An exciting new archeological discovery made recently is shedding light on the cultic rituals of the Israelites in the tribe of Judah during the time of King David. The artifacts have been unearthed in Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley just south of Beit Shemesh and some 30 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem.
An excavation team from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University, headed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor from the Antiquities Authority, recently completed the unearthing of a wide range of pottery, stone and metal tools, and several art and cult objects at the Khirbet Qeiyafa site. The discovery also includes three large rooms that are believed to have served as cultic shrines. Their architecture and other details correspond to the biblical description of a cult at the site at the time of King David.
According to the Foreign Ministry's website, "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."
The people of Israel are depicted in the bible as conducting different cultic rituals than all other nations of the ancient Near East due to their monotheistic beliefs and their ban on worshipping human or animal figures. However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if it was indeed during the time of the monarchy (10th-6th centuries BCE), or perhaps only later, in the Hellenistic or Persian eras.
The absence of cultic images of humans or animals in the three shrines at Khirbet Qeiyafa provides evidence that the inhabitants of the place practiced different cultic rituals than those of the Canaanites or the Philistines.
"The findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa," according to the Foreign Ministry, "also indicate that an elaborate architectural style had developed as early as the time of King David. Such construction is typical of royal activities, thus indicating that state formation, the establishment of an elite, social level and urbanism in the region existed in the days of the early kings of Israel. These finds strengthen the historicity of the biblical tradition and its architectural description of the Palace and Temple of Solomon."
According to Professor Garfinkel, "This is the first time that archaeologists uncovered a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. Even in Jerusalem we do not have a clear fortified city from his period. Thus, the various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure or just a leader of a small tribe are now shown to be wrong."
Garfinkel went on to say, "Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found. This suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans — on pork and on graven images — and thus practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines."