Perhaps you have not heard but there has been some new buzz in the field over some shrines that were discovered. Here is a snippet of the recent press release:
Jerusalem, May 8, 2012—Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, announced today the discovery of objects that for the first time shed light on how a cult was organized in Judah at the time of King David. During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, Garfinkel and colleagues uncovered rich assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. These include three large rooms that served as cultic shrines, which in their architecture and finds correspond to the biblical description of a cult at the time of King David.
Now a couple of things. First, the link between these shrines and cultic artifacts and a Davidic kingdom or even a historical David are tenuous at best. Have we found an inscription mentioning David on these artifacts? Do we have any reference to a Davidic context other than the very tentative link between the C14 dating and the period commonly associated with David? Then why are certain individuals making exaggerated claims about these artifacts?
Something else that struck me. Consider this shrine here:
The iconography on this shrine looks similar to the sort found on Asherah shrines:
These may not match perfectly (which would not be crucial) but they do share similar (also common) motifs (lions at the doorstep and birds perched on the roof, for example). And I see no reason why someone would jump the gun and make some sort of reference to David based upon these rather common-looking shrines which are found throughout the region.
See also this shrine here (via) with the dove on the top (symbols commonly associated with Asherah on these sorts of model shrines) and take note of the pillars (especially):
And I do not find the argument compelling that the context in which these were discovered paint some sort of Davidic or Yahwahistic function. To me, these look like nothing but stressed connections.
I would also note that the media is reporting the claim (allegedly from Garfinkel) that these are the first ever shrines discovered from the time of David which is just absurd.
This discovery is extraordinary as it is the first time that shrines from the time of early biblical kings were uncovered. Because these shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years, they provide the first physical evidence of a cult in the time of King David, with significant implications for the fields of archaeology, history, biblical and religion studies. (via)
Of course whoever did the research for this claim probably didn’t know how common these shrines are. Like this model shrine from Tel Rekhesh (dated to Iron I):
And the bizarre claim that these ‘provide the first physical evidence of a cult in the time of King David’ is full of problems. First, when one places ‘the time of King David’ is debated. And if we’re placing it during Iron I, one has to wonder what it meant by ‘first physical evidence of a cult’ during this period. Is there seriously someone suggesting that there is no evidence for cults existing in the region during Iron I? I certainly hope not!
Then this claim:
The biblical tradition presents the people of Israel as conducting a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East by being monotheistic and an-iconic (banning human or animal figures). However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if indeed during the time of the monarchy (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.
But this seems to go against the whole find! After all, shrines like these were common throughout the region (as I’ve stated above) and they hold no special significance to ‘Israelites’ (whatever that term means). These sorts of shrines were used by Canaanites and those who settled in the hill country of Palestine. We know that the early settlers believed in multiple gods and goddesses and that includes those who also worshiped Yahweh (again, we have references both biblically and archaeologically to shrines like this which were used to worship the ‘wife’ of Yahweh, Asherah).
And what is this talk of a ‘united monarchy’ for which there is no evidence? And why is it presumed throughout the many articles arguing for the significance of this common find? It is very troubling indeed.
I’m glad other scholars are showing their concern for the exaggerated finds:
Model shrines of the type presented Tuesday have been found at many other sites belonging to other local cultures, and their similarity to Temple architecture as described in the Bible has already been noted, said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, who leads a dig at the ruins of the nearby Philistine city of Gath. And the existence of lions and birds on the clay model undermine the claim that no figures of people or animals have been found at Qeiyafa, he said. (via)
UPDATE: See George Athas’s comments on the discovery here: http://withmeagrepowers.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/ark-of-god-found-at-khirbet-qeiyafa/