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.

Two Gates Near Gath

Credit:, Judah, Israel

Leviticus begins with God giving Moses instruction for the process of a variety of offerings brought within the gates of the Tabernacle. One significant archaeological site might be notable for its gates.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a hilltop 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 the ancient city overlooked the Elah Valley, near Socoh and Azekah, the location of David’s fight with Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 and the trade route from the coast into the hill country. The city was located opposite of the Philistine city of Gath.

The site was active for a short period during the Iron Age, at which point the city was destroyed. Carbon dating of olive pits found on site were dated to the 11th-10th century BCE, and the city appears to have met its end by the first half of the 10th century BCE, likely by the Philistines of Gath.

Qeiyafa covers roughly 2.5 hectares and is surrounded by a defensive wall. The defensive wall around Qeiyafa may have the unusual feature of two gates. This has led to the claim that the site is Sha’araim, meaning “two gates,” where in 1 Samuel 17 the Philistines’ bodies were left strew along the road. The city appears to have had monumental structures and a large storeroom, which would suggest the city served as an administrative center.

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.

If the latter, it would provide support for the idea of a kingdom led by a King David, ruling from Jerusalem, or one led by a King Saul, ruling from Gibeah, able to direct monumental construction of a defensive wall and an administrative building, and collect taxes at a distance from Jerusalem or Gibeah. If this kingdom was able to build and manage a defensible border city at a distance from its capital, it raises the possibility that it was also able to direct the activities of disparate tribes at a greater distance from its capital in the central hill country.

The image above is of the western gate of Qeiyafa.

What Did the Jebusite Write?

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

Exodus 38 contains a census of materials for the Tabernacle and their uses. “The total amount of the gold from the wave offering used for all the work on the sanctuary was 29 talents and 730 shekels…The silver obtained from those of the community who were counted in the census was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels… The bronze from the wave offering was 70 talents and 2,400 shekels.”

Taking a census requires literacy, in order to record the amounts of goods. An artifact discovered in Jerusalem contains proof of literacy in the 11th-10th century BCE.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription is an inscription containing seven letters written across two pieces of broken pottery. It was discovered at the Ophel in Jerusalem, the area between the City of David and the Temple Mount.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription was written in Proto-Canaanite letters, a less developed form than the Paleo-Hebrew and Phoenician scripts. This earlier form of writing, along with its location, place it at some point within the 11th-10th century BCE.

Archaeologists have not been able to decipher the meaning of the letters, or even determine in which direction the letters were read. The letters are likely to have been part of a longer text, unknown to us without the missing pieces of pottery.

The Ophel Pithos Inscription is the earliest known example of writing in Jerusalem. It demonstrates literacy within the city of Jerusalem, perhaps even before the Israelite presence at the site. In the Bible, Jerusalem was a Jeubusite city before it was captured by King David. In 2 Samuel 5, “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there…David captured the fortress of Zion, which is the City of David.” The inscription may be attributable to Jebusite scribes.

Importantly, the Ophel Pithos Inscription demonstrates that perhaps even in the 11th century BCE, the settlers of Jerusalem were capable of writing, an important skill for a king administering rule over distant territories and organizing large construction projects.

The photo above is of the Ophel, below the southern wall of the Temple Mount to the right and the City of David to the left. The link below contains a photo of archaeologist Eilat Mazar holding the Ophel Pithos Inscription:×677.jpg

Whose Wall Is It Anyway?

In Exodus 36, construction was set to begin on the Tabernacle and its accouterments. “So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded. Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary.”

In 2 Chronicles 27, the king of Judah launched a construction project. “Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years…Jotham rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple of the Lord and did extensive work on the wall at the hill of Ophel.

The Bible does not specify where exactly the Ophel is, but it has come to be understood as referring to the hill between the City of David and the southern wall of Herod’s Temple.

Excavators working on the Ophel uncovered an ancient wall nearly 230’ long by 20’ high. The wall also had a corner tower that overlooked the Kidron Valley to the east.

In 1 Kings 3, “Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt and married his daughter. He brought her to the City of David until he finished building his palace and the temple of the Lord, and the wall around Jerusalem.”

The archaeologist Eilat Mazar dated this wall in the Ophel to the 10th century BCE based on the pottery in the fill dirt, and connected the wall with King Solomon’s building program in the Bible. This would be the wall later repaired by Jotham.

For Mazar, this wall is evidence of a 10th century entity in Jerusalem capable of organizing large scale construction projects and by extension, managing a kingdom of united tribes. Other archaeologists are less sanguine, less confident about Mazar’s assertion that this wall in the Ophel is indeed that of King Solomon in the 10th century.

The image above is of a portion of the wall at the Ophel.

Signed by Seal

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

In Exodus 31, after the sin of the Golden Calf, God gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant. “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”

Notably, the instructions were written on stone tablets and not just given orally. Instructions written in stone are available for all, and less subject to misinterpretation or confusion about the instruction.

Just as for Israel in the wilderness in the Bible, so too writing is important for a kingdom. It allows rulers to communicate specific instructions, allowing them to marshal and direct resources at distance.

The Temple Mount is one of the most potentially rich archaeological resources for understanding the history of Jerusalem. While the dirt would have been turned during Herod’s construction and so the site does not offer the archaeological layers that delineate time periods at others sites, it still contains artifacts that can provide clues about their dating.

Despite its importance, the Temple Mount is also a politically volatile site, and thus archaeological work has been restricted. However, when in 1999 large amounts of dirt were illegally removed from the site, it created an opportunity to look at material that had until then been restricted. The Temple Mount Sifting Project was established to sift this dirt to look for artifacts.

Archaeologists analyzing the sifted material discovered a seal containing the images of two animals, with a perforation to pass a string through it, allowing it to be worn. The seal likely would have been used to seal a papyrus letter with wax, or by being pressed into clay. The seal would indicate from whom a message or letter was sent.

While there was no archaeological layer from which to assign this seal, archaeologists were able to determine that the seal dated to the 11th or 10th centuries BCE, based on its similarities with other seals of that time period.

This is an important finding for the history of Jerusalem. The seal would indicate that in the 11th-10th BCE, people within Jerusalem were literate, and able to communicate in writing. This would be an important skill for a nascent centralized state. Additionally, the seal may point to writing in papyrus. Papyrus can only survive the ravages of time under ideal conditions. The lack of written finds from Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE might be the result of writing in papyrus, and not proof that no center of a state existed during that time period.

The image above is of the sifting activity. The following link contains a photo of the seal discovered by the sifting project:


Northern Expansion to the Ophel

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

Exodus 27 continues on from earlier chapters to discuss matters related to the construction of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle would expand beyond its central shrine with a large courtyard. “Make a courtyard for the tabernacle. The south side shall be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains of finely twisted linen, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The north side shall also be a hundred cubits long and is to have curtains, with twenty posts and twenty bronze bases and with silver hooks and bands on the posts. The west end of the courtyard shall be fifty cubits wide and have curtains, with ten posts and ten bases. On the east end, toward the sunrise, the courtyard shall also be fifty cubits wide.”

In 1 Kings 6 and 1 Kings 7, King Solomon built his temple and palace. His temple was “sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high. The portico at the front of the main hall of the temple extended the width of the temple, that is twenty cubits, and projected ten cubits from the front of the temple.” His palace was “a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high.”

To accommodate these structures, King Solomon would have had to expand the area of Jerusalem. The original town of Jerusalem began in the area known today as the City of David, the hill below the southern wall of the Old City. To grow, the city pushed north beyond the boundaries of today’s Old City, moving further up the hill.

In 2 Chronicles 27, the later King of Judah, Jotham, “rebuilt the Upper Gate of the temple of the Lord and did extensive work on the wall at the hill of Ophel.”

The Ophel is the hill between the City of David and the southern wall of Herod’s Temple Mount. The image above is of the City of David and the southern Temple Mount, facing west. The City of David and the Temple Mount in the photo are separated by the road Derech Ha’ophel /Al Akma. The hill above the City of David, to the right of this road in the photo, and just below the Temple Mount is the area identified as the Ophel.