Tag Archives: King David

Early Counterfeit Silver Coin

An extensive survey was conducted in preparation for the upcoming Israel-Germany joint excavation at Tel Azekah in the Elah valley this summer. During the survey, among the many pottery shards, a silver Athenian Tetradrachmon coin which was used as universal currency in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE (very much like the dollar or the euro today) was found.

Athenian Tetra Drachma coin, courtesy of IAA

The diameter of the coin is 23 mm, and it is fairly heavy for its size. One side of the coin depicts the profile of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, and the other depicts an owl, the goddess’ symbol. On closer examination it turns out that the core of the coin is made of bronze which has been covered with silver in order to give the illusion that it is pure silver, in other words what we have here is an early example of a counterfeit coin!

The excavation is an exciting development because digging Azekah, a site that was a major Judahite fortress in the late 8th century, will provide us with new data and help advance new theories about the rise and fall of the Levantine territorial kingdoms of the Biblical Period. This has been the  focus of hot debate. How much archaeological and historical evidence do we have that Judah was a full blown state before the 9th century, in the time of King David and Solomon? See my article on the House of David Stele uncovered in the excavations at Tel Dan. More recent excavations by Garfinkel at Khirbet Qeiyafa has shed some light on this question, demonstrating the slow and gradual process of the monarchy and its expansion from the hill country of Jerusalem to the much more fertile lowlands. BTW, I do a great tour of Khirbet Qeiyafa, a Judean walled town identified as Biblical Shaarayim.

Finding a coin in an archaeological strata enables us to date that layer. If you’re interested in coins check out my post on other coins found in archaeological excavations.

The excavation at Tel Azekah begins July 15th. I’m going to check out working at the dig. Do you want to join me?

Khirbet Qeiyafa

The traditional view based on the Biblical account is that in the 10th century King David ruled over a United Monarchy consisting of Judea in the south and Israel in the north. By the 9th century it had split into two kingdoms, Israel that continued to exist until the Assyrian conquest in 722BCE and Judea that continued until the Babylonian destruction in 586BCE. In contrast the Minimalist school refuted the idea of a United Monarchy and saw David as a mythical figure. The kingdom of Israel established itself first, in the 9th century (low chronology) and a monarchy developed in Judea only after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel in the late 8th century. With the discovery of the House of David stele at Dan the Minimalists had to grudgingly concede that David could exist but was a minor chieftain who ruled over a limited area, not an extensive kingdom ruled from a centralized location. With the discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site in the Elah valley Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University is convinced that he has uncovered a Judean town that is dated to the 10th C. To build fortifications like those at Khirbet Qeiyafa, requiring moving 200,000 tons of stone, could not have been a local initiative but would have required a centralized government.

The site is small, 23 dunam enclosed with a casement wall situated on a hill overlooking the Elah valley with human occupation for about 20 years. Garfinkel suggests that the site was destroyed by Phillistine Gath/Tel Safi a larger town only 12 km to the west (Prof. Aren Maier who heads the excavations at Safi concurs); the Bible describes numerous border disputes in the Elah Valley region during the 11th-10th century BCE. There are only 3 building strata layers: 1) the late Roman/Byzantine period, 4th to 6th century when it included a fortress or caravansery at the center of the site, 2) late Persian or early Hellenstic period (ca. 350-270BCE) and 3) the lowest stratum directly on the bedrock dated to Iron Age IIA, existing in the late 11th to early 10th century. The dating is based on pottery and artifacts correlated with the results of radiometric (Carbon 14) dating of 4 burnt olive pits that yield a calibrated date of 1051 to 969BCE with 77.8% probablity which supports the ‘high chronology” of the biblical traditionalists.

Features and artifacts unearthed at the site suggest that it was a Judean settlement.

  • The structural style of the casemate walls was classically Judean, matching similar construction at the ancient excavated sites of Beersheva, Tell en-Nasbeh, and Tell Beit Mirsim.
  • Thousands of animal bones were found (goats, sheep and cattle) but no pig bones, found commonly at nearby Phillistine sites like Ekron and Gath/Tell Safi.
  • Pottery found is different than that at nearby Gath. Fragments of an almost complete pottery baking tray hinted at a culture that was unlike that of the nearby Phillistine sites.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is the only archaeological site discovered in Israel so far that has two gates. Garfinkel says, “Even cities three or four times its size, such as Lachish and Megiddo, have only a single gate.” Based on location, dating and the two gates Garfinkel identifies it as Shaarayim (Hebrew for two gates) mentioned 3 times in the Bible.

  • In the city list of the tribe of Judah it appears after Socoh and Azekah (Josh 15:36). Socoh is located 2.5 km to the southeast of Khirbet Qeiyafa and Azekah 2 km to the west.
  • After David killed Goliath the Philistines escaped through the ““road of Sha’’arayim”” (1 Sam 17:52).
  • In the city list of the tribe of Simeon, Sha’’arayim is mentioned as one of the cities ““until the reign of David”” (1 Ch 4:31––32).

It’s exciting to have the opportunity to attend an annual archaeology conference reporting on the latest research about Israel 3000 years ago. But more than that it’s possible to visit and explore the actual sites. After hearing Garfinkel’s interpretations I drove to the site to see for myself (I do guided tours of Khirbet Qeiyafa). Notice the drainage channel in the Southern gate (and our golden retriever, Sumsum, who likes to go on tours).

Prof. Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University, a proponent of the Minimalist school, also gave a paper at the conference but disappointingly, he didn’t comment at all about Garfinkel’s claim. Instead, he presented a critique of Eilat Mazar’s conclusions about the Large Stone Structure and her dating of the building to the 10th C. Finkelstein argues that

  • the remains of what is called the Large Stone Structure are not one building.
  • Similarly, the Stepped Structure is not monolitic but contains segments from Iron age IIA and Hellenistic periods. There is no connection today between some of the Iron Age IIA components of the Large Stone Structure and the Stepped Structure. The only physical connection is between the walls and the top section of the Stepped Structure which is from the Hellenistic period.
  • Some of the massive walls may be from Iron Age IIA, (he uses low chronology, 9th century) but others are from the Hellenistic period.

Finkelstein concludes that no experienced archaeologist would claim to have uncovered a monumental building from the 10C BCE based on the archaeological evidence.

House of David Stele

On a hot summer day in July 1993, Gila Cook who was the surveyor of the Tel Dan excavations in northern Israel noticed a basalt stone in the southern end of the wall by the outer outer gate as she was packing up her equipment. Here is the account, in her own words:

… I began to dismantle the level from the tripod. In this brief interval, my mind registered what I had seen. I looked again and said to myself, “Oh! These are Hebrew or Phoenician letters! It’s an inscription…with rows of characters”….

Professor Avraham Biran (1909-2008), the director of the excavations was impatient to begin the drive back to Jerusalem when Gila walked up to him. She was thinking about how to say in Hebrew “I’m going to make your day” but all she could muster was “Come”. Biran probably thought she’d been affected by the hot sun but followed her to the wall, knelt down and said “not in Hebrew, but in impeccable English, very quietly, “oh my God”. ”

Two other fragments, B1 and B2, which fit together, were discovered later in 1994. In the broken part of the stone below the smooth writing surface, there is a possible “internal” fit between fragment A and the assembled fragments B1/B2, but it is uncertain and disputed.

House of David Stele, Tel Dan, photo courtesy of Israel Museum

The text is 13 incomplete lines written in Early Aramaic, in paleo-Hebrew script commemorating victories over local ancient people including “king of Israel” and the “House of David”. The victor/author is not mentioned in the fragments discovered but would be a king of Damascus, Hazael or one of his descendants, Bar Hadad II or III. The pertinent lines translate as follows:

7′. riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab]
8′. king of Israel, and I killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g
9′. of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned]

The stele is dated to the 9th or 8th centuries BCE. The 8th-century limit is determined by a destruction layer identified with a later, well-documented Assyrian conquest in 733/732 BCE by Tiglath-Pileser III.

In the text, the Aramaean king claims to have killed the kings of both Israel (Jehoram) and Judah (Ahaziahu) in the course of his southern conquests. Interestingly, there is a parallel account of the murders of Jehoram and Ahaziahu in 2 Kings 9, but it is Jehu who kills the two kings in a bloody coup and seizes the throne of Israel for himself.

The inscription generated excitement among biblical scholars and archaeologists because the letters ‘בית דוד’ (Beit David/House of David) refer to the kingdom of Judah by its dynastic name, a name frequently used in the Hebrew Bible. This not only indicates that the family of David still sat on the throne of Jerusalem, but this inscription is the first and oldest textual reference to the historical King David ever discovered!