Lachish Level V’s Defenses

Credit:, Judah, Israel

In Numbers 1, a census of Israel was taken. In the final tally, “All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.” To accommodate these numbers, the tribes were assigned to designated areas, and Judah was placed in the east.

In the southern Levant in the Iron IIA period, Judah was centered in Jerusalem, but then began to expand to the west. One such site it expanded to in the west was the city of Lachish. Lachish was an ancient city in the Shephelah, the region between the central hill country and the coastal plain. The city is mentioned in a variety of ancient sources, including in the Amarna Letters, the Bible and in Assyrian records. While there is no definitive proof of the exact location of the ancient city, it is associated with Tell ed Duweir, today’s Tel Lachish.

In an archaeological tel, or mound, layers stacked on top of other layers each represent a particular period of time. The top layer will typically be referred to as Level I, which rests on top of Level II, Level II above Level III, and so on. Pottery discovered within a layer can be used to establish a relative chronology for a level that can be aligned with other sites, and monuments or carbon dating can be used to establish a fixed chronology for a particular level.

Lachish’s Level III city was destroyed by the Assyrians in Sennacherib’s campaign at the end of the 8th century BCE, providing a fixed end date for Level III. Level IV lies beneath Level III, and was occupied during the 9th century. The Level IV city covered an area of 7.5 hectares and was surrounded by a 20 foot thick wall.

Recent excavations of a layer below Level IV, designated as Level V, exposed a smaller city of only 3 to 4 hectares large, surrounded by a 10 foot thick wall built of medium sized stones. Carbon dating of olive pits associated with this layer place the city in the latter part of the 10th century BCE.

In the Bible, King Solomon was followed as king by his son Rehoboam. In 2 Chronicles 11, Rehoboam took steps to fortify his cities. “Rehoboam lived in Jerusalem and built up towns for defense in Judah: Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth Zur, Soko, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon and Hebron. These were fortified cities in Judah and Benjamin. He strengthened their defenses and put commanders in them, with supplies of food, olive oil and wine. He put shields and spears in all the cities, and made them very strong. So Judah and Benjamin were his.”

The Davidic kingdom of David and Solomon are typically placed in the Iron IIA period. The wall at Lachish Level V would seem to point to an Iron IIA city in the 10th century BCE. If the wall at Lachish Level V can indeed be associated with Rehoboam, it would point to a Davidic kingdom centered in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE, able to extend its power beyond the central hill country and into the Shephelah.

The image above is an aerial view of the site that today is assumed to be ancient Lachish.

Man of God, Man of Embarrassment

Credit:, Judah, Shephelah

In Leviticus 26, God warns the nation of Israel “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.” One of those gods that God would be warning about is the Canaanite god Baal, whose name features in an inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a hilltop archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. The town was occupied for a brief period in the Iron Age, between the 11th and 10th centuries BCE.

Excavators working the site uncovered a broken jar with an inscription along its neck. The inscription was written in the early Canaanite script, which was determined by the position of the letters in the inscription. The letters appear to be read from right to left, as Hebrew is today. This was not always the case, as the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon was written from left to right, and it is unclear when the Canaanite script was exclusively written in a right to left direction.

The first words in the inscription spell Ishba’al son of Beda, or alternatively, Eshba’al son of Beda. The other letters on the inscription are unclear and no firm determination can be made as to their meaning.

The name Ishba’al or Eshba’al is notable as the name of King Saul’s son in the Bible. In 2 Samuel, King Saul’s son Ish-bosheth challenges David for rule over the tribes of Israel before being killed by his servants. However, in 1 Chronicles 8, this son is named Eshba’al.

The name Ishba’al/Eshba’al is also notable for being a theophoric name, a personal name containing the name of a god, in this case Baal. In 1 Chronicles 8, Saul’s son carries the name Ba’al, but in 2 Samuel, he is referred to as Ish-bosheth, meaning ‘a man of embarrassment.’ This moniker may be an attempt to denigrate a name containing the name of a foreign god.

Theophoric names containing Ba’al appear in inscriptions in the areas surrounding the southern Kingdom of Judah, in the regions of Ammon, Israel and Phoenicia (northern Israel and Lebanon), throughout the Iron Age II, lasting from the 10th-6th century BCE. However, in the Bible and in the archaeological record, after the 10th century, those living in Kingdom of Judah cease to give names that contain Ba’al within them. Thus the inhabitants of Judah appear to be deliberately avoiding the use of a name of god about which they were warned in Leviticus 26.

The image above is of standing stones at Qeiyafa, indicative of cultic activity. The following link contains an image of the Ishba’al inscription:


An Obscured Ostracon and its Overlord

Leviticus 25 discusses the laws of the sabbath year, which occurs every seven years, and of the jubilee year, which happens every fifty years. One of the important considerations for the jubilee year in the Bible is the matter of slavery.

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors…Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.”

The matter of slaves may appear on an ostracon, an inscription on a piece of pottery, that was discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

The Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon, also known as the Elah Fortress ostracon, was discovered in an archaeological layer that dates to the late Iron I to early Iron IIA period, which ranged from the 11th-10th century. The ostracon contains approximately 60 letters, written on a series of lines. The actual ostracon is shown in the image above. As the letters are faint, they can be more clearly seen via the following link, in which the letters are shown in bold.

The ostracon appears to be written in a Proto-Canaanite script, the script from which the archaic Hebrew alphabet emerged. The language of the script has not been definitively determined. Based on the letters in the inscription, the language belongs within the Northwest Semitic Canaanite language family, but it could be written in the Hebrew, Canaanite, Phoenician or the Moabite language. By location, it is not likely to be written in Moabite, a language on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, leaving Canaanite or Hebrew as the most likely options.

Scholars have attempted to decipher the inscription, but attempts to do so are complicated by the faint script, lack of breaks between letters to divide the words and the uncertain direction of the writing. Thus the ranges of possibilities vary widely.

Some scholars have offered very specific interpretations.

One attempt claims that it offers a social justice message about oppressing the weak. Another attempt argues that it relates to the appointing of Saul as king of Israel. Others offer much more muted attempts at decipherment, noting that words as mlk, ʿbd, špṭ (melech – king, eved – slave, shophet – judge) appear. Still others claim that the inscription contains a list of names.

Beyond the actual contents of the inscription, the inscription is notable because it demonstrates literacy in Qeiyafa in the late Iron I to early Iron IIA period. One of the possibilities for the inhabitants of Qeiyafa would be Israelites or Judahites, connected to the early Israelite and Judahite settlers in the central hill country, which included the city of Jerusalem. For Jerusalem to direct affairs at distance, including a site such as Qeiyafa, would require a degree of literacy. Evidence of literacy at Qeiyafa would support the possibility that it was ruled from a distance by a greater centralized power, offering the possibility that a King Saul or King David ruled over Qeiyafa in this period.

Who Paid for the Wall?

The Bible contains an extensive list of rules that pertains to priests. The sanctuaries, ritual objects, clothing and offerings that were all used by the priests came from public funds. Items for ritual use by the priests in Leviticus 21-Leviticus 24, including the anointing oil, flour, sanctuary and offerings on the festivals were all procured with public funds.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is an archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. In the Iron Age I/IIA transition period, the site sat at a strategic point between the Israelite or Judahite tribes in the central hill country to the east and the Philistine cities along the Mediterranean coast to the west.

Taxation in the Iron Age could come in the form of either labor or goods.

Qeiyafa was fortified with a large defensive wall. The size of the wall suggests that it was too large to have been built only locally, but was constructed with the assistance of a larger power able to muster the labor resources to construct a large defensive wall. This wall is thus evidence for taxation in the form of labor.

There is other evidence for taxation at Qeiyafa.

At Qeiyafa, archaeologists discovered hundreds of storage jars with pressed fingertip marks on their handles. This unique feature suggests that the jars served a specific function, possibly as dedicated for the collection of goods to be paid as taxes. The large number of fingerprint pressed jar handles points to a larger power collecting taxes from the town.

The combined evidence for taxation at Qeiyafa points to a larger power maintaining control over the town, a power that ruled from outside the town. One of the possibilities is a kingdom led by a King Saul, King David or King Solomon, ruling from the southern portion of the central hill country.

Bronze and Iron As Boundaries

Leviticus 19 begins by listing a series of laws. “The Lord said to Moses, Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.”

One of the ways in which archaeologists define historical periods is by the technology available for making tools. Humans moved from the Stone Age to the Copper Age, Bronze Age and then the Iron Age. The transition between these periods was not immediate, but rather a gradual process in which the new technology displaced the old. The same held true for the transition from bronze to iron, there was a gradual process in which bronze was replaced by iron as the primary metal used to make to tools.

Bronze requires access to copper and tin, but could be smelted at a lower temperature than steel. Steel is made with the more readily available iron and carbon, but requires a higher smelting point. The pace of change from bronze to iron varied by location.

One area in which there was a gradual transition was in the region of Canaan.

Khirbet Qeiyafa sits along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. The city was located opposite of the Philistine city of Gath. The site was active for a single period during the transition period from Iron Age I to Iron Age IIA.

Archaeologists working the site discovered an array of metallic daggers, swords and blades. Some of these weapons were made of bronze, while a significant number were made of iron. In the central hill country, in the Iron IIA period, there is a more gradual shift, but iron tools begin to appear for use alongside bronze implements. In the same period, at the southern sites of Arad and Beersheba, iron tools predominate. By contrast, at Philistine sites along the coast and in the Canaanite sites in the north, in the Iron IIA period bronze remained the dominant form of metal in use.

The breakdown of the metal assemblage at Qeiyafa is a possibly cultural marker, and would point to the site being connected to the central hill country and the Judahite sites in south. If this is indeed the case, then it indicates that the site of Qeiyafa is part of a kingdom led from the hill country, and would argue for a 10th century kingdom in the hill country being able to rule at a distance from its home territory. This would potentially be a kingdom led by a King Saul, David or Solomon.

Boxes As Models of Centralized Worship

Credit: ASOR,

Leviticus chapters 14 and 15 discuss the rules of the skin condition ‘tzaraat’ and of the emission of the ‘zav,’ and the ways in which one can become ritually pure from these conditions. In both cases, the afflicted person is required to bring an offering to a central cultic location. For cases of ‘tzaraat,’ “On the eighth day they must bring two male lambs and one ewe lamb a year old, each without defect, along with three-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil for a grain offering, and one log of oil. The priest who pronounces them clean shall present both the one to be cleansed and their offerings before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” In the case of the female ‘zava’ “The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.”

At Khirbet Qeiyafa, archaeologists working the site discovered two boxes that they argue are model temple shrines, perhaps used to house a divine symbol.

The first shrine box was made of pottery and is roughly eight inches tall. It is designed as featuring two pillars, birds on the roof, guardian lions and a folded textile curtain. (An image of it can be seen via the following link:

The second shrine box stands at nearly 14 inches tall and was carved from limestone. Its design featured seven roof beams with three planks each above the entrance and recessed doors around the entrance.

Yossi Garfinkel, the lead archaeologists on the site has argued that these model shrines can teach us about the elements of Israel’s cultic site at Jerusalem, Solomon’s Temple, as described in the Bible. For Garfinkel, the two pillars on the clay model are comparable to the two pillars of Yachin and Boaz in Solomon’s Temple, and the folded textile matches the ‘parochet,’ or curtain that covered the front of the temple.

Garfinkel similarly argues that the stone shrine box can enlighten us about Solomon’s Temple. For him, the three vertical planks of the beams are ‘triglyphs,’ a design element, and the correct meaning of the term ‘tzlaot’ in 1 Kings 7. He further argues that the recessed doorways were a part of Solomon’s Temple’s design elements.

The comparisons between the two shrine boxes and Solomon’s Temple can be seen in the following image:

For Garfinkel, the connection between the design elements of the two box shrines and the design elements of the Bible’s Temple would further suggest that the Qeiyafa site was connected to an Israelite/Judathite kingdom centered in central hill country and evidence for an established kingdom in the 11th – 10th century BCE.

The photo above is of the Iron Age outer wall at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Can a Fortification Fortify an Argument?

Credit:, Judah, Israel

Leviticus 14 contains rules that apply to the stone walls of a home. “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ The priest is to order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mold, so that nothing in the house will be pronounced unclean. After this the priest is to go in and inspect the house. He is to examine the mold on the walls, and if it has greenish or reddish depressions that appear to be deeper than the surface of the wall, the priest shall go out the doorway of the house and close it up for seven days. On the seventh day the priest shall return to inspect the house. If the mold has spread on the walls, he is to order that the contaminated stones be torn out and thrown into an unclean place outside the town. He must have all the inside walls of the house scraped and the material that is scraped off dumped into an unclean place outside the town. Then they are to take other stones to replace these and take new clay and plaster the house.”

Beyond the Bible’s rules for the stone walls of a home, stones can be an indicator of ethnicity in archaeology.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is an archaeological site in the Shephelah, sitting between the central highlands and the coastal plain. The site was occupied in a single phase in late Iron Age I or early Iron Age IIA.

The city was fortified with a defensive wall. Around the city, the earth was cleared to expose bedrock for the defensive wall emplacement. An outer wall layer was built with megalithic stones, some nearly 10 feet long and weighing over 8 tons each.

In addition to the outer wall, the defensive system contained casemates. A casemate is an armored enclosure. Within the outer wall, an inner wall was constructed parallel to the exterior wall, with large stones weighing up to several hundred pounds. Walls were built connecting the inner and outer walls. The walls were built with openings and the casemates were used as homes. During periods of wars, the casemates could be filled with dirt and stones to add to the defensive layer.

The casemate walls of Khirbet Qeiyafa are unusual for the time, but they are seen more regularly later at sites in Judah, notably at Beth-Shemesh, Tell en-Naṣbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim, and Beersheba.

The implications for the wall design at Qeiyafa are as follows. The defensive system at Qeiyafa required a high degree of planning and resources, and was unlikely to have been built by a standalone city. The design of the defensive wall is typical of later fortifications at cities in the Kingdom of Judah. The city’s strategic location and defensive system points to it being constructed under the direction of a larger power capable of marshaling resources for the construction project. Given its similarity in design to other cities in the Kingdom of Judah, it appears to be connected to a power ruling from the Judean highlands. This power potentially would be either a kingdom ruled by a King Saul or a King David.

The image above is of the casemate wall at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

People of the Pots

Credit: ASOR,

Leviticus 12 focuses on the purification ritual after childbirth. “When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the Lord to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.”

One of the steps of the sin offering in Leviticus 6 is if the meat is cooked in a clay pot, the clay pot is to be broken, but if cooked in a bronze pot, the pot can be cleansed and rinsed with water, and reused. The specific legislation for clay pots is an indication of the importance of clay pots at the time of this legislation.

Clay pots were important in antiquity, and clay’s durable physical properties make it important for analyzing antiquity.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is an archaeological site in the Shephelah, sitting between the central highlands and the coastal plain. Khirbet Qeiyafa was occupied in a single phase in the Iron Age.

There is a debate as to who occupied this site. Suggestions range from the Philistines, Canaanites, an autonomous kingdom, the Israelite kingdom, or a kingdom associated with the Judean hill country. Studies of the pottery unearthed at Qeiyafa show that the site did not contain meaningful amounts of Philistine pottery, eliminating one group of inhabitants from contention.

The timing of the single Iron Age phase at Qeiyafa is disputed. One of the key ways to determine the appropriate relative dating of a site is by analyzing the pottery. In the Iron IIA, a new pottery form emerges: red slipped hand burnished pottery. The description of red slipped hand burnished refers to the pottery being smoothed by hand, and not on a wheel, and covered with a red dye.

There is a debate as to whether the single period layer at Qeiyafa was during the Iron Age I or Iron Age IIA period. This debate centers around how to evaluate the amount of red slipped hand burnished pottery.

Another analysis done was the carbon dating of burnt olive pits taken from inside a jar found in the destruction layer of Qeiyafa. The results showed that the olives mostly likely dated between the late 11th and the mid-10th century BCE, and the city was likely destroyed about this time.

Compiling these results together can produce the following result: Khirbet Qeiyafa sat between the Israelite or Judahite region of the central hill country and the Philistine areas along the coastal plain, and was strategically important. The site does not appear to be Philistine, based on the pottery assemblage. The city appears to have been in existence in the late Iron I or early Iron IIA period. This is a period in which the central hill country begins to show monumental construction, including royal buildings and defensive walls. Carbon dating shows this city to have been in operation in the late 11th through the 10th century BCE. If this city was connected to the Israelites or Judahites at that time, then it would suggest that there was a centralized kingdom able to rule at a distance from the central hill country, and would best fit either a kingdom led by Saul or David in the 11th and 10th centuries BCE.

The image above is of the gateway at Qeiyafa. A sample of red slip hand burnished pottery can be seen via the link below:

Divided Hoofs at a Contested Site

In Leviticus 11, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.”

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a hilltop archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. It was a single period site in the early Iron Age, active for a short period before the city was destroyed. There is a debate as to who occupied this site, and options include the Philistines, Canaanites, an autonomous kingdom, the Israelite kingdom, or a Judean kingdom.

Prior to the Iron Age, pig was a component of diets across the landmass of Canaan. With the invasion of the Sea Peoples, the Philistines brought pigs along with them and pig was a major part of the Philistine diet. At the same time, pig disappears from diets in the central hill country inhabited by the early Israelites and in certain Canaanite areas in the lowlands of Canaan.

During excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, thousands of fragments of animal bones were recovered. A study of these remains showed that the bones came from sheep, cattle and goats, but not from pigs. Whereas the nearby Philistines cities of Ekron and Gath showed high concentrations of pig bones in animal remains, pig bones were almost entirely absent at Qeiyafa.

In the Philistine cities, pigs made up a major portion of the local meat consumption. In most Canaanite cities, pigs amounted for a smaller but still significant portion of diets. The lack of pig bones at Qeiyafa is a possible cultural marker and an indication that Qeiyafa was occupied by inhabitants connected to the central hill country, where pig consumption was largely absent.

If the site is indeed Israelite or Judahite, it points to a city that is likely led from a kingdom in the hill country, possibly from Gibeah or from Jerusalem.

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.