Notes from a conversation between Seth Sanders, Matthew Suriano and Jacqueline Vayntrub.
"The difference between the new model shrines and others is that these come with a press kit."
It is tempting to dismiss claims about the new discoveries as exaggerated, self-contradictory, or even fundamentalist. The newly discovered model shrine is somehow supposed to testify to both the biblical ban on graven images and the biblical Ark of the Lord--despite being festooned with birds and lions and bearing no striking resemblance to the account in Exodus. Footprints of King David, a glossy book about the finds available the day of the press conference, did not help to soften the impression of hasty sensationalism.
Qeiyafa and Jerusalem Did Not Share a Scribal Culture.
The inscription shows a sharp break with Israelite scribal culture. In every significant paleographic area--writing direction, letter forms, and letter stance--the Ostracon lines up with Late Bronze Age/Iron I inland Canaanite style. The writing runs either top-down or left-to-right, like many Late Bronze Canaanite inscriptions but no Iron Age Hebrew ones. Letter forms such as the bull-head alef fit with many earlier Canaanite and no later Hebrew forms. And the wildly varied letter stances are only elsewhere known from pre-10th-century Canaanite inscriptions, predating what Milik termed "standard Phoenician".
This leaves two logical possibilities, both of which complicate our picture of writing in early Judah and Israel: if the excavators are right in dating it so late--against the paleography and probably the pottery-- it shows that the writer of Qeiyafa was nearly contemporary with, but separate from the standarized scribal culture that spread from the Phoenician coast to Israel and Judah. If we go instead with the paleography, the inscription is simply early Canaanite of the 12th or 11th centuries.
A Temple Model Before a Temple: Judahite Temples Before Solomon
The second new object looks like a model of a temple--but of which early Iron Age temple? Since scholars on every side of the debate--both Garfinkel and Finkelstein-- date this stratum earlier than the Jerusalem temple, it means the Qeiyafa models reflect Israelite veneration of shrines that were left out of the Bible. If the excavators are right that Qeiyafa is connected to Jerusalem, and this is not an abstract model of the general idea of a temple, was there already a temple in Jerusalem? After all, we have nothing but the biblical account here. On the other hand, it might be more proof that the site was Canaanite (or northern Israelite – per Finkelstein).
What real-life temple could have inspired the model? The Late Bronze Age remains of Lachish in the southern Shephelah invites comparison (such as the Acropolis temple, and notably the Fosse Temple). If Lachish was destroyed around 1130 (per Ussishkin) and Qeiyafa was built between 1100–1000, could it be a cultural memory of Lachish? Curiously, while there are several known structures dating to the Late Bronze, we know remakably few from the Iron Age I (the Philistine temple at Tel Qasile comes to mind!).
Two Paradoxical Claims and their Consequences
1. "The three shrines are part of larger building complexes. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples—separate buildings dedicated only to rituals."
In fact, the ritual use of general building complexes alongside specialized temples is well known from Anatolian sites such as 8th-century Zincirli, where the famous--and clearly ritual-- Katumuwa stele was found in a non-temple building complex. And it is well-known that the iconography of Solomon's temple included many features seen in temples from Assyria to the northern Levant (such as Ain Dara). The three-part layout of Solomon's temple (projected back into the tabernacle) follows an established architectural tradition going back to the Middle Bronze Age and is seen in contemporary Iron Age temples at Ain Dara and Tayinat. The interesting thing about the three-part plan is that it was emulated, imperfectly, at Arad within the cramped space of the fortified acropolis. The Arad temple is built in a broad-house style, yet it incorporates the three-part division and graduated sacred space described in the long-house plan of the tabernacle and Solomon's temple.
What we have now is a temple model supposedly before a temple-- so either Solomon didn't build it or they were familiar with temples before this. This is precisely the picture implied by the earliest Israelite law collection, the Covenant code--likely written down at the end of the Iron Age but preserving earlier traditions.
2. "The cult objects include five standing stones (Massebot)"
--for the five gods of Israelite monotheism?
Some New Possible Pasts
If Qeiyafa does indeed have a strong connection to Jerusalem, the possibilities raised by the temple model are startling: was a temple already standing in Jerusalem that was reinterpreted as the place of "Judahite" worship--a preexisting temple that underwent rededication? Would the indigenous people living here (Jebusites?) not have had a place of worship like other cities? Can we really know without excavation of the Temple Mount?
Whatever the case, these artifacts only serve to complicate the seemingly simple narrative of no temple==then Solomon's temple, since we have temple models that the excavators themselves insist are earlier than Solomon's reign but conform to aspects of Solomon's temple in the narrative. But if they are indeed models--of what?
Depending on what the early Iron Age Jerusalem "stepped stone structure" is or was, the existing evidence suggests that Khirbet Qeiyafa may have actually been more important in the 10th c than Jerusalem. For a site that is so obscure in the biblical narrative that its idenification remains unsure, this lends credence to the argument that Samuel-Kings are shaping narratives of the past to match their current political reality (and not necessarily their actual past) - perhaps what the excavators are doing in presenting the site as the "Footprints of King David"!
But if Qeiyafa is so Judahite, why was it immediately abandoned? And if this is a contested area that could go either way, why is it abandoned just around the time of Solomon and/or the divide between North and South? This might be the best proof for it being north-Israelite or Canaanite It is fascinating to consider Qeiyafa within the wider context of the Iron Age. In the longue durée, the settlement patterns in the Elah Valley seem to get reconfigured in the 9th-7th centuries with the abandonment of Qeiyafa and the rise of Socho and Azekah. Why was Qeiyafa abandoned and the nearby site of Socoh taken up so quickly thereafter? Excavations beginning this summer may provide new answers.
We are in the excavators' debt, then, not for ending discussions but for providing such wonderful data that fuels good new questions. If the discoveries hardly remake the 10th century in the image of the bible, we suspect they do something more valuable: they help us see a new picture of not only of early Iron Age Judah but also of the way it was remembered in Samuel and Kings.
*We stand in the debt of the excavators and epigrapher, Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, and Haggai Misgav, as well as their archaeological, historical and paleographical interlocutors including Israel Finkelstein, Alexander Fantalkin, Lily Singer-Avitz, Nadav Na'aman, and Christopher Rollston. We also thank Aren Maeir and John Hobbins for their thoughts, the best of which we have probably not followed