Elah – Fortress in the Judean Foothills
The Elah Fortress at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa was recently discovered and excavations began in 2007. It was an ancient Israelite fortress from the time of the United Monarchy in the Judean foothills north of the Elah Valley, 20km SW of Jerusalem, dated by ceramics and carbon-14 to late Iron I/early Iron IIa (ca. 1050-970 B.C.) and believed to have been used only for about 20 years during the reign of King David. It rests upon a hill overlooking the Valley of Elah.
Elah – The Time of King David
The excavator at Elah, Dr. Yossi Garfinkel, reports that the 700m casemate wall found at the site was constructed by over 200,000 metric tons of stone, indicating the work of a centralized government and not a small force that was stationed at the outpost. The fortifications include the largest entrance yet found in Iron Age Israel, and two gates—the only site in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah which have two gates, leading some to suggest it is the site of Sha'arayim (Two Gates), mentioned in Joshua 15:36, 1 Samuel 17:52, and 1 Chronicles 4:31. The latter two references are in association with David before he was king. Other suggestions for the site include Azekah, Gob, Neta’im, and Ephes-Dammim.
Also important to note is that no pig bones have been discovered at the site, and the Philistine city of Gath, 7 miles to the west, has distinctly different pottery types than Qeiyafa, demonstrating a non-Philistine ethnic group, likely Israelites, lived at Qeiyafa. Further indicating this was the discovery of a 5 line Hebrew ostracon discovered during excavations at the site in 2008. The ca. 1000 B.C. inscription is possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered, and preliminary translations exist, although debates over the translations exist. It is recognized that it contains the words “do not do,” “judge,” “king,” and “slave/servant.” Professor Galil of Haifa University claims the inscription contains similar content to some Biblical passages (Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 72:3, Exodus 23:3, etc.), but it is not a copy of a specific text: 1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord]. 2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an] 3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and] 4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king. 5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger. Another translation, supported by several scholars: 1 Do not do [anything bad?], and serve [personal name?] 2 ruler of [geographical name?] . . . ruler . . .3 [geographical names?] . . .4 [unclear] and wreak judgment on YSD king of Gath . . .5 seren of G[aza? . . .] [unclear] . . .
Elah – The Elah Ostracon
Although the Elah ostracon is not a record of a specific Biblical event or copy of a passage, it does indicate that in ca. 1000 B.C. that Israelites were literate and had the ability to write books of this era, such as Samuel. The site itself adds to the evidence indicating a powerful and organized government, contrary to the minimalist view that if David and Solomon even existed, Israel was not a kingdom but merely a loose, weak, and illiterate tribal confederation. Other related evidence includes the House of David Inscription (Tel Dan Inscription) and the Moabite Stone, dating to the 9th century B.C. and both mention the dynastic “House of David,” a common ancient Near Eastern phrase for a ruling dynasty, also found in 2 Samuel 3:1.
Between Iron I and Iron II, there was a massive shift in settlements changing from rural villages to urban towns. Iron I represents the end of the Judges period to the beginning of the Monarchy, while Iron II represents the beginning of the Monarchy into the Divided Kingdom. In Iron I (ca. 1230-1000 B.C.), there were more settlements than the beginning of Iron II (ca. 1000-586 B.C). However, the Iron II sites were primarily urban while Iron I sites were rural. Later in the Iron II phase there was an increase in the amount of sites, while continuing a trend of urban settlement. As an example, Samaria had about 130 Iron I rural sites, less than 100 Early Iron II urban sites, and about 240 Late Iron II sites. In Judah, there is a clear gap in most sites of the 10th century B.C., suggesting the population moved to the new capital, Jerusalem, during the reigns of David and Solomon. Plausible suggestions for consolidation and urbanization of the populace include 1) security, 2) administration, and 3) religion. All of this data indicates that there was a powerful Davidic Monarchy, and that during this period it was entirely possible that Biblical books such as Samuel, Psalms, and Kings could have been written.
Elah – The Battle of David and Goliath
The Elah valley, which the Elah fortress overlooked, was the site of the battle where David defeated the Philistine champion Goliath in mortal combat. David killed Goliath in what is referred to in Greek literature as μονομαχία [monomachia] (1 Samuel 17). This is a form of 1 versus 1 combat to decide the fate of the battle, not practiced in Near Eastern culture, but prevalent in ancient Aegean culture. The Philistines, being of Aegean descent (Crete), retained many customs and words from the area, including this duel, which often decided the outcome of a battle. This culturally distinct practice gives the David and Goliath narrative increased credibility and historicity, as writers in the Levant would not know of a distant foreign custom unless it was witnessed firsthand or by their source. Further, An object known as the Gath ostracon, discovered in 2005, shows evidence for the name of Goliath. The ostracon is incised with nine letters representing two names (אלות ולת) which scholars say are etymologically related to Goliath (גלית). The artifact is dated to the 10th or 9th century B.C., the time of David and Goliath.