Cult at Qeiyafa

Credit:, Judah, Israel

Exodus chapters 6-8 discuss Israelite cultic practices. The chapters list a series of sacrificial offerings, including the burnt offering, grain offering, sin offering, guilt offering and fellowship offering, then continue by discussing the priests’ share and the ordination of priests.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is an archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. Qeiyafa’s location was highly strategic as a border zone and along the coastal trade route and route into the hill country. The site was active for a single period in Iron Age, in the 11th – 10th centuries BCE.

Who exactly inhabited the site is an open question, and options include Philistines, Canaanites, an independent group, Israelites or Judahites. To determine the Iron Age inhabitants of the site, archaeologists look for unique cultural markers that might point to a specific group.

At Qeiyafa, archaeologists unearthed three cult rooms, containing cultic paraphernalia. Two of the cult rooms were next to the gates in public spaces while the third was in a private area. Some of the cultic objects found include basalt altars and libation vessels. One such example of a libation vessel includes twin-cup vessels, two matching goblets joined on a high pedestal, similar to vessels uncovered at other sites within cultic contexts. The cultic rooms contained basins and drains to transport the liquid from the cultic rooms. The cultic rooms also contained standing stones, including one nearly seven feet tall and weighing over 2,000 lbs.

The cultic style at Qeiyafa differs from those found at Philistine and Canaanite sites. Canaanite and Philistine cult was typically done at dedicated temples, which displayed more iconography. If the cultic rooms do indeed indicate that the site was neither Canaanite nor Philistine, it increases the odds that the site was either an Israelite or Judahite site.

If it was Israelite or Judahite, it would suggest that Qeiyafa was ruled from a distance, by a greater power, perhaps even a kingdom, in the central hill country in the late 11th – early 10th century BCE, and could point to a Judahite ruler powerful enough to direct resources at a distance from his capital already in the late 11th – early 10th century BCE, the estimated time period of the Bible’s kings Saul and David.

The image above is of a standing stone at the Khirbet Qeiyafa archaeological site.