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!
- Gil Zohar, “Revelations from Khirbet Qeiyafa,” The Jewish Magazine, June 2012.
- “Breaking News—Evidence of Cultic Activity in Judah Discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa,” Biblical Archaeology Society, May 8, 2012