Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Latest from Khirbet Qeiyafa

Something really really big that has finally and totally proven the historical reliability of the Bible has once more been found. But first, some perspective:
The idea that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding the history of ancient Israel from critical scholarship is an old one. Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a miraculous archaeological discovery.[1]
Khirbet Qeiyafa has proven to be a very newsworthy archaeological dig. First, there was the pretty cool ostracon announced in 2008. Then there was the sensational, unofficial, buzz-generating interpretation of that ostracon announced by Prof Gershon Galil. Professional epigraphers and archaeologists are still debating the reading and significance of the inscription (see the May/Jun 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review). 

I admit that I haven't really been following the excavation since early 2010 (background from early 2010 here), but this morning Yosef Garfinkel, the lead archaeologist from Hebrew University excavating at Khirbet Qeiyafa, has announced the discovery of artifacts interpreted as proof of King David's ancient Israelite kingdom in the 10th century BCE. The announcement was highly anticipated but the news conference (as with many such announcements) has the ring of an attempt to head off the battle over interpretation of the finds before it's even begun. Once again, I find myself stuck between wanting to cheer on the maximalist interpretation and recognizing the valid questions raised by those of a more minimalist leaning.  

Image: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In short, clay and stone boxes were discovered in connection with three large rooms interpreted as having cultic (religious) significance. The site is interpreted as Israelite based on the absence of pig bones and the absence of graven images. The boxes and related artifacts are being interpreted as scale model versions of the "Ark of God." 

However the artifacts are interpreted, it is a significant find which highlights the continuing importance of this site for reconstructing the history of the region in the 10th century BCE. In addition to reading the major press release version of the story, I recommend balancing your understanding with George Athas' observations on the discovery. I imagine the rest of the biblioblogosphere is exploding with the story even as we speak...let's take a look...here's a post on the subject by Todd Bolen; Jim Davila; Brian LePort; Jim West; Duane Smith. Of course, I'm really waiting for a response from biblioblogger archaeologist-in-chief, Bob Cargill.

[1] Israel Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin, “Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation” Tel Aviv 39.1 (2012), 58. From G.M. Grena’s quote in a comment onAren Maier’s blog

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