Solomon’s Temple and Palace: New Archaeological Discoveries by Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu–A Beautiful Book About the Reality of the First Temple

If you are looking for a gift for someone who loves the
Hebrew Bible and cares about the ancient House of the Lord, then please
consider one of the most important and beautiful books I’ve seen related
to the ancient temple, Solomon’s Temple and Palace: New Archaeological Discoveries by Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu (Jerusalem: Biblical Archaeology Society and Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, 2016, originally published in Hebrew, 2015). This is an intellectually stimulating and visually appealing book, richly illustrated with color photographs and detailed drawings, describing the original archaeological work led by Garfinkel at the vital site of  Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel. The book also carefully shows the relationship of their finds to many other ancient sites. The recent finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa, an ancient fortress near the Philistine stronghold of Gath where David fought Goliath, include a stone model showing a portion of the First Temple and other finds that help us understand much more about the First Temple and Solomn’s Palace, while also yielding many insights into the early Kingdom of Judah.

Professor Garfinkel points to a portion

of the stone model of the First Temple.

In a recent post I discussed the discovery that the archaeological site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel probably corresponds to the city of Sha’arayim, Hebrew for “two gates,” mentioned in Joshua 15:36, 1 Samuel 17:52, and 1 Chronicles 4:31. I observed that this find supports the notion that the ancient Kingdom of Judah at the time of King David was more than just a tiny little band of farmers, in which David, if he existed at all, was just a local chieftain. But the lessons from Khirbet Qieyafa are even more impressive and important than I had realized.

The details of what has been unearthed there also shed bold new light on some of the most important issues in biblical debates today. Wonderfully, thanks to dedicated archaeologists like Yosef Garfinkel conducting careful work at this site, we now have hard archaeological evidence not only for the reality of the First Temple and Solomon’s Palace, but detailed insights that solve long-standing puzzles about the description of these buildings in the Hebrew text. Further, we have valuable new information about the reality of the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Judah, and can directly rebut some of the popular arguments of “minimalists” who have rejected much of the Bible as non-historical.

Understanding the reality of the First Temple and the early Kingdom of Judah has implications for Latter-day Saints and the Book of Mormon, since. for example,  the Book  of Mormon affirms the reality of David, Solomon, and the First Temple.

The authors in their introduction discuss the current view of biblical “minimalists” who deny the value of the Bible of history and hold that the accounts of the First Temple, the United Monarchy and the early days of the Kingdom of Judah were written hundreds of years later and were largely made up. Rather than jump into the debate and rehash old arguments, the authors chose to literally go dig for more. I was surprised to learn that in spite of the centuries of work that have been done by people exploring and poking around Bible lands, the Kingdom of Judah has been rather on the margins of archaeological exploration, with most work having been done in the region of the northern kingdom.

The authors chose the Khirbet Qieyafa region for further exploration because it was along a major road and in a position that would have been strategically important during the era of David and Solomon. That selection has proven quite fruitful. Multiple olive pits from the area establish dating at around 1000 BCE. The type of wall design, a double wall system known as a casemate wall, was characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah. The taxation system, with goods stored in large vessels with characteristic markings on the handles, was typical of Judah. It appears that swine were not eaten in the community, unlike what was typical in Philistine or Canaanite communities. This was a Jewish town, though minimalists have felt compelled to deny even this and claim that this was a Philistine or Canaanite settlement rather than admit that this impressive town with a large administrative building and significant fortifications reflects an advanced Kingdom of Judah consistent with the description in the Bible, and not the loosely organized tribesmen incapable of writing history or making temples that the minimalists want to see.

A few years ago, there may have been no good answer from external evidence to resolve to resolve basic questions about the reality of the First Temple and the Palace of Solomon. In the absence of archaeological data, the value of the record dealing with the united monarchy and the southern Kingdom of Judah seemed questionable and could plausibly be dismissed as a late creation. With no external evidence for the Kingdom of Judah until 734 BCE, many scholars concluded that the first political entity in Israel was the northern Kingdom of Israel, that this began around 900 BCE (which wipes out the century of the previous united monarchy as if it did not exist), and that the southern region was sparely inhabited with relatively little going on there until an influx of refugees came in 721 BCE following the destruction of the northern Kingdom. But things have changed dramatically in roughly the past decade.

The authors discuss four key turning points since then (pp. 3-5). First was the 1993 discovery at Tel Dan in northern Israel of an inscription mention a “king of the house of David,” which showed that David was a historical figure. The minimalists quickly adapted and argued that, yes, while David may have existed after all, he was still just a minor chieftain and certainly did not have anything like fortified cities nor a centralized administration of government.

The second turning point began in 2007 with the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, showing that a fortified city existed in the land of the Kingdom of Judah during the time of David. The finds at this site included a model temple carved in limestone showing details consistent with the biblical description of the First Temple and Solomon’s palace, including the use of recessed doorways and wooden beams arranged in groups of three under the roof.

The third turning point was excavation of the site of Motza west of Jerusalem, showing an administrative center with storage capacity to hold thousands of toms of agricultural products, showing advanced activity at the state level during the tenth and ninth centuries BCR that was previously unknown in the land of Israel (p. 5). In 2012, a temple was found at Motza dating to the ninth century BCE with a plan similar to the First Temple. This incredibly significant find shows that the early Jews not only were capable of building a temple like that described in the Bible, but had an additional temple in Judah just a 2-hour walk from the Temple Mount. (This is also consistent with notion that the ban on any temple outside of Jerusalem was not part of original religious thought in Israel, but may have been an innovation from the harsh reforms of Josiah and the Deuteronomists. Yes, as we have long known, it was OK for Nephi to consider building a temple outside of Jerusalem.)

The fourth turning point was the excavations at copper minds near Petra and Eilat, showing significant copper mining activity in the tenth century linked to markets in Edom, Moab, and Judah, indicative of major economic activity in that region and time (p. 5). These economic processes had been dated by the minimalists to much later times, but that has been proven wrong, according to the authors.

The contribution from the work at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the emphasis of the book, of course, but along the way a good deal of information from other sites such as Motza and from the architecture of other parts of the ancient Near East is incorporated to add context and meaning to the findings. Both the Temple and the Palace of Solomon are considered, even down to intricate new analysis of the Hebrew words used in those descriptions whose meanings can now be better resolved in light of the new archaeological evidence. A major advance, for example, was dentifying the early presence of triglyphs, systems based on groups of three wood beams, using models of the First Temple coupled with similar systems elsewhere in the Near East. With the new early finds from Israel, we can now see that the classic triglyph system in Greek architecture was based on earlier work in the Near East and not the other way around. The authors also resolve words describing doorways and windows in the text and show that the First Temple had recessed doorways using a design known much earlier in the Near East.

The finds presented and analyzed by the authors do much to solidify the case against some prominent claims of biblical minimalists. The First Temple was real. The Kingdom of Judah was real. And we even know much more about what the Temple and the Palace of Solomon looked like, with enough issues resolved that the authors can present a 3-D scale model and floor plan for both. There is still some room for debate and some details may be incomplete or wrong, but the case for the basic arrangement, including the recessed doorways, seems quite strong.

Does it matter? I think it matters in many ways. Regarding their analysis of Solomon’s palace, which some may be tempted to think of as a minor contribution, they offer this point:

Is there any historical value to the biblical description of Solomon’s palace? Did such a prominent, multi-story building stand in Jerusalem in the tenth century, made of relatively costly materials and with roofing beams arranged in groups of three and recessed doorposts? The stone model from Khirbet Qeiyafa and the palace discovered at the site’s summit require a positive answer. If an outlying city on the western edge of the Kingdom of Judah contained such a structure, it is all the more likely that the kingdom’s capital, Jerusalem, contained no less impressive structures. (p. 98)

There is much to mine in this data-rich volume. As one more example that might interest Book of Mormon fans, one of the surprising finds in one of the cult rooms at Khirbet Qeiyafa was the presence of three large iron swords kept near a stone bench (p. 29). Like the sword of Goliath kept in a sacred place as a relic and witness to David’s authority (1 Samuel 11:10), these iron swords may have played a related sacred function, just as the steel sword of Laban did for the Nephites.

I highly recommend this book. There are many lessons regarding the limitations of scholarship and the potential for major discoveries that overturn long-standing positions based on vocal scholars dealing with an absence of evidence. There are lessons about the reality, beauty, and significance of the ancient First Temple that should be of value to Jews, Christians, and anyone interested in the biblical record, but perhaps especially to Latter-day Saints also treasure the modern Temple and its ancient roots, and who also treasure the ancient temple-centric record of the Book of Mormon that begins during the era of the First Temple. There is also a lesson about the virtue of patience and open-mindedness, and having the desire to go and dig when major questions are unresolved.

Many, many thanks to the authors for their willingness to dig, to analyze and to share their finds so thoroughly, and thanks to all those who assisted them and made this valuable work possible. May they continue to flourish in their work of discovery!

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Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “Solomon’s Temple and Palace: New Archaeological Discoveries by Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu–A Beautiful Book About the Reality of the First Temple

  1. Jeff, I have to disagree with you about the "lessons" you see in this archaeological news. You write:

    There are lessons about the reality, beauty, and significance of the ancient First Temple that should be of value to Jews, Christians, and anyone interested in the biblical record, but perhaps especially to Latter-day Saints [who] also treasure the modern Temple and its ancient roots, and who also treasure the ancient temple-centric record of the Book of Mormon that begins during the era of the First Temple. There is also a lesson about the virtue of patience and open-mindedness….

    When it comes to the debate over Book of Mormon historicity, I don't see any lessons at all. There are minimalist arguments about this or that question, and they are sometimes based on an absence of evidence, but these are questions that can be clarified by doing more archaeology. This is fundamentally different from the absence of evidence for the BoM. For the BoM there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever. Well, all right — even if you want to include the Nahom/Bountiful "evidence," the comparison with the Bible still goes overwhelmingly against the BoM. There is overwhelming evidence for the existence of the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the cedars of Lebanon, the River Jordan, the Hebrew language, the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, etc., etc., etc. And for the Book of Mormon?

    The Bible is demonstrably "historical" in the sense of being the product of genuinely ancient places and cultures. The Book of Mormon is not. The BoM evidence overwhelmingly places its origins in 19th-century America. If you follow the evidence, that's where it leads.

    I suspect you're drawing an implicit comparison between the absence of evidence cited by biblical minimalists and the absence of evidence cited by BoM critics, and then, by describing the occasional comeuppance of a biblical minimalist, suggesting a "lesson" about the BoM critic. But the comparison is bogus, for the simple reason that the arguments among biblical archaeologists are arguments rooted in the totality of the actual evidence, and in an academic context in which faith has been taken off the table.

    As for "open-mindedness" — is your mind open to the possibility that the BoM is a 19th-century text? Or is your mind closed on that question?

    — OK

  2. As I've seen in previous interactions with you on this issue, I'm not sure there is anything that could possibly rise to the level of evidence for the plausibility of anything in the Book of Mormon. Nahom/Bountiful can't even get past the need for quotes when mentioning "evidence." 3 altars from the 7th century BCE or earlier showing that the tribal name NHM — brilliantly associated with the Hebrew word play on Nahom/Nahum (comfort, mourning) in the text where a devastating death and burial occurs — was indeed in or very near the only place where due east turn was plausible from the generally south-southeast direction of Lehi's trail, and if one then turns at NHM/Nihm/Nehhem and goes due east per Nephi's directions, one can indeed bypass the empty quarter, get past the mountains, and have a plausible path right to the hearth of Bountiful, an uninhabited garden spot that was supposed to not exist according to many pundits, but in fact does exist in exactly the right place and with the right characteristics as a generally uninhabited green spot miraculously preserved for Lehi and perhaps for us by its unique terrain. Hard archaeological data, hard geographical and geological data, a rare place name/tribal name with peer-reviewed publications verifying its antiquity — the combination of Nahom, Bountiful, and oh, yes, the Valley Lemuel/River Laman, all once so implausible, all now so plausible and interesting, gives just about as much as someone could possibly hope for when it comes to evidence from the Old World related to the Book of Mormon, and the best you can do is smirk about the so-called "evidence" that we might imagine comes from Nahom? Why does not of that count for anything? No, of course not, because anybody could just glance at some rare map of Arabia and come up with Lehi's trail, right? Piece of cake. Which is why college grads with advanced degrees and Google Earth have still made major blunders in recent years in dismissing the possibility of Bountiful, being ignorant of the very counterintuitive finds from Aston's field work. Bountiful appears to be there, with numerous details confirmed, and nearly precisely due east of Nahom, which is there and equally impressive due to the hard archaeological data in its favor.

    So if the Arabian evidence can't get past your smirk quotes, what can? The numerous correspondences from Brant Gardner's work or John Skousen's work obviously don't count in your eyes. Not even a little, right? Do we have to dig up a Hebrew, Proto-Mayan, and reformed Egyptian stele spelling out "Welcome to Zarahemla, Nephite Capital" in order to count as actual evidence? No, that won't do, I know, I know. What about the angel Moroni coming down for a glorious press conference and passing around the gold plates for metallurgical and linguistic analysis? No? Oh, right, not until it's passed through about 15 years of "peer review" from a committee of academically credentialed atheists.

    But of course there are problem areas where we don't have clear, solid answers. What is meant by "horses"? for example. But the question marks and current puzzles/weaknesses don't erase the strengths and evidences, unless you insist of erasing them by refusing to ever see what they are and why they are significant.

  3. Jeff, please remember that the skepticism I express is not mine alone. It's not just me and a few anti-Mormon cranks, who are "erasing" the evidence that you see as so strong. It is the entire non-Mormon world (and a significant and growing part of the Mormon world as well). You seem to believe that the entire non-Mormon academic establishment is perversely repudiating good solid evidence, because…well, I don't know why. Perhaps you can explain.

    Perhaps you can explain why it is that scholars everywhere, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, or atheist, can agree on the overwhelming evidence for the Bible's antiquity. However much these scholars might disagree on everything else, whether they be minimalists, maximalists, or somewhere in between, they at least agree that the Bible is in fact a genuinely ancient book rooted, in a genuinely ancient world. They have to agree on this because the evidence for it is so overwhelming.

    Note also that all of these scholars, including many of very strong religious faith, manage to publish their arguments about the ancient scriptures of the Bible in an academic context in which faith, testimony, and the like don't matter, in fact are excluded as a form of evidence. In these academic publications, scholars never have to say things like, Of course, the real significance of my findings can only be understood with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, my conclusions depend on faithfulness and prayer.

    So, why is Ancient Book of Mormon Studies so different? Why is even the most kind of basic scholarly consensus — the agreement that the object of study at least exists — so completely absent? Why is it that the only scholars who see your evidences as actual evidence are Mormons whose faith predisposes them to see it that way?

    Why does Ancient Book of Mormon Studies live on only in LDS apologetic publications? Why has it failed so utterly to take root in academia? Why have even your most brilliant scholars failed so utterly to get their arguments past secular peer review? The Bible scholars can do it. Why can't the BoM apologists do it?

    Why is it that all scholars can see the ancientness of the Bible, but only Mormons can see the ancientness of the BoM?

    Please explain this phenomenon.

    Is it the result of a massive, cunning conspiracy?

    Is it the work of Satan?

    Is it the result of some special cognitive ability that your faith, and your faith alone, confers upon Mormons, and Mormons alone? Some advanced abilities in logic and perception?

    Are Mormons just smarter or more open-minded than everyone else?

    Or is it just maybe possible that you're wrong?

    — OK

  4. Or maybe, OK, because the Book of Mormon presents a unique demand on scientists: There IS no rational explanation for it. You can say, "Of course the Jews built a temple, they were superstitious religious types just like everyone else." The existence of the First Temple in no way requires any sort of faith commitment.

    The Book of Mormon, however, does. There is no way for it to be true without requiring faith. Let's say we find a carving mentioning the city of, I don't know, the city of Moroni somewhere in Mexico/Guatemala. Maybe Zarahemla, maybe even the name "Nephi."

    In what universe can any archeologist accept that without converting? Joseph Smith couldn't have made it up. The Book of Mormon simply does not allow for a "scientific, neutral" perspective. Evidence of it's truth as a solid historical fact of necessity requires conversion.

    Put simply, there's no "Well, the Book of Mormon is clearly an ancient record about a superstitious group of people who explained things like volcanic eruptions as due to the crucifixion of their God…. silly, we know" that is possible.

    I note that Jeff challenged you on what kind of evidence you could possibly expect confirming the Book of Mormon in the Old World. It's pretty much been proven, hasn't it. Lehi's Trail, the existence of Bountiful, the Nahum/NHM stuff: It's all there. There's more evidence for the Book of Mormon than there is for the Exodus.

    The answer to your question is this: If we find Zarahemla is real, why don't you get baptized? In what world could anyone say that the Book of Mormon is a true ancient historical record and yet remain apart from the LDS church? It's not logically possible or coherent.

  5. Vance –

    "There is no way for it to be true without requiring faith."

    Faith is belief in something for which there is little if any evidence. You are in the extreme minority in suggesting there is evidence for the Mormon hypothesis. The truth is there is a mountain of evidence against the Mormon hypothesis. Ergo believe in Mormonism is the opposite of faith. It is believe in something despite evidence against it.

    All your and Mormanity's questions have been answered through out this blog with little rebuttal. I note Mormanity has been challenged, what evidence against the Mormon hypothesis could he possibly expect refuting it? It's pretty much been proven, hasn't it. Captin Kidd's, the Camorah islands, Moroni, burried treasure stuff: It's all there. There's more evidence against the Book of Mormon than there is for the Exodus.

  6. Shorter Vance:

    Sure, the evidence we actually have says it's false. But if was true, it would be true. So there!

    — OK

  7. Here's a fuller response to Vance's argument above.

    According to Wikipedia:

    Xenu, also called Xemu, was, according to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, the dictator of the "Galactic Confederacy" who 75 million years ago brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as "Teegeeack") in DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes, and killed them with hydrogen bombs.

    The anti-Scientologists, stubborn cusses that they are, insist that there's no evidence for this. But these skeptics are wrong.

    Allow the Church of Scientology apologist to explain why, simply by making a couple of tweaks to Vance's argument:

    In order to understand how the lack of archaeological and other scientific evidence actually supports Scientology — in order to understand the total lack of pro-Scientology research in peer-reviewed journals, etc. — you have to understand that Scientology presents a unique demand on scientists: There IS no rational explanation for it…. There is no way for it to be true without requiring faith. Let's say we find the wreckage of a DC8-like spacecraft on the slopes of, I don't know, Mount St. Helens, bearing the inscription "Intergalactic Spacelines, Teegeeack Express," plus some odd-looking fossilized bones that have been carbon-dated at 75 million years old, surrounded by elevated levels of radiation indicating multiple H-bomb explosions, also dating back to about 75 mya.

    In what universe can any scientist accept that without converting? L. Ron Hubbard couldn't have made it up. Scientology simply does not allow for a "scientific, neutral" perspective. Evidence of its truth as a solid historical fact of necessity requires conversion.

    And therefore, Scientology must be true!

    Just as true as Mormonism, anyway.

    — OK

  8. Jeff,

    The big difference between the biblical evidence you cited and the Book of Mormon evidence is the lack of physical artifacts to support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Getting place names correct (some would still question the "correctness") is a far cry fom finding a temple model.

    1. "Do we have to dig up a Hebrew, Proto-Mayan, and reformed Egyptian stele spelling out "Welcome to Zarahemla, Nephite Capital" in order to count as actual evidence?"

      The answer is yes, this is precisely the type of convincing evidence you are saying is presented in the book you have reviewed above.

  9. The Book of Mormon claims that some ancient Native Americans built actual temples and had the trappings of advanced civilization. How is that claim holding up now? Numerous Book of Mormon claims that seemed questionable to many when it was published now are more plausible. That's an interesting trend.

    1. How does the archaeological evidence of meso-American temple practice compare to the evidence of Hebrew temple practice?

  10. Mormanity – Try reading out loud what you typed and you will hear how silly it sounds. Since discovered, Native Americans were known to have temples and the trappings of advanced civilization. The Europeans may have referred to them as noble savages, but Cortez, Montejo, and Pizzaro did not deny ruins of a greater time period any more than they denied the Roman ruins of Europe.

  11. I second what both Mormography and Anon 7:42 said. In Joseph's time/place, everyone and their uncle knew that Native Americans had "the trappings of advanced civilization."

    And no, the archaeology is not converging on the Book of Mormon. There is no such "trend" at all. What Jeff sees as a trend is merely an increase in the activity and ingenuity of the apologists — nothing more than the accumulation of crackpot theories. It's a lot like the "increasing evidence" that 9-11 was an inside job.

    The Book of Mormon is a fascinating but utterly transparent 19th-century attempt to merge America into the Christian mythos. It is not in any sense a history of ancient peoples in the New World.

    Eventually, the Church will figure out that people can acknowledge this reality and still be good Mormons.

    — OK

  12. Vance and Mormanity yielded. It appears that Mormanity knows the claim that “trappings of advanced civilization” were unknown is belied by View of the Hebrews and Atlantis theories.

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