Once More Into the Fray: Khirbet Qeiyafa

Well, the finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa have raised the expected furor (if you’re unfamiliar with the history or significance of the dig, Todd Bolen gives a brief history here). I’ve tried to catalogue some of the carnage below for anyone just getting in on the ground floor of this melee.

Luke Chandler has dug at the site for the past few seasons, so it wasn’t surprising when he led off with his first discussion of the published article, followed by a clarification on the differences between idolatry and imagery (you’ll want to read Peter Hagyo-Kovacs comment below on Luke’s (mis?)use of aniconism. In fact, you should probably read all of the comments on that post because there’s some good stuff there and presents the greater argument in a microcosm.

Other bloggers followed suit in rapid succession, with Tom Veranna pointing out that the clay shrine looks a lot like Canaanite versions. Chesnut agrees. George Athos argues that KQ is strong evidence for a power in the region… just not a Judahite one of the Saul-David-Solomon persuasion. He follows up with some good information from Aren Maeir who also agrees that the site continues to turn up important–if not Judahite of the SDS persuasion–evidence about the region and epoch.

Seth Sanders, Matthew Suriano, and Jacqueline Vayntrub chime in to give a good history of the dig’s importance and lend a more balanced view while still questioning whether this was an SDS city, and ask the excellent chicken-and-egg question regarding the KQ temple shrines and the proposed Solomonic temple of Samuel-Kings.

John Hobbins and James McGrath also provide early roundups, but disagree on the significance. Hobbins calls the finds “boring” because they continue the status quo of “it seems possible/probably that Samuel-Kings are somewhat reliably historical,” whereas McGrath believes this is merely evidence that at some point Canaanite religion began to transition to proto-Israelite religion.

KQ even polled Douglas Magnum out of his reverie! (Though only to caution us to be careful what sweeping strikes we take at the beginning of this controversial find).

Luke then updates us all with some clarifying comments from Garfinkle himself which might deflate some of the furor surrounding some of the embellishing that the media no doubt loves (after all, who reads an article which reads “things were found somewhere which might mean something… but no one’s sure yet”?) and is absolutely worth a read.

I guess I’m somewhere in the middle on all of this. While (like Magnum, Hobbins, and Chandler) I’m receptive to a maximalist reading of these finds, I’m not entirely convinced of all of the hype. I don’t think this proves anything on it’s own–and I honestly doubt that anyone (including Garfinkle) is trying to say that they do. What they do actually accomplish is give more evidence regarding the region and the time period, and that evidence is starting to indicate (to me, at least) that there is absolutely a Judahite power in Iron IIA Palestine in the mode of SDS. Why else build such a gargantuan fortress where it’s placed? What else explains the architecture (case-mate walls and notable gates), the preponderance of cultic rooms paired with the (so far) absolute lack of idols, and the thousands of bones sans a single porkie?

If it were just one of these aspects, I would be completely with the minimalists in noting that this is hogwash. But when we look at the site holistically, the maximalist assertion begins to gain traction.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that this site proves that the bible is perfectly historical and that every iota of information presented there is now indisputable. I don’t even believe that this site proves that the SDS account is true. What I do believe is that KQ seems to indicate that the SDS account could be true. And also don’t get me wrong, I’m also completely open to the possibility/probability that this season’s dig opens up a room chock-full of Asherim buried in pig intestines and drowned in Philistine armor. But that’s not what we have right now. So, if I’m to make a judgment, I’ll do it with the evidence we have so far.

That said, no one should be surprised at any of the bloggers’ reactions. We know Garfinkle will believe this validates his claims. We know that Finkelstein will say otherwise. People have reacted to the finds in character to their placement on the maximalist vs. minimalist continuum–and it is a sliding scale; the either-or approach continues to represent a fallacy. That said, I admit that I’m really looking forward to what scholarship looks like in 10 years.

Published by Jared Saltz

Biblical Studies Faculty (Florida College). PhD candidate at HUC-JIR. Husband, father, student.

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