In Numbers 4, God designates the families of Levites. In archaeology, some archaeologists have attempted to designate a particular site as belonging to Judah.
Khirbet al-Ra’i, or alternatively Khirbet ar-Ra’i, is an archaeological site in the Shephelah region of Israel. The site is located northwest of the site of Lachish, southeast of Kiryat-Gath, on the southern bank of the Lachish River. It rests opposite of Ashkelon, which is on the coast. The location is a strategic one, providing access towards the coastal route and into the central hill country to the east.
The site itself was occupied over numerous periods but with varying degrees of activity. It was not a significant site in the Late Bronze Age, then it appears to have peaked in the Iron Age I and early Iron Age IIA, in the 12th-10th centuries BCE, before declining in significance in the Iron IIB period.
In the Iron I period, the site appears to have been under Philistine control. The site produced monumental architecture dating to the 11th century BCE, along with the Philistine Bichrome pottery that was in use during that time. Above this layer, archaeologists found a pottery mix that included the ‘red slipped, hand burnished’ pottery typical of the Iron IIA period, and a pottery assemblage similar to that found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. As it has been argued that Khirbet Qeiyafa was under the control of the Kingdom of Judah led from the central hill country, possibly from Jerusalem, the argument is extended to the site of Khirbet al-Ra’I, that it too was under the control of the Kingdom of Judah.
The argument has been extended that this site is biblical Ziklag. The name Ziklag is not a Semitic name, and thus is assumed to be linguistically connected to the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 27, David escaped King Saul and made his way to the Philistine area along the coastal plain. There David and his followers found refuge with Achish son of Maok king of Gath, who gave David the town of Ziklag in which to settle. In the Bible, this control was not relinquished, as it says that “So on that day Achish gave him Ziklag, and it has belonged to the kings of Judah ever since.” The Philistine name, early Philistine control followed by a layer that is connected to a Judahite site, are used to argue that Khirbet al-Ra’i is the site where the Philistines once held sway before being transferred to David.
The image above is from Lachish, looking west to the region where Khirbet al-Ra’i is situated.