National Geographic on Qeiyafa

The Book and the Spade radio program just posted the first of two interviews with Qeiyafa excavator Yosef Garfinkel (the link there is updated every week for the current program).

National Geographic reports on the Qeiyafa excavation.  Much of the story reports what has been covered elsewhere, but there are some problems with the article.  (Does mentioning these help to prevent their perpetuation by journalists or others?)

The article begins:

The remains of an ancient gate has pinpointed the location of the biblical city Sha’arayim, say archaeologists working in Israel.
In the Bible, young King David is described as battling Goliath in the city, before eventually killing him in the Elah Valley.

Ahem.  Is it really that hard for the NG journalist (Mati Milstein) to open the Bible (1 Samuel 17) and read the story of David and Goliath?  The battle did not occur in a city, and Shaaraim is mentioned only as a point on a road that the Philistines used to flee.  It’s quite a creative re-telling that puts the battle in the city, but Goliath’s eventual death in the valley.  Even if the writer couldn’t find a Bible (or locate one on the Internet), couldn’t he have asked the archaeologist he was interviewing?  Since this is the entire reason why anyone cares about this excavation as opposed to the hundreds of others in Israel (and this is evidenced by its placement in the first two paragraphs), shouldn’t NG try to get at least this right?  If they can’t, can you trust anything in the article?

Later in the article, archaeologist Amos Kloner comments on the site identification:

“This is an initial idea, all aspects of which must be examined,” he said. “[But] it doesn’t matter if there is a second gate … This provides no indication of a Judean population there.”

Apparently Garfinkel hasn’t convinced everyone that the mere presence of a second gate absolutely and infallibly confirms that Qeiyafa is Shaaraim.  I think, however, that Kloner is wrong if he follows Garfinkel in the idea that Qeiyafa must be a Judean site in order to be Shaaraim.  In fact, as I argued before, I think a better case can be made from the only source that we have that at the time of the
battle, Shaaraim was in Philistine hands. 

The article closes with this quote from Garfinkel:

Garfinkel said he will continue to explore the Elah site in search of further evidence.
“Maybe we’ll find an inscription on the gate indicating who built the city: ‘I David, son of Yishai, built this city,'” he said with a laugh.

That’s a typical archaeologist kind of joke, and it wouldn’t be worth a response, except that Garfinkel has suggested elsewhere that he is serious about the possibility that David built the Qeiyafa fortress. 

I think it is entirely possible that David built the Qeiyafa fortress, but if he did, Qeiyafa is not Shaaraim.  You can have one, but not the other, unless you believe the biblical account is completely confused.  This is the big problem with those scholars who want to claim the “middle ground” between maximalists and minimalists: they claim validation for their results based upon data which they believe is faulty.  In other words, the scholar says, our evidence that Qeiyafa is Shaaraim is the biblical text which mentions this site (Shaaraim) in this area (Elah Valley).  The Bible says that Shaaraim existed before David became king.  We can believe the Bible that Shaaraim was a city in this area, but we can’t believe the same biblical story that Shaaraim existed before David.  This is very typical scholarly logic, but it is usually dressed up in fancy language, and supported by one questionable hypothesis built upon another dubious theory.

UPDATE (10 p.m.): The initial paragraphs of the NG article have been changed:

The remains of an ancient gate have pinpointed the location of the biblical city Sha’arayim, say archaeologists working in Israel.
In the Bible young David, a future king, is described as battling Goliath in the Elah Valley near Sha’arayim.


4 thoughts on “National Geographic on Qeiyafa

  1. After hearing Garfinkle’s presentation it seems as if the pottery assemblage is definitively not Philistine. There are no Mycenaean imports, no Philistine bichrome, and the assemblage has been described as typical of the Judean hill country by Gitin and Maeir, and similar to the assemblage during this time period of their respective sites by Dever and Lederman/Bunimovitz.

  2. Also, appreciate the link in previous post. I always come here for a good “historical geography” perspective.

  3. Todd – about the Shaaraim in Joshua and Samuel – I don’t think it would be difficult to claim that later editors and scribes edited/updated the geographical identifications and landmarks to make the text more understandable to the contemporary reader – this would account for the name to appear both by Joshua and with Saul – both instances before the site would have been built by David, Solomon or Rehavam

  4. Anonymous – you make a good point. I certainly agree that biblical locations were updated in the text (e.g., 2 Chr 20:2), though it is easier to recognize when the later name is given explicitly.

    With regard to Shaaraim, though, it is more difficult. For one, the site is not mentioned directly in 1 Samuel, but rather as a road. I am unaware of the names of roads being updated in the biblical text. Second, I maintain that the location of Qeiyafa (on a hill somewhat in the middle of nowhere) would not naturally lend itself to the name of a road.

    Third, according to the excavations, Qeiyafa was a single period site (20-40 years?), which makes it a poor candidate as an “updated name.” If we could prove this, then we would have a very narrow window for the writing/editing of Joshua and 1 Samuel; my guess is that this would be pretty easy to disprove with other data from those books. Fourth, I think it’s even more unlikely that a relatively small site (though well-fortified) with a very brief history would give its name to a road. Azekah is better in every regard: close, bigger, stronger, and much longer history. (See Josh 10:11 for Azekah as a destination on a route.)

    The reason that I believe that the Philistines did not flee on the “way to Azekah” is that they were fleeing away from Azekah, towards the Philistine cities. If so, Shaaraim should be found west, not east, of Azekah.

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