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December 18, 2008 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-12-18

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Rock Solid?

Dina Kraft
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel

Pho to by Dina Kra f

More evidence of a King David-era fortress.


n a hill above the valley where
tradition says David and Goliath
did battle, archaeologist Yosef
Garfinkel triumphantly rests his hands on
a 10-ton limestone rock, part of a newly
discovered second gate to an ancient forti-
fied city he is unearthing.
Garfinkel sees the massive gate, the
largest ever found from the period, as
potentially further evidence that the first
kingdom of the Israelites was as grand as
the Bible describes.
"Here we are in the footsteps of David;'
says Garfinkel, a Hebrew University
professor. Noting the gate's eastward
direction, he adds, "It's facing Jerusalem,
another indication that it is part of the
Judean Kingdom:'
This 3,000-year-old fortress with two
gates, to this day surrounded by a stone
wall that contains original stones from
the period, is the only one of its kind ever
uncovered. Garfinkel believes it could be
the remains of a town referred to in the
Bible as Sh'arayim, meaning "two gates" in
The unearthing of the two gates along
with a pottery shard found by a teenage
volunteer inscribed with what is believed
to be the earliest known Hebrew text writ-
ten in a Proto-Canaanite script are being
heralded as significant historical finds
for a period — the 10th century B.C.E.
— with scant physical evidence.
But the site also provide a lens on the
wider debate over how vast and unified
a kingdom David did or did not build so
many centuries ago — a question of pres-
ent-day interest and controversy as the
founders of Israel declared their modern
Jewish state the long-interrupted con-
tinuation of the kingdom this legendary
ancient figure is thought to have estab-
Some scholars argue that David's
Jerusalem was merely a backwater village
glorified into a mythical place by those
they say penned the Bible centuries later.
Others suggest that true to its biblical
description, it was a genuine power over-
seeing a strong and united kingdom.
The discovery of what is being called
the Elah Fortress has quickly been used to


December 18 • 2008

Yosef Garfinkel stands on a newly discovered gate outside Jerusalem believed to
date back 3,000 years to King David.

reinforce the latter argument. Located on
the road to Jerusalem, the fortress could
have been a front-line defense of the city
against enemy Philistines, Garfinkel says,
and evidence of a powerful and central-
ized kingdom that needed protection.
An Israeli-based Jewish educational
group called Foundation Stone has
embraced the idea that the site could help
confirm the historic footprints of the
Bible. The group is helping to raise funds
for its excavation and hopes to develop the
site into a first-rate tourism and educa-
tional facility, for Jews and non-Jews.
Garfinkel is bold in his pronouncements
against the school of archaeologists skep-
tical that the Bible left behind a chrono-
logically reliable physical trail of evidence,
arguing that the Elah Fortress, located in
the Elah Valley near the Israeli town of
Beit Shemesh, is an important new weap-
on in the ongoing discourse.
"It's telling them that they are wrong,"

he -says. "A certain amount of the biblical
tradition indeed preserves historical sto-
ries and historical events. This is the first
time in the history of archaeology of Israel
that you have a fortified city dated to the
time of David:'
Even in Jerusalem, he says, there is no
clear physical record of what occurred in
the 10th century B.C.E., when David and
later his son Solomon were to have ruled.
In large part that's because the city, inhab-
ited continuously since David's time, is
extremely difficult to excavate.
"No archaeological site gave you such a
clear picture about the Kingdom of David"
as this one, said Garfinkel. He presented
his findings Nov. 18 to colleagues at
Harvard University.
But Israel Finkelstein, a Tel Aviv
University archaeologist and author of
David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's
Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western
Tradition, disagrees.

"David and Solomon were historical
figures, but we have to look at every piece
of evidence very carefully;' he says, criti-
cal of the rush to make conclusions on a
site that he says is indeed important for
understanding more about the time.
Finkelstein, a father of the scholarly
group that is skeptical that the biblical
narrative can be proven through archaeol-
ogy, thinks it's too early to say whether the
city was in fact Judean. He suggests it is
even more likely a Philistine city because
of its proximity to Gath, a major Philistine
town and according to the Bible, Goliath's
hometown. -
Garfinkel says he is open to the pos-
sibility that the site could turn out to be
Philistine, but thinks it is unlikely because
of a lack of pig bones found there and the
writing on the pottery shard.
Finkelstein, however, also casts doubt on
whether the Proto-Canaanite script found
on the pottery shard will be confirmed as
Hebrew and dismisses the notion that the
site could be the Sha'arayim mentioned in
the Bible.
He says it could not be the same town
because when Sha'arayim is listed as a
Judean town in the Book of Joshua, it is
clustered with a group of places that have
all been dated to the seventh century
B.C.E. and the site of the Elah Fortress was
shown to have been abandoned at least
200 years earlier.
"Archaeology has always been used in
many places in the world to support this
or that idea or theory that have to deal
with the holy and nation building;' says
Finkelstein, seeing the way this site is
being approached as another example.
Barnea Selevan, the co-director of
Foundation Stone, says the significance of
the site for his organization is at least in
part "because some people say the Bible
has no historical basis to it."
Garfinkel cautions that the excavation
is still in very early stages and that it will
take the next decade to unearth even 30 to
40 percent of the city. He notes that it was
first surveyed by British archaeologists in
the 19th century but was then largely for-
gotten until his carbon dating of its stones
found it dated to the elusive but important
10th century B.C.E. period.
"All throughout the 20th century it was
forgotten:' and now it could be a turning
point find, he says. "It's very exciting. You
have a theory and then you begin to be
able to prove it." ❑

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