(or - Nothing New Here, Move On)
by David Willner, Foundation Stone Co-Director
Terrific headline. It's sure to be picked up by the worldwide media fascinated by all things "biblical." Adding in "King David" only compounds the problem. But it's nonsense - and what's worse - the archaeologists and the Antiquities Authority know it.
Yossi Garfinkel, the archaeologist of record at Khirbet Qeiyafa (The Elah Fortress) has been milking the academic record since 2008 to exploit the site in what can only be described as unabashed sensationalism. How do I know? Because I've sat with both him and Saar Ganor (who works for the IAA and is the one who brought the site to Garfinkel's attention. He has served as Garfinkel's assistant since 2007) - in both 2008 and 2009 and watched him do it. And now he's doing it again - and what's worse is that the IAA is helping him.
By Garfinkel's own stated analysis Kh. Qeiyafa is a short-lived site - with a settlement phase of between 25 and 60 years, and in his opinion it is closer to 25 than to 60. According to his published data, he makes a compelling case for the site being Sha'arayim, mentioned in the bible as relating to the battle of David and Goliath (Samuel, cf. Chronicles). It also appears in the Book of Joshua in a list of the cities of the Shephela.
Presuming the accuracy of the historical context of these ancient texts, then the site existed before David becomes King! If that is the case, then one needs to ask who built the site - and for what purpose? Was it built during the reign of King Saul? And if it was built during that time - the duration of which is very unclear - who built it? King Saul? The leadership of the tribe of Judah? It would seem to be a site strategically guarding the valley leading up into the Judean hill country. At a time of fairly regular battles between the Philistines and the Israelites the strategic significance cannot be understated.
In the past, Garfinkel has chosen to colour "his" finds with a fair amount of hyperbole. When the second gate was discovered, he immediately and consistently was quick to point out that it faces Jerusalem. Sounds good. Only it's not true - and he knows it. When I pointed this out to him his response was "…it doesn't matter." The gate - in fact - almost directly faces Socho to the south-east. Behind Socho is the hill country of Judah, Bethlehem and the Hebron hills. Jerusalem is in the north-east - and inconveniently, was not an important Jewish site before David became king. But it makes for a good headline. (Even in today's announcement he attempts to link the site to Jerusalem, implying that there is a view of Jerusalem, which it does not).
It's been a consistent modus operandi throughout. Two years ago, having discovered at the site some shrine boxes (more can be seen from other sites at the Israel Museum Jerusalem), he announced that he had found "the Ark". He tried to build a case around the discoveries that these were models for the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and for the Ark of the Covenant. He gave a press conference about the finds and presented them with much fanfare at the Hebrew University. Once again, the only problem was the tenuous connection to the bible's own depiction of the Ark of the Covenant and to the First Temple. Based on the artistic elements of the boxes, Garfinkel stated that he had found "The Ark of the Lord" (see caption on picture 6 between pages 160-161 "Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah", Yediot Sefarim, Tel Aviv, 2012). He reinterpreted the verses in the bible, stating that all other interpretations and scholarship were wrong. Stepping out of his role as an archaeologist with such hubris is simply unprecedented. But the press ate it up.
Yet no one in the media has called him out. No one has challenged his playing loose and fast with the information he so assiduously seeks to leak out, by his cavalier manipulation of the truth. He will call the discovery "…the Palace of King David" - while simultaneously often stating that "King David never existed. He is the Jewish King Arthur." Quite a feat of intellectual gymnastics.
The finds at Kh. Qeiyafa - The Elah Fortress are compelling, intriguing, and hugely significant. Mainstream scholars, archaeologists and epigraphers agree that Kh. Qeiyafa has changed our understanding of this controversial period, forcing a review and a revision of earlier assumptions. Since publicised in 2008, it has become the best preserved laboratory for understanding the 10th century BCE. Its importance cannot be understated. To poison that significance by intentionally recasting the context, the dating, and the historical framework of the finds for one's own narrow agenda is despicable. To contaminate the important field of archaeology and cast doubt thereby on the honest and determined archaeologists who work with integrity and outside the limelight is reprehensible.
It's no coincidence that on the last day of excavation an announcement so "momentous" should be made. It's all about attention, fund raising, the lecture circuit, the headlines. But it's not about archaeology. Nor is it about history. And it calls into question the right to call oneself an academic. When science, research and intellectual honesty are held hostage to sensationalism, then the public, the truth, and the legitimacy of showing the deep roots of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel are done terrible damage. The archaeologists become a laughing stock - and those wishing to delegitimise the State of Israel are given another arrow in their bid to destroy that connection. That the IAA would enable this unprofessional and egregious charade is nothing less than shameful.
Perhaps there is an unwritten code of conduct, that when a senior scholar takes it upon themselves to make an assertion based on their excavation and finds, with historical and even biblical implications, the establishment will support and publicise that statement. I have no other explanation for why there is no editorial or peer review before publicity.
In all likelihood, I'll take a lot of heat for what i've written here. That's fine. They'll say I'm not an archaeologist - and that's true. They'll say that I have an axe to grind. And that will be a lie. It really doesn't matter. What matters is that the treasure that lies buried in the soil of this land is not gold and is not oil. It is a rich historical inheritance that is simply unparalleled anywhere on earth. It ties us to a tradition and a legacy that goes back millennia that touches the core of our identity to this very day. And when someone - anyone - comes along who would do damage to that historical patrimony, we have a duty to speak out.