During the David Ussishkin Festschrift session at SBL, Israel Finkelstein read a paper entitled “Khirbet Qeiyafa: A Cool-Headed Interpretation.” Finkelstein focused on five main points (pottery, radiocarbon dates, fortification system, ethnic affiliation, and identification of the site), which I will discuss below. Overall I generally agree with what he has to say (with one major exception, toponymics) although I think, like Garfinkel, he is exaggerating differences to support his interpretation. Also, in general, I prefer Mazar’s Modified High Chronology to Finkelstein’s Low Chronology.
1) The Pottery: Lily Singer-Avitz in her article in Tel Aviv has dated the ceramic assemblage to the late Iron I, instead of the Iron IIA. Finkelstein picks up on this, seeing similarities to late Iron Age I sites he has excavated such as Izbet Sartah and Kh. ed-Dawwara on the Central Benjamin Plateau. He also sees a lack of wheel burnishing as evidence for a slightly earlier date than Garfinkel would support. I have no issue with this, much of the debate at the first Qeiyafa session a few ASOR’s ago, surrounded the dating of the site to the time of David. Several scholars (including Tom Levy, Jeff Chadwick, and Aren Maeir) stood up and asked why the pottery could not be Solomonic or Saulide. I think their concerns were valid and that the Qeiyafa assemblage could date from the 11th century BCE through the mid-10th century BCE. One things is clear concerning the ceramic assemblage; it is hill country oriented. Both Bill Dever and Aren Maeir have made it very clear that this is their opinion, and I would agree with them.
2) The Radiocarbon Dates: Finkelstein takes issue with the fact that Garfinkel has averaged his dates, which should only be done if all samples taken are from the same clear context. Unfortunately this isn’t the case with the first Qeiyafa samples, which include a date from the Middle Bronze Age and a date from the Hellenistic Period. In this case I think Finkelstein is correct, although they have continued to take radiocarbon samples at Qeiyafa and it seems as if the dates can be used to support either perspective. Like with the pottery we are dealing with a period of 150 years or so, and one can line the radiocarbon dates and the pottery together to fit their personal viewpoint.
3) Fortification System: At this point is where I begin to part ways from Finkelstein. He is correct in noting that casemate wall fortifications appear at many sites in the area during this time period. The casemate fortification at Qeiyafa is neither the first in Israel (as claimed by Galil later Saturday night at ASOR) nor is it a unique architectural feature in the Levant. Finkelstein pointed out examples at sites nearby such as Timnah and Izbet Sartah, and in Jordan at Kh. al-Mudanyah on the Wadi ath-Thamad and Ataruz. However these casemate fortifications do differ greatly in size from Qeiyafa. Casemate walls at Izbet Sartah, for example, consist of flimsy walls the same type as the houses abutting the outer wall. At Qeiyafa the outer wall is much larger than the inner dividing walls. Here is an example of Garfinkel (and others such as Galil who knows little about archaeology) overstating his case, and allowing others to poke holes in his greater interpretation. He should have stated that casemate walls are found at other sites during this time period but the construction at Qeiyafa is on a greater scale. Finkelstein also questions the presence of a second gate, but the most recent excavations at Qeiyafa make it clear that this gate did exist and dates generally to this period in the Iron Age (and not the Hellenistic period).
This post is getting far too long already. I’ll conclude with part 2 tomorrow, focusing on Finkelstein’s fourth and fifth points.