The Qeiyafa Discovery and King David: The Da Vinci Connection

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.

via The Hebrew University Press Release on the Qeiyafa Discovery « Zwinglius Redivivus.

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:

16 Responses

  1. Other than the columns (the camera angle on the KQ shrine is too poor to tell much, but even these may not be similar) and general box-shape, there is no similarity at all in the iconography (I’m not even sure why that word is being used).

    I’d agree that judgment should be postponed. But as to why the PR mentions David: why not? These date from the period during which the scholars who put out the PR clearly believe David lived. This may not (or may: again, postponing judgment) resolve the ur-dispute about the historical David, but that’s not these scholars’ problem.

  2. Please do not take this as an insult but I’m really amazed at the naivety of your comment. Using ‘David’ and ‘kingdom’ and ‘united monarchy’ in the press releases have clouded the facts and exaggerate the finds for thousands (potentially millions) of readers. Laypeople will now link this find to David, as if these were somehow evidence for his existence or evidence for a united kingdom, for which these have absolutely no bearing on such questions. Indeed, have you not read any of the media reports? It is already happening. Why? Because the scholars who made the discovery were incautious and used words and language they should not have (meaning the use of phrases like ‘united monarchy’ or ‘the time of David’ instead of ‘Iron I’ or, if that was too specific, even ‘the Iron Age’ is more appropriate). This is the tragedy here; that good scholarship and cautious scholarship have been pushed aside from sensationalism and misinformation….yet again.

  3. Thank you for the helpful post Tom. The first thought that came to mind when I read the story’s title was, “Does something mention David?” It doesn’t seem that it does so I think your cautioning is appropriate.

  4. […] Verenna, The Qeiyafa Discovery and King David: The Da Vinci Connection Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInStumbleUponRedditDiggPinterestTumblrEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe […]

  5. Just remember that some of those people down there are desperately in need of something that can help them preserving their story, the hyperstory called “the history of Israel”. There are lots of national in not nationalistic reasons for it. It has nothing to do with what happened in ancient time, but it is representing the modern national and political discourse in Israel today, now also confronting a different hyperstory, the Palestinians version.

    So it is mainly a political game … and then of course a religious one at the same time as so many people has simply adopted the hyperstore of the Bible (and subsequent interpretation) as their history.

    NIels Peter Lemche

  6. NP,

    Quite true. Is it any wonder there are scholars who associate any find made in the region with ‘Biblical Israel’? When you are living in ‘the city of David’ what does one expect?

  7. I’m guessing they are influenced by the Khirbet Qeiyafah inscription as interpreted by Émile Puech; notably his fourth line interpretation “The men and the chiefs have established a king” which — due, in part, to the dating of the site, and “history” as suggested by biblical text — would suggest Saul’s establishment as first king, or David’s establishment after the disputed time following Saul’s death (the latter, re David, I think would be the least likely of these two options).

    Of course, this assumes that the biblical text is some kind of reflection of historical events (albeit, probably distorted by the funhouse mirrors of memory, religion, and biased and/or incomplete records).

  8. But even if Puech’s reconstruction were correct, there is no link to David or Saul or Solomon or anyone. No one is named and nothing more is discussed and the ostracon is far too vague (let alone faded) to really be of much use. This is nothing more than people reading biblical characters and events into the past that aren’t there. It is quite a shame that this sort of thing happens in scholarship; it seems more appropriate for ridiculous television programs like Ancient Aliens.

  9. […] Tom Verenna argues fairly convincingly against the theory put forward yesterday by Garfinkel and Ganor. He argues that the two boxes are not mini-replicas of the Ark, but rather represent a type of portable shrine that probably house a small idol, such as one of Asherah. His blog post is well worth reading and includes images (excuse the pun) of comparable portable shrines discovered previously. […]

  10. Thanks for sharing these images of parallel objects, Tom! Very helpful! I knew I had seen similar things in excavation reports, but the rapidity with which you collected/displayed this sampling is impressive!

  11. […] rather than emerging Israelite culture.Of course, the majority of scholars are persuaded that the origins of Israel are largely within Canaan and Canaanite society, and so these finds are indeed relevant to the study and interpretation of the Bible and likely to […]

  12. […] (T. Levy, E. Mazar, Y. Garfinkel). I can say no more than Tom Verenna (who now has the best post on parallels to other shrines). Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories: Biblical […]

  13. Thanks for sharing the images, with so few of the actual temples found intact the models are great for filling in how these things may have looked.

    On the lack of idols found with these, 1. I get the impression that the shrine is made hollow to hold an idol, if none was supposed to go in, they couldn’t have made it solid? 2. a lot of the examples I’ve seen of idols, and the descriptions of them suggest they were made of metal, which would have had a utilitarian value the shrines lacked so if push came to shove a person would much more likely cart of the idol than the shrine, yes?

    What do you make of the association of the pillars with the feminine image? I can’t tell the gender of the people that form the pillars on the third shrine down, it looks like an Egyptian representation of a male god, but my resolution doesn’t let me see them clearly. Do you think the pillars might have been thought to represent particular gods?

    On the ambitious linking of these to King David, other than illuminating the time in which he supposedly lived, I don’t see what they have to do with him. As for what they say about Israelites, while it does seem the Israelites weren’t fond of pork at this early time I’m not sure everybody not eating pork would have thought themselves Israelite.

  14. Tom,

    Not insulted. Just perplexed. Again, accepting the historicity of David and the United Monarchy is a legitimate scholarly position. It is one with which you obviously disagree. That is not these scholars’ problem. These finds fit nicely into their narrative. You point out that they also fit nicely into other narratives. That’s fine, too. It sounds to me like you’re upset that the historical David narrative is more popular than alternative narratives (or perhaps that its popularity is being exploited). Whatever.

  15. Not insulted. Just perplexed. Again, accepting the historicity of David and the United Monarchy is a legitimate scholarly position.

    I never said it wasn’t. Please don’t fabricate a strawman here.

    It is one with which you obviously disagree. That is not these scholars’ problem.

    I never said I disagreed with the scholarly position of a historical David or a united monarchy; it is irrelevant to this discussion what I argument I find compelling about those questions. I don’t know why you feel a need to shift goal posts and make an argument about something I didn’t state in the post. Though, now that you bring it up, I simply don’t find any supporting evidence for such academic positions on a historical David or a united monarchy. Maybe evidence will one day present itself, but so far none have.

    These finds fit nicely into their narrative.

    Actually they don’t. They fit into the context of the location of Qeiyafa, but not into any bibical narrative. Any attempt to presume that these artifacts have any relationship with the biblical account can only be based upon fictional constructs of ones imaginations. Unless you can point me to an artifact that specifically discusses, in some detail, any of the traditional biblical kings, then the only honest conclusion is that any link to them is tenuous and invented. And whether you disagree with me or not is irrelevant since that is the state of the evidence, and there is nothing that either you or I could do about it.

    It sounds to me like you’re upset that the historical David narrative is more popular than alternative narratives (or perhaps that its popularity is being exploited). Whatever.

    I’m upset that there are certain people out there with political and religious agendas who wholly compromise legitimate excavations with their presuppositional nonsense. That someone can take a common house shrine (that has absolutely nothing to do with anything biblical, certainly nothing beyond ancient cultic practices throughout the region of Palestine in antiquity) and claim that this is an ‘ark’ is not just absurd, it is irresponsible. Someone didn’t do their research, they didn’t ask themselves what this was in the context of the find, they asked themselves what this was in the context of the Bible. There is a very strong difference between the two options. One is ideologically driven while the other is objective. Now you tell me which one is which. And until you realize why I am so disgusted with this practice, we can have a more productive conversation instead of this current conversation, consisting of me trying to figure out why most of your post has nothing at all to do with my article.

  16. […] has a fuller piece on this nonsense here. And even biblicis, George Athas, is skeptical. Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditTwitterLike […]

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