"King David’s Palace was Uncovered in the Judean Shephelah"
(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.
IAA Press Release

King David’s Palace was Uncovered in the Judean Shephelah

Royal storerooms were also revealed in the joint archaeological excavation of the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority at Khirbet Qeiyafa *** These are the two largest buildings known to have existed in the tenth century BCE in the Kingdom of Judah

Two royal public buildings, the likes of which have not previously been found in the Kingdom of Judah of the tenth century BCE, were uncovered this past year by researchers of the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority at Khirbet Qeiyafa – a fortified city in Judah dating to the time of King David and identified with the biblical city of Shaarayim.

One of the buildings is identified by the researchers, Professor Yossi Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, as David’s palace, and the other structure served as an enormous royal storeroom.

Today (Thursday) the excavation, which was conducted over the past seven years, is drawing to a close. According to Professor Yossi Garfinkel and Sa'ar Ganor, “Khirbet Qeiyafa is the best example exposed to date of a fortified city from the time of King David. The southern part of a large palace that extended across an area of c. 1,000 sq m was revealed at the top of the city. The wall enclosing the palace is c. 30 m long and an impressive entrance is fixed it through which one descended to the southern gate of the city, opposite the Valley of Elah. Around the palace’s perimeter were rooms in which various installations were found – evidence of a metal industry, special pottery vessels and fragments of alabaster vessels that were imported from Egypt. The palace is located in the center of the site and controls all of the houses lower than it in the city. From here one has an excellent vantage looking out into the distance, from as far as the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Hebron Mountains and Jerusalem in the east. This is an ideal location from which to send messages by means of fire signals. Unfortunately, much of this palace was destroyed c. 1,400 years later when a fortified farmhouse was built there in the Byzantine period”.

A pillared building c. 15 m long by 6 m wide was exposed in the north of the city, which was used as an administrative storeroom. According to the researchers, “It was in this building the kingdom stored taxes it received in the form of agricultural produce collected from the residents of the different villages in the Judean Shephelah. Hundreds of large store jars were found at the site whose handles were stamped with an official seal as was customary in the Kingdom of Judah for centuries”.

The palace and storerooms are evidence of state sponsored construction and an administrative organization during King David’s reign. “This is unequivocal evidence of a kingdom’s existence, which knew to establish administrative centers at strategic points”, the archaeologists say. “To date no palaces have been found that can clearly be ascribed to the early tenth century BCE as we can do now. Khirbet Qeiyafa was probably destroyed in one of the battles that were fought against the Philistines circa 980 BCE. The palace that is now being revealed and the fortified city that was uncovered in recent years are another tier in understanding the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah”.

The exposure of the biblical city at Khirbet Qeiyafa and the importance of the finds discovered there have led the Israel Antiquities Authority to act together with the Nature and Parks Authority and the planning agencies to cancel the intended construction of a new neighborhood nearby and to promote declaring the area around the site a national park. This plan stems from the belief that the site will quickly become a place that will attract large numbers of visitors who will be greatly interested in it, and from it one will be able to learn about the culture of the country at the time of King David.

Today (Thursday) it will be possible to photograph the site and interview the archaeologists between the hours of 10:30–13:30.
Driving Instructions to Reach Khirbet Qeiyafa: Turn right from Elah Junction on to Highway 38. After c. 300 meters there is a path on the right side of the road that leads up to Khirbet Qeiyafa. (The turn off point from Highway 38 is marked). Follow the signs that will be placed in the area in order to reach the site which is located at the top of the hill.
Click here to download high resolution pictures
1. An aerial picture of the site. Photograph: Sky View, courtesy of the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. 2. An aerial picture of David’s palace and the Byzantine farmhouse. Photograph: Sky View, courtesy of the Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
3.Finds from the site. Photographic Credit: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority