and proves some of the Bible was written much earlier than some scholars think. Take with a grain of salt.

The reality about the United Monarchy: The entire site where this was found suggests there was a central government and this was a border fortress. It blows away theories that Judah at this time was a regional backwater with little civilization. The inscription mentions a "king" depending on how one reads it. It doesn't prove the United Monarchy as described in the Bible existed. It creates a plausible context for something similar being possible.

The reality about the writing of the Bible: The inscription shows that writing in Hebrew was happening during the 10th century BCE. It doesn't prove anything about when parts of the Bible were written. It has long been commonly thought that some of the earliest layers of the Pentateuch may have been written during this century anyway (though this has been challenged in recent years). This simply shows that texts were being written during this time; therefore, the sources behind the Bible could have been written during this time. One thing that confuses me though -- if Hebrew didn't really exist before the 10th-9th centuries BCE, then how did Moses in the 14th-13th centuries BCE know it when he wrote the Pentateuch?


  1. Doug, thanks for this and the related posts. I want to read them more thoroughly later. To your knowledge, is there any non-biblical evidence other than the ostracon to link the site to a kingdom of Israel or Judah?

    And on the writing of the Bible: <snark>Moses was inspired, dude. That's how he wrote in a language nobody would understand for another quarter of a millennium. Duh.</snark>

  2. Chris, I think the best evidence is the distinctive judean urban planning that I mentioned early in the post.

  3. "One thing that confuses me though -- if Hebrew didn't really exist before the 10th-9th centuries BCE, then how did Moses in the 14th-13th centuries BCE know it when he wrote the Pentateuch?"


    This comment reminds me of something I once heard from a respected scholar of Talmud and rabbinic literature. He said that even which we had the Torah which some people believe Moses received at Mount Sinai, it would be invalid for ritual use because it is written in the wrong script.