This is a story that doesn't end. It is part of the war against Israel. It is about a place you have never heard of.
Qeiyafa (pronounced, key-yafah) is an abandoned hilltop that sits in the Sh'fay-lah, the low rolling hills west of the Judean mountain range in central Israel (that is, between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean coast). On this hilltop sits the ruins of an ancient walled city. This ancient city had been a fortress. It had been built between the years 1060 - 930 BCE, some 2900+ years ago. Today, its ruins lie about 40 minutes by car Southwest of Jerusalem, near a modern city called Beit Shemesh.
This fortified outpost attracts our attention because of the story it tells. It is a story of the enemies of Israel--both ancient and modern.
Perhaps 3,300 years ago, the ancient Philistines came to this land, Canaan, from the sea; according to many archaeologists, they came from somewhere in the Greek Isles. They came from the West at about the same time Joshua and the Israelites were arriving from the East.
After conquering a coastal portion of Canaan (modern Gaza and Israel’s Ashkelon and Ashdod), the Philistines opposed Israel for perhaps 200 years--until David defeated them. They were a constant threat. Israel had to worry about Philistine armies marching across these low rolling hills towards Jerusalem. Israel needed a fort to here to protect Israel's 'backside' from Philistine armies.
The fortress at Qeiyafah is important not only because it reveals ancient Jewish life, but also because it speaks to modern Israel.
In Israel, the connection between ancient and modern seems never to be far away. Indeed, in this case, Qeiyafa has a particularly modern connection.
About 25 years ago, an archaeologist published a report summarizing a point of view that, so far as archaeological findings went, there was little evidence to suggest that King David and his son Solomon ever existed. This opinion reflected the findings of a 'school' of archaeologists called, 'Minimalists'. These archaeologists argued that the Bible did not contain trustworthy fact. They claimed that if you want a true history of Israel, the only primary unbiased source was the archaeologist—and their position was, David and Solomon never lived.
These archaeologists took this position because, they said, they could find no compelling evidence of construction that is typical of a strong, organized and powerful national government older than 850 BCE. Their scholarship led to one conclusion: the reign of David and Solomon (app 1,000 BCE) never happened.
Their claim amounted to proving a negative: zero discoveries meant David and Solomon never lived. This seemed an extreme conclusion, however, because archaeology has seen other ‘zero discovery’ scenarios--with no impact on the accepted story. William the Conqueror is an example of this: William is said to have conquered England in 1066 CE; but (I have been told), there is little evidence found (at least, as of 1999) to prove that story--no battlefield sites, no debris, no destruction, no broken walls; and yet, no one doubted the story of William the Conqueror.
Why is Israel different? Unlike England, Israel appears to be a magnet for deniers. Israel attracts people intent upon separating Jews from their land and Heritage: the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Muslims and an assortment of modern politicians, historians and, possibly, archaeologists.
The archaeologists of this story are intriguing. Even when evidence began to surface that David and Solomon might indeed have existed, these scholars refused to yield: although forced to grant that David might actually have lived, they changed their claim to argue a slightly different case: there was still no evidence that David and Solomon were national leaders; if they did exist, they said, these Jewish kings were nothing more than tribal chieftains; Biblical stories that they had unified Israel were just fictions.
The Minimalists refused to let go of the ‘narrative’ they had written about David and Solomon. Whatever dig-sites revealed, these two kings had no significant value.
Then, beginning with 2003/4, a dig site near the modern city of Beit Shemesh, called, Tel Beit Shemesh, created a problem: the contents of the Tel Beit Shemesh site were dated by some to have been from the time of David and Solomon, app 950 BCE. This site presented a special problem to Minimalists because archaeologists at the dig-site uncovered a very large cistern for water collection which was too big and too well constructed to have been built by local tribesmen. I have walked down into that cistern; it is very large, and even a tourist can appreciate how expertly it had been chiselled and 'prepared' out of the bedrock. This cistern appears indeed to have been constructed by a large group of people who had professional expertise and quality equipment--exactly the kind of evidence you would expect to find in a project built by a large, organized, well-funded and well-run centralized national government.
The Minimalists agreed that this was an impressive project. They could not deny that. But they insisted that it proved nothing. They rejected the Solomonic dating. They claimed it was from Ahab's period-- 850 BCE--100 years later than Solomon.
The Minimalists refused to accept any possibility that David and Solomon could have existed.
There were other finds that suggested the existence of David/Solomon. Each time, the Minimalists repeated their story: the period 850BCE was the most accurate dating, not 1,000 BCE.
Why? Because they said so.
This unyielding insistence in the face of accumulating evidence seems suspicious. It suggests the possibility of an unscholarly preference for –and perhaps support of--Leftist and Arabist arguments that Israel’s Jewish narrative was a lie. If William the Conqueror in England could be a hero with few archaeological finds, why should David and Solomon remain fiction even as evidence mounted in their favour?
This Minimalist insistence against David/Solomon is important. It is not just an archaeological preference. It's not just for scholarly journals and graduate classes. It has extraordinary political consequences for Israel.
If you argue that David and Solomon never existed, then two things happen: (1), the Bible becomes fiction; and (2) if the Bible is fiction--creating men who never existed--then a centralized Jewish religion in Israel might never have existed, either. David and Solomon are at the core of the Jewish belief that G-d rested his presence in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem—and, so resting, helped to unify a strong and vibrant Jewish nation around that Temple.
Arabs have been saying for years that there is no evidence of Jews on the Temple Mount. They have even worked illegally to remove 12,000 - 15,000 tons of debris from the Temple Mount to support that argument. They know that without David and Solomon, there is no unified, powerful Jewish Kingdom in Israel circa 1,000BCE. Without that powerful Kingdom, there could be no Temple.
With no Temple, there is no Jewish narrative. Therefore, if the Bible is fiction, the Temple is a fiction--and Jewish presence in ancient Israel is a fiction--just as the Arabs have been arguing.
The Minimalist gives to the Arab an archaeology he can love. It is an archaeology that supports the Arab war against Israel.
But now, there is Qeiyafah. Qeiyafah changes everything.
At first glance, Qeiyafa is just another ancient walled city. Its construction suggests a centralized and organized government sending out people to the outskirts of a territory. It is like other finds. The Minimalist acknowledges this similarity. But, as with the cistern above, the Minimalist has always insisted that these sites date to at least 100 years after David/Solomon ruled.
Then, in 2007/8, the archaeologist in charge of digging at Qeiyafa found perhaps a dozen olive pits. This was a game-changing discovery. Why? Because olive pits are organic. Organic matter can be carbon-dated.
Some of these olive pits were sent to Oxford University--which has perhaps the world's most sophisticated carbon dating equipment. The Oxford tests suggested that these olive pits were eaten and spat out between the years 1060-930 BCE--exactly the moment of David/Solomon.
Suddenly, the Minimalists faced clear scientific evidence that the Qeiyafah site existed during a period they had aggressively denied. Moreover, these olive pits not only dated Qeiyafah, they dated other, similar sites.
To an archaeologist, similarities between two or more dig-sites have meaning. Similarities between large structures are not random or accidental. If an archaeologist dates any one of similar structures to a specific date, then he will date all the others to that same date. It's how archaeology works. It's one of their protocols.
If all these identical forts could now be dated through the age of these olive pits, then a very compelling case could be made that these structures had been built during a David/Solomon period. The structures are massive enough and numerous enough to have required a centralized national government that had the money, men, training, equipment, fort-building designs and organizational skill to build with.
The Minimalists have not yet fully digested these olive pits.
Do these olive pits end the claim that David and Solomon never existed, or if they did exist, were no more than tribesmen? Probably not: carbon dating is not perfect. It can be questioned. The olive pits might be questioned. The archaeologist who found them might be questioned (his archaeological experience is not the Davidic period; his experience--12 books, 100+ articles-- is pre-Davidic). But from this point forward, those who refuse to believe that the Bible could indeed be correct regarding David and Solomon are going to have to work extremely hard to justify their denial.
Will they continue to deny?
The war against Israel continues.
(Note: I am neither historian nor archaeologist. You will have to search on your own to confirm this story. If you find any errors here, let me know. Click on the 'Comment' icon below and write to me....I wish to thank licensed tour guide Ezra Rosenfeld (www.tanachtiyulim.com) for showing me the land of Israel with Tanach in hand.)