Archaeological Findings From Ancient Israelite City Confirms A Strong Davidic Kingdom and Religious Customs That Correlate With The Biblical Account

Khirbet Qeiyafa, also known as the Elah Fortress, is an ancient site located in the Shephelah region of Israel, near the Elah Valley. Archaeologists believe it to be one of the cities fortified by King David, dating the 10th century BCE, specifically the city of Shaaraim or Neta’im, due to its proximity to Khirbet Ğudraya.[1]“Khirbet Qeiyafa identified as biblical “Neta’im””. University of Haifa. March 4, 2010. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2011. It’s dating to the 10t century was firmly established by the radio carbon dating of well preserved olive pits.

Location of Khirbet Qeiyafa

It is significant to the Bible in that findings from the city confirm the inhabitants were identifiably Israelite, they followed dietary customs and festivals prescribed in the Law of Moses, and a number of inscriptions appear to mention Israelite names, as well as possible biblical proverbs. All of these findings we will explore, but first let’s read the biblical passages that mention the cities of Shaaraim and Neta’im so we can locate it on the map.

The city first mentioned in 1 Samuel 17:52, describing one of Israel’s battles with the Philistines, where it says,

“Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout, and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron.” (1 Samuel 17:52).

From this passage we see that the city was likely very close to the city of Gath and Ekron. The book of Joshua 15:20-63 lists it as a territory given to Judah within the western foothills of Judea.

Additionally, 1 Chronicles 4:31 lists Shaaraim as one of the cites of the tribe of Simeon until the time of King David. The account of Chronicles is rather late in antiquity and seems to contradict the earlier biblical texts which positioned the city further north. Many have theorized that these verses are actually speaking of two different cities as the name derived from a common construction feature, meaning “two gates”, referring to the city containing two entrances.

The alternate site of ancient Khirbet Qeiyafa being associated with Neta’im is only mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:23, where the city is an inheritance of Judah but was previously affiliated as a Moabite city that made pottery for the king.

They were the potters who lived at Netaim and Gederah; they stayed there and worked for the king.  (1 Chronicles 4:23)


Archaeolgical Findings

  1. The inhabitants were Israelite.
  2. They followed dietary customs from the Laws of Moses which suggests the texts were not late scribal inventions.
  3. They followed some feast-day customs from the Laws of Moses.
  4. Inscriptions appear to mention Israelite names.
  5. Inscriptions paralleling biblical passages.

Their Diets Match Israelite Practices

Findings from the city confirm that it was populated by early Hebrew Israelites. Evidence that the city was not Philistine comes from the private dwellings nearly adjoining the city walls, a construction configuration that was not used in Philistine cities.[2]Draper, Robert (December 2010). “David and Solomon”. National Geographic. Retrieved 2011-07-14. The homes build along the wall would leave a gap between the homes and the outer wall, thereby creating what is essentially a double-walled city with and alley between the two walls. Often the alley would be sectioned off by dividers and even used for storage or to hide men during times of war.

Israelite Casemate City Wall

There is also evidence of equipment used for baking flat bread and as well as hundreds of bones from goats, cattle, sheep, and fish, most importantly, no pig bones have been uncovered This suggests that the city was not Philistine or Canaanite, but populated primarily by Israelites.

Israelite Cultic Objects Were Also Found

The site has a number of shrines and archaeologists even discovered portable shrines, which would be expected based on the commands from Leviticus 23:33–43, concerning the observation of the Feast of Booths, also known as Sukkoth. The finding of miniature shrines designed for the home suggests the festival had already been adapted to the living style of the city as opposed to that of wandering in the desert and using tents. This celebration was the last of the fall festivals and was held at the end of the agricultural year when the grapes and olives were harvested, which makes the finding of many olive pits even more important identifying the cities inhabitants. Of course, the miniature shrines could have been used to house the biblical teraphim, or house-idols but as of yet no idols have been located at this site.

4-horned alter at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Portable shrine likely used to place teraphim in the households

Proto-Hebrew Inscriptions

There are a number of clay vessels that contain inscriptions. One very notable inscription contains the name “Eshbaal son of Beda”, which was the name given to Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth (2 Samuel 2-4), by the Chronicler. While the name clearly belongs to a different person than the biblical narrative, it is striking in that the city of Shaaraim was located on the border of the Tribe of Benjamin, where king Ish-Bosheth reigned. It is also also striking that it is one of only a few Proto-Hebrew inscriptions found from the 10th century.

Eshbaal Inscription

Another very notable discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa is a pottery shard with an ancient proverbial or legal inscription. Even more interesting, it mentions the god El but not Yahweh and it includes what appears to words echoing familiar tones of the Old Testament. Compare the inscription to the texts of Exodus 23:2, Psalm 72:4, and Isaiah 1:17.

(1) you shall not do it, but worship El.
(2) Judge the slave and the widow. Judge the orphan
(3) and the stranger. Plead for the infant. Plead for the poor and
(4) the widow. Restore the poor at the hands of the king
(5) Protect the poor and the slave. Support the stranger.[3]Gershon, Galil (2009). “The Hebrew Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa/Neṭaʿim: Script, Language, Literature, and History”. Ugarit-Forschungen. 41: 193–242.

(Psalm 72:4) He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, And will break in pieces the oppressor.

(Isaiah 1:17) “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”

It should be noted here that this is not an authoritative translation of the inscription, as other prominent scholars have offered a number of quite variant readings.

Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon Inscription Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon Inscription


From the evidence shown, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Dynasty started by Saul and taken over by David was no mythical kingdom. There were clearly established fortified cities in the time of David and a religiously and culturally separate people group living there that did not practice the customs of the Philistines or the Canaanites. Thus, this can only be an Israelite settlement that correlates with one of the many we see inside the boundaries of the Judean kingdom at the time of the United (or unit-ing) monarchy. This is even more striking when compared to cities nearby that were from the same time period but excavations have determined them cities to be populated with Canaanites or Philistines, such as
Khirbet al-Ra‘i. Clearly, Judean Israelites were living among the Canaanites while maintaining a unique identity.[4]

Primary source:

The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa
Author(s): Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor
Source: Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, (-Not available-), pp. 217-233 Published by: The American Schools of Oriental Research
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 27/05/2015 12:14



1 “Khirbet Qeiyafa identified as biblical “Neta’im””. University of Haifa. March 4, 2010. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 14, 2011.
2 Draper, Robert (December 2010). “David and Solomon”. National Geographic. Retrieved 2011-07-14.
3 Gershon, Galil (2009). “The Hebrew Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa/Neṭaʿim: Script, Language, Literature, and History”. Ugarit-Forschungen. 41: 193–242.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.