In the Footsteps of King David

Revelations from an Ancient Biblical City

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Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, Michael G. Hasel
  • New York, NY: 
    Thames & Hudson
    , July
     2018.
     240 pages.
     $34.95.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780500052013.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In nine chapters and an appendix, Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor, and Michael G. Hasel tell the story of the discovery of Khirbet Qeiyafa, its groundbreaking inscription, the decipherment of that inscription, and the placement of the site within its ancient context. That, at any rate, is their goal in In the Footsteps of King David: Revelations from An Ancient Biblical City.

To accomplish that goal they first, in chapter 1, describe the geography and history of the Sorek and Elah valleys. The second chapter, titled “In King David’s Footsteps: Bible, History, and Archaeology,” is an attempt to link the biblical text and the archaeological evidence. They chart a middle way between the so-called traditionalists and the so-called minimalists. And while their argument is intriguing, it will probably not prove persuasive to either traditionalists or minimalists. Chapter 3 narrows the focus to Khirbet Qeiyafa itself, describing the city and its various layers of habitation.

In chapter 4, “A City Frozen in Time: The Finds,” we arrive at the heart of the matter. In really fine detail, more in the form of a story told than a scientific description, our authors paint a fascinating picture of the unfolding of an archaeological discovery. Chapter 5 focuses our attention on the inscription itself and details the what, where, how, and why, along with the who, of its discovery and decipherment.

The chapters following widen the scope of the monograph, and we pull back from the specifics of the city and its famous inscription to a description in chapter 6 of the “Cult of Judah Prior to the Construction of Solomon’s Temple” and chapter 7’s “David’s Kingdom.” These two chapters attempt to bolster the chronological argument made earlier along with the claimed connection between the biblical text and the archaeological evidence. 

Chapter 8, “Solomon’s Palace and the First Temple,” seems oddly out of place and feels as though it were added as an afterthought that seeks to bolster the biblical text and its purported linkage to the archaeological evidence. Chapter 9, the final chapter, “Linking Bible, Archaeology, and History,” is a summary account of the authors’ methodological presuppositions.

An appendix concludes the volume and is titled “The Late Persian – Early Hellenistic Period at Khirbet Qeiyafa.” This period is the last phase of the city’s occupation and the volume closes with it, quite properly. The book also includes a fairly extensive collection of illustrations and photographs, along with endnotes, a thorough bibliography with material from traditionalists and minimalists, and an index that includes both subjects and persons.

In the Footsteps of King David is fantastically written. The story it tells of a place and the things discovered at and in that place is wonderfully crafted and clearly expressed. But readers should be made aware at the outset that this is essentially a polemical work and the aim of its polemic is minimalism. A quick look at the index and the reader is informed that the minimalist approach is discussed on pages 8, 26-27, 37, 48-50, 95, 127, 194, and 201. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. To get a fuller sense of the polemical intention of the work, one need simply read the tone of the passages in which discussions of minimalism occur, as in this example:

“In effect, the minimalist views entirely eliminate the period of the United Monarchy, and delay by some 200 years the creation of the kingdom of Judah … Such a position not only presupposes that such data will not be found in future excavations, but is also a historical fallacy in that ‘evidence must always be affirmative. Negative evidence is a contradiction in terms- it is no evidence at all’” (27).

Or in this other example:

“This contradicts the main claim of minimalist scholars that the editors of the Bible working in later periods had no historical information about the early period of the monarchy to call upon, and that they therefore invented tales with no historical foundation” (127).

In both of these examples, Garfinkel, Ganor, and Hasel caricature the views of the minimalists. Indeed, those interested in the views of Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas Thompson, Philip Davies, and Keith Whitelam should make the effort necessary to read their own words instead of snippets of those words. Yet the ongoing anti-minimalism efforts of the authors do not narrow the importance of this volume, nor do they detract from the usefulness of this book. Readers need simply be forewarned that all is not objective here.

The primary weakness of the volume is the circular reasoning that maximalist readings of archaeology and scripture always seem to fall victim to; that is, scripture is bolstered by archaeological evidence, which is then used to prove that scripture is historically accurate as shown by archaeology. This can be seen in the following statement from the book:

“If we first separate the question of the existence of the United Monarchy in the 10th century BCE from that of the establishment of the Kingdom of Judah at that time, we can look at the evidence from Judah itself independently. And once we establish that there is evidence that a kingdom arose in Judah at the end of the 11th century BCE, then further research can be conducted to ascertain its relationship with the northern Kingdom of Israel. These two phenomena should not be confused” (48).

The problem is that we only know there was a Northern Kingdom and a Kingdom of Judah from the Bible. So, the Bible proves the archaeology, and the archaeology proves the Bible. 

Nevertheless, this is a wonderful, maximalist volume. It should certainly be read.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jim West is Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Church History at Ming Hua Theological College, Hong Kong.

Date of Review: 
August 16, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Yosef Garfinkel is Yigael Yadin Professor for the Archaeology of the Land of Israel, Biblical Archaeology Department of the Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and head of the Berman Center for Biblical Archaeology.

Saar Ganor is an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority. He codirected the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Michael G. Hasel is an American archaeologist.

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