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: