Five Fortified Ancient Cities May Be Part of King David's Lost Kingdom
The ruins of five fortified cities outside of Jerusalem were allegedly part of the empire of King David, is the controversial claim of an Israeli archaeologist. In a new story, the archaeologist argues that they were created in the 10th century BC, 200 years earlier than previously thought.
Using aerial imagery, the published paper showcases the casements of Khirbet Qeiyafa's city wall in order to argue that the five cities followed a similar design since they were created to be components in a united network. The city walls also served as dwellings or storage spaces, with the urban centers all featuring two parallel walls in the center, organized roads and connection to one singular kingdom.
This discovery provides support for the theory that King David governed a large and intricate kingdom. The evidence for this hypothesis is based on years of meticulous examination of old archaeological publications by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University. The academic paper has been published the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology.
Evidence of Urban Centers in King David’s Kingdom
Garfinkel’s study asserts the presence of organized urban settlements dating back to approximately 1,000 BC, which coincides with the reign of King David. He emphasizes that these findings endorse the notion of a well-developed kingdom under King David's rule, complete with interconnected roads connecting various cities. “What is a kingdom?” countered Garfinkel. “You need cities and roads and military power and economic power and writing.”
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This counters the beliefs held by some scholars from the minimalist school of thought, who previously suggested that the portrayal of King David as the ruler of a vast kingdom in the Bible may have been exaggerated due to limited evidence of cities during his reign.
“If you take all these sites, they have the same urban concept, they are all sitting on the border of the kingdom and sitting where you have a main road leading to the kingdom,” he said. “These cities aren’t located in the middle of nowhere. It’s a pattern of urbanism with the same urban concept.”
King David playing the harp, by Gerard van Honthorst. (Public domain)
Who was King David? A Scarcity of Tangible Evidence
King David is a prominent figure in Biblical history and is considered one of the most significant rulers of ancient Israel. He is traditionally regarded as the second king of Israel and Judah, succeeding Saul. According to the Hebrew Bible, David reigned from around 1010 to 970 BC. Under David's reign, Israel experienced a period of expansion and prosperity.
According to Biblical accounts, King David emerged as a humble shepherd who gained renown by defeating the formidable giant Goliath. His rise to power led him to become the king of the tribe of Judah and, subsequently, the ruler of all the tribes of Israel. The recent research conducted by Garfinkel further reinforces the Biblical depiction of King David as a mighty leader who commanded a thriving ancient empire, which encompassed Jerusalem.
He successfully led military campaigns against neighboring nations, securing Israel's borders and establishing a vast kingdom. David's rule is often characterized as the height of Israel's power and influence in the ancient Near East.
Khirbet Qeiyafa city walls during excavations between 2007 and 2013. (Yosef Garfinkel)
Scarce Archaeological Evidence for King David’s Kingdom
However, it should be noted that there is still a scarcity of archaeological evidence for an organized monarchy during the assumed period of King David's reign, particularly in the two locations where he is mentioned in the Bible to have spent significant time—Hebron and Jerusalem, reports The Times of Israel.
The enigma surrounding the story of King David has perplexed experts for decades due to the shortage of evidence concerning the rule of this illustrious and complex biblical figure. The first evidence indicating the existence of a leader named David only surfaced in 1993 when archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered an inscription at Tel Dan in northern Israel referring to “The House of David.”
Two major archaeological schools of thought regarding King David have emerged. The minimalist school posits that David was a local Bedouin leader who governed a small group of shepherds in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The other school aligns more closely with the biblical depiction of King David as the ruler of an expansive and intricate kingdom.
Garfinkel cautioned against subscribing to extremes in either school of thought. “Some people think that everything [from the Bible] is useful, and some think nothing is useful, but that’s not science, that’s theology,” he said.
City walls of Khirbet Qeiyafa as seen from the air. (Skyview Photography Ltd / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Is King David’s Kingdom Fact or Fiction?
Some archaeologists challenge Garfinkel's interpretation, although they do not fully endorse the minimalist approach. One point of contention concerns whether Khirbet Qeiyafa, one of the cities mentioned in Garfinkel's network, was a Judahite or Canaanite city. Archaeologist Aren Maeir highlights that constructing an extensive scenario regarding the size of the kingdom based on uncertain suppositions can result in a precarious foundation, reports IIFL Science.
Garfinkel's research indicates that all five cities he studied exhibited similar layouts, with an outer wall and dwellings situated adjacent to the wall on one side, facing a road on the other. Three of these cities featured “casemate” walls, consisting of two parallel walls enclosing the city instead of a solid outer wall.
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Casemate walls were quicker to construct, required fewer materials, and allowed dwellings to occupy the space between the walls. In the event of an attack from a specific direction, defenders could rapidly fill the space between casemates, creating a solid wall.
Furthermore, several proto-Canaanite and Canaanite inscriptions were discovered at some sites, indicating an increased need for communication—a characteristic of centralized authority and a strong kingdom—according to Garfinkel. Out of the five sites in the urban network, Garfinkel personally conducted excavations at only two, the northeastern part of Lachish and Khirbet Qeiyafa IV, located in the Elah Valley, approximately a day's walk from Jerusalem.
“The minimalists want to say that David ruled over a small village and there is no kingdom, and I am saying there was a kingdom with fortified cities a day’s walk from Jerusalem,” Garfinkel, a Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology and of Archaeology of the Biblical Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“I’m not such a big maximalist. What I’m saying is the kingdom of David included Jerusalem, Hebron, and a few cities around them: that’s the urban core of the kingdom of David. I think it’s realistic,” concluded Garfinkel.
Top image: Aerial photograph depicting the city wall casements of Khirbet Qeiyafa. Source: Yosef Garfinkel
By Sahir Pandey
Garfinkel, Y. 2023. “Early City Planning in the Kingdom of Judah: Khirbet Qeiyafa, Beth Shemesh 4, Tell en-Naṣbeh, Khirbet ed-Dawwara, and Lachish V” in Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, 4. Available at: https://doi.org/10.52486/01.00004.4
Hale, T. 13 July 2023. “Archaeologist Controversially Claims He's Found The Bible's Kingdom Of David” in IFLScience. Available at: https://www.iflscience.com/archaeologist-controversially-claims-hes-found-the-bibles-kingdom-of-david-69800
Liberatore, S. 13 July 2023. “Has the kingdom of King David been found? Archaeologist claims five fortified cities near Jerusalem were ruled by the Biblical figure in 1000 BC” in The Daily Mail. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-12296745/Has-kingdom-King-David-Expert-claims-five-cities-ruled-Biblical-figure.html
Lindman, M. 25 June 2023. “Web of biblical cities depicts King David as major ruler, says Israeli archaeologist” in The Times of Israel. Available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/web-of-biblical-cities-depicts-king-david-as-major-ruler-says-israeli-archaeologist/