Horvat Qeiyafa: The Fortification of the Border of the Kingdom of Judah

Yossi Garfinkel – Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; Sa’ar Ganor – Israel Antiquities Authority

1. General Background

The main road that led from the coastal plain and Philistia to the Kingdom of Judah passed through the Ella Valley. It is not surprising that biblical tradition ascribes this geographic region as the place where the battle between David and Goliath was fought that was conducted without bloodshed, between Socah and ‘Azeqa. The historical value of this tradition is problematic from the standpoint of the literary data themselves. First, in addition to the description appearing in I Samuel 17, the tradition also appears that attributes the killing of Goliath to Elhanan Ben Ya’ari (II Samuel 21:17). Also at the end of the battle we hear “and David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem (I Samuel 17:52), and indeed David conquered Jerusalem but only when he was king, ten or more years later.

Anyway the geographic point is important, namely the ascription of the battle specifically to the Ella Valley.
This is not an arbitrary spot; rather it is the gate to the kingdom, the soft underbelly through which any invader and vanquisher began his campaign of conquest into the Kingdom of Judah, whether south to Lachish or east to Hebron and Jerusalem. It was in this region that the kingdom needed to marshal military forces, construct fortifications and organize supplies and weapons for the warriors in time of need. At the time of ordeal, when the warriors sat around the campfire on the eve of battle they surely recalled the stories of David and Goliath in order to raise their spirits. And indeed the story of David and Goliath serves as a metaphor of the kingdom’s situation: a few against many; the weak against the strong; meager weapons against modern sophisticated equipment and despite everything David overcame Goliath. This tradition is therefore rooted in a geographic framework that was known to all: the gate to the kingdom. Is it possible to find any archaeological evidence about the military and administrative organization of the kingdom at this critical point? The excavations at Horvat Qeiyafa will attempt to examine these aspects.

Horvat Qeiyafa is situated on a chain of hills that enclose the Ella Valley from the north, close to its western opening. To the southeast, on the other side of the Ella Valley, is Socah. Horvat Qeiyafa covers an area of c. 140 dunams, which includes an acropolis and a lower city, and it is apparently one of the largest sites in Judah in the Iron Age 2.

2. History of the Research

The site was surveyed by different scholars in the past. At the end of the nineteenth century Victor Guérin and Conder and Kitchener mention there is a ruin and heaps of stone here. Yehuda Dagan was the first to estimate the size of the site and its shape and in 1992 he published a schematic drawing of the upper and lower city. Zvi Greenhut conducted a detailed survey of the acropolis in the year 2001 and identified a large rectangular compound in the upper city.

In 2007 Yossi Garfinkel and Saar Ganor conducted a short excavation season at Horvat Qeiyafa, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Even before beginning to excavate a massive system of fortifications, which encompassed the acropolis and comprised two phases, could be seen along the surface level of the site. The lower phase was built of especially large stones, 1-3 meters long, and the heaviest of them weigh 3-5 tons. Atop these stones is a thin wall, c. 1.5 meters thick; small and medium size fieldstones were used in its construction. These two fortification phases rise to a height of 2-3 meters and standout at a distance, evidence of the great effort that was invested in fortifying the place.

3. The Excavations in the Summer of 2007

In the 2007 season two excavation areas were opened, both in the upper city. The purpose of Area A was to examine the nature of the rectangular compound located in the highest part of the site and Area B was to examine the system of fortifications.

Area A: one trial square was opened in the middle of the highest part of the site, next to a large rectangular compound. Two main settlement strata were found that date to the Iron Age and Hellenistic period. The Hellenistic layer is characterized by a massive wall built of large ashlar stones that are probably in secondary use. The Iron Age stratum included massive walls made of medium size fieldstones.

Area B: Prior to the excavation a large opening in the city wall, c. 10 m wide, was discerned in the western part of the upper city. It was suggested this may be the city gate. Four excavation squares were opened here. We excavated one of them down to the bedrock, to a depth of 2.50 meters. Two main periods were identified: the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BCE) and the Iron Age 2. It was determined that the upper city wall dates to the Hellenistic period. It sits on an outer wall of the casemate wall from the Iron Age. In the Hellenistic period the area that we excavated was an open region in which robber trenches were dug into the walls of the gate of the Iron Age, debris accumulated and a round granary was built.

The finds from the Iron Age sit directly on the bedrock. It includes a casemate wall 4 meters wide and the outside of it is built of cyclopean stones that weigh as much as 5 tons. In the 2007 season two of the casemates were partly excavated. They rise to a height of c. 2.50 meters and their state of preservation is impressive. It seems that the casemates were intentionally filled and blocked at a certain stage and the wall became a solid fortification. The floor of the casemates contained only small fragments, among them a rim and neck of a LMLK jar and a body fragment of a slipped, well-burnished bowl, possibly Samarian ware. A section of a street founded on the bedrock was exposed next to the wall, on the inside of the city. On this street there was a destruction layer that included three complete pottery vessels (two jars and a chalice).

In another square the northwestern part of a city gate was exposed, of the chambered type gates characteristic of the period. Since only one pilaster was excavated it is not possible at this stage to determine if this is a two, four or six chambered gate. The gate has a plaster floor set on a bedding of small and medium stones. Only the foundations of the gate were preserved below the level of the floor and all the rest was robbed in the Hellenistic period as attested to by the robber trenches. Why was the city wall preserved to a height of 2.50 meters while the gate was robbed down to its foundation? It may be because the gate was built of ashlar stones that were more attractive for secondary use.

It seems that there were two main phases in the Iron Age: an earlier phase that included the construction and the use of the casemates as rooms. In the second phase the casemates were vacated in an orderly manner, filled up and the system continued to function until its final destruction. The expansion of the excavation in 2008 and the increased sampling of the ceramics from every phase will allow a more precise chronological proposal for these phases, which at this point can be ascribed very generally to the ninth-eighth centuries BCE.

4. Conclusion

The results of the first excavation season at Horvat Qeiyafa indicate it was a strong, fortified city in Judah, as was required on the main road along the western border of the kingdom. The continuation of the excavation will clarify to what extent it also functioned as a military and administrative center.

Is there a historic identification that we can propose for the site? The location opposite Socah, its unusual size and the nature of the fortifications may point to Biblical ‘Azeqa. ‘Azeqa is mentioned in a variety of historical sources: in the Bible (seven times), in Assyrian sources (the “Letter to God”, from the time of Sennacherib or Sargon II) and in the Lachish letters (“because ‘Azeqa cannot be seen”). It is today customary to identify Biblical ‘Azeqa with Tel Zakariya which was excavated by Bliss and Dickie at the end of the nineteenth century, an identification that was proposed by R. Schwartz and others who were not at all aware of how formidable the settlement at Horvat Qeiyafa is. Either way, in 2008 other another season of excavations will take place at the site which will deepen our understanding and perhaps also contribute to solving this matter.

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