On the Way to Shaaraim…

(by Chris McKinny)

In past years, this blog has
discussed extensively
the identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which has been
identified with Shaaraim by the excavators. I agree that Khirbet Qeiyafa should
not be identified with Shaaraim (see also below), but if Khirbet Qeiyafa is not
Shaaraim then where should we locate the biblical town?
Shaaraim is mentioned twice in the
biblical narrative, once in the Eshtaol district (Josh. 15:36, cf. Onom. 87.1) where
it is found between and again in association with the Philistine retreat
following the death of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:52). The text states that they fled
“as far as Gath and up to the gates of Ekron…on the way of Shaaraim, as far as
Gath and Ekron.” This latter context clearly puts the site in the vicinity of
the battle, which occurred in the Elah Valley between “Socoh and Azekah at
Ephes Dammim” (1 Sam. 17:1). Also, it should be noted that this reference does
not actually refer to the town of Shaaraim, but to the road that led to Gath
(Tell es-Safi) and Ekron (Khirbet el-Muqqana). Therefore, the text seems to
indicate that Shaaraim should be located west and perhaps north of the battle
with the toponym likely deriving from the routes that went through the Elah and
Sorek Valleys to Philistine Gath and Ekron (Na’aman

Click on sites to see archaeological details and pictures

Garfinkel and Sanor, the excavators
of the recently concluded excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa (2012), have revealed
one of the more intriguing ancient sites from the Early Iron Age IIA (i.e. 10th
century BCE). They have identified
Khirbet Qeiyafa with Shaaraim. This argument is based on three main criteria:
1) Shaaraim occurs after Socoh and Azekah in Joshua 15:35-36, 2) the site is
located directly above the presumed location of the biblical battle between
David and Goliath, and 3) the site produced two Iron IIA four-chambered gates
inside of a massive casemate fortification, which gave the name to the site
(Shaaraim = two gates) (Garfinkel and Ganor
2008; Adams 2009:47–66).
This identification has received a good deal of criticism from various scholars
who have offered different identifications for Khirbet Qeiyafa (Na’aman 2008a
  Gob, before changing his mind in,
2012:88; see also Finkelstein and Fantalkin 2012:48; Galil 2009 – Netaim; Levin
2012b –  Ma’agal – interpreted as a
circular military fortress mentioned in 1 Sam. 17:20; Bolen 2012 –  Ephes Dammim, but it is possible that this is a
regional term).
Simply stated, Khirbet Qeiyafa should not be identified with Shaaraim. This is
due to the fact that the dual ending most likely does not mean “two gates” and
the site should be located further to the west/northwest (Na’aman
2008b:3–4; see also Elitzur 2004:282–290). This latter point means that
Rainey’s earlier identification with Khirbet es-Saireh can probably be ruled out on
geographical grounds (see discussion in 1975:69*; but see his later opinion that left Shaaraim unidentified 2006:147). On the other hand, Dagan’s suggestion of Khirbet
esh-Sharia, which is situated between Azekah and Khirbet el-Kheisum
(Adithaim?), would seem to fit this geographical requirement (1996a:139). Additionally, Khirbet
esh-Sharia would seem to present a compelling toponymic connection with
Shaaraim. The archaeological remains at the site are also in line with this
identification, as the site has remains from the Iron IIA (30 dunams**), Iron
IIB-C (40 dunams), and
Roman-Byzantine periods (Zissu
2000:77*–78*; Dagan 2000:site 55).

I disagree with Na’aman’s
conclusion that Khirbet esh-Sharia is not far enough to the west to match the
retreat of the Philistines (1 Sam. 17:52) (2008b:4–5). There are no known Judahite
sites to the west of Azekah (i.e. between Azekah and Philistine Gath) and it
seems that the Azekah-Tell Judeidah ridge formed a clear topographical border
between Philistine Gath and Judah (1983:10–11). Khirbet esh-Sharia sits very
near both the Elah Valley route to Gath and Ekron (Dorsey 1991:J6) and the “Diagonal Route” that
connects the Elah and Sorek Valley systems (Dorsey 1991:Sh2). In light of Na’aman’s
contention that Shaaraim was the “gateway to Judah” (2008b:4–5), it is difficult to
understand his hesitation to identify a site that perfectly suits his

** 1 Dunam = 1000 square meters

Update: Rainey references updated. 

Bibliography (note links to available online PDFs)

Adams, D.L.
            2009  Between Socoh and Azekah: the Role of the
Elah Valley in Biblical History and the Identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa. In Khirbet
Qeiyafa Vol. 1, Excavation Report 2007–2008
, edited by Y. Garfinkel and S.
Ganor, pp. 47–66. Israel Exploration Socity, Jerusalem.

Bolen, T.
            2012  Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

Dagan, Y.
            1996  Cities of the Judean Shephelah and Their
Division into Districts Based on Joshua 16. Eretz Israel 25: 136–46,
            2000  The Settlement in the Judean Shephelah in the
Second and First Millennium BC: A Test Case of Settlement Processes in a
Geographical Region. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Tel Aviv University, Tel

Dorsey, D.A.
            1991  The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel.
The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore and London.

Elitzur, Y.
            2004  Ancient Place Names in the Holy Land:
Preservation and History
. Hebrew University and Magnes Press and
Eisenbrauns, Jerusalem and Winona Lake.

Finkelstein, I., and A. Fantalkin
            2012  Khirbet Qeiyafa: An UnsensationalArchaeological and Historical Interpretation. Tel Aviv 39(1): 38–63.

Galil, G.
            2009  The Hebrew Inscription from Khirbet
Qeiyafa/Neta’im: script, language, literature and history. Ugarit-Forschungen(41):

Garfinkel, Y., and S. Ganor
            2008  Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha`arayimn. Journal of
Hebrew Scriptures

Levin, Y.
            2012  The Identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa: A NewSuggestion. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research(367):

Na’aman, N.
            2008a  In Search of the Ancient Name of KhirbetQeiyafa. Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8(21): 2–8.
            2008b  Shaaraim – The Gateway To The Kingdom OfJudah. Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8: 2–5.
            2012  Khirbet Qeiyafa and the Philistine- Canaanite
Struggle in South Canaan in the Early Iron Age. Cathedra 143: 65–92.
Rainey, A.F.
           1975  The Identification of Philistine Gath. A Problem in Source Analysis for Historical Geography. Eretz Israel 12: 63*–76*.           
           1983  The Biblical Shephelah of Judah. Bulletin
of the American Schools of Oriental Research
(251): 1–22.

Zissu, B.
            2000  Khirbet esh-Shari’a. Hadashot
Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel
111: 77*–78*.

6 thoughts on “On the Way to Shaaraim…

  1. G.M. – Thanks for pointing that out. Qeiyafa is a tough one. Glad you were compelled 🙂 Not sure I could offer more than others have written on Qeiyafa…

  2. Hi Chris, I enjoyed reading your article. I dug at Qeiyafa for the 2012 season (when the top of a wall was exposed in Area A-which we referred to as "Area Awesome"-later identified as "King David's Palace" after the 2013 season). The need to fit the site into the biblical narrative always seemed forced to me. I think a good case can be made that the site was Israelite, and it seems to fit the overall narrative of the early-mid United Monarchy. Beyond that, it feels like a series of guesses. Maybe with the available data we should more seriously consider the possibility that Qeiyafa isn't referred to in Scripture at all. Incredible site though.

  3. Chandler – thanks for the comment. I agree with your assessment – it is certainly a possibility that the site is not mentioned at all – which is what Y. Levin's article concludes (Ma'agal is interpreted as a circular fort and not a proper site name). Levin and others have pointed out that it should not be named in the Eshtaol District (Josh. 15:33-37) Khirbet Qeiyafa was not inhabited during the compilation of Judahite town list (Josh. 15:21-62), which is usually assumed to be at some point in the divided monarchy. On the other hand, that does leave open the possibility that Qeiyafa could be associated with Gob or Ephes-Dammim (if it is a place name) since these are only mentioned in United Monarchy contexts and not mentioned in the town list of Joshua or anywhere else (it is also unclear if Netaim should be associated with the united monarchy – see Levin's discussion in the linked article). Of course, that sort of assumes that Qeiyafa is to be affiliated with Judahite/Israelite inhabitants and not Canaanite or Philistine. But that gets back to two much larger issues – the problematic "pots and people" ethnicity line of argumentation and the fact that the Iron I (especially clear Israelite and/or Canaanite affiliated strata) is much less represented in the Shephelah than the preceding LB and subsequent Iron II (e.g. Lachish VI [post-Egyptian LB/first half of the 12th cent.] and V [Iron IIA]). In other words, it is difficult to say with certainty that the inhabitants of Qeiyafa were definitely Canaanite, Israelite, Philistine or some kind of mix. Even if the site was affiliated with Israel/Judah an ethnic mix would seem logical (compare Canaanite, Gittite and Israelite contingents in David's forces – e.g. 2 Sam. 15). Finally, even if the site was controlled by Israel (either under Saul and/or David) and made up of a mixed population, it is worth mentioning that the site seems to have been abandoned during the mid-early 10th century BCE – which is right when the United Kingdom was supposed to be "taking off." Obviously, all of those uncertainties make it difficult to make a complete educated guess regarding the site ID particularly when Gob, Ephes-Dammim and the Ma'agal all seem to have been located in the Elah Valley. My guess would be that one of these proposals is correct – but the available data just does not allow us to make an informed decision.

  4. Chris, where did you find "Rainey’s identification with Khirbet es-Saireh"?

    In his BASOR article that you cite, on p. 7 he places Shaaraim north or northwest of Azekah and in his Sacred Bridge (p. 147) he says that it has not yet been identified—somewhere between Azekah and Beth Shemesh.

    If my memory is correct, on a Jerusalem University College field study he took us to the hill a little to the northeast of (modern) Zehariya and suggested that Shaaraim should be somewhere in this area. The spot we visited looks like the place where you placed Khirbet esh-Sharia on the map.

  5. You are right. Thanks for pointing that out – I neglected to insert the correct citation there. Rainey previously suggested this in his article on the identification of Gath in Eretz-Israel and he also wrote about in the "Shaaraim" article in Encyclopedia Miqrat. You can see these citations in Na'aman's article http://www.jhsonline.org/cocoon/JHS/a101.html (I have also added the former to the EI article to the list along with a note on Rainey's later uncertainty regarding the identification). Glad to hear that he also thought it was in this vicinity… The site is really overgrown and hard to see.

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