Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Model Shrines and the Accuracy of the Bible

Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Model Shrines and the Accuracy of the Bible May 9, 2012

Being in the throes of grading, I am a bit late blogging about the announcement of the discovery of clay model shrines at Khirbet Qeiyafa dating from roughly 3,000 years ago.

The Times of Israel has an article on the subject, and the Hebrew University issued a press release.  Demotix treats the find as evidence that the Bible is “not to be dismissed as legend.”

It is such sensationalist claims that are causing most of the hubbub, and fortunately scholars are responding to them immediately on blogs. I’ve embedded links to some of those responses throughout this post.

Seth Sanders, for instance, points out that there is reason to think that the finds reflect Canaanite rather than emerging Israelite culture.

Of course, the majority of scholars are persuaded that the origins of Israel are largely within Canaan and Canaanite society, and so these finds are indeed relevant to the study and interpretation of the Bible and likely to clarify some things about Israel’s shrines, which (contrary to what some poorly-informed readers of the Bible may assume) are not of a completely different style from earlier Canaanite shrines. And if the lack of pig bones at this site is indicative, then this might indeed be a proto-Israelite or emerging Israelite site. If so, then it is probably indeed important evidence – not that the Bible is completely accurate or something else nonsensical like that, but of how the transition from Canaanite to Israelite identity came about. If so, it is a very important find indeed.

And so my suggestion is to indeed get excited – any time we discover more data with which to reconstruct and interpret the past, it is exciting! But be wary of both those who claim that the find “proves the Bible” and those who dismiss it as irrelevant. The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between.

High quality photos from the press conference can be downloaded here.

Also related to archaeology, David Meadows crowdsources the attempt to read and interpret the inscription on the ossuary in the Talpiot patio tomb that has been receiving much attention, while Mark Goodacre links to an article about the discovery of Jesus’ last will and testament.

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  • Jim

    nice roundup!

  • Jeff Carter

    How would these shrines have been used?  Were there little figurines to place in and around the shrine?  Are these ANE playmobil sets?

  • Jonathan Stokl

    I second Jim! Very well put, James.

  • Luke Chandler

    Greetings, Jim. You linked to me as a “poorly informed reader of the Bible” that allegedly contrasts the Qeiyafa shrines with those of Canaanites. Canaanite cult was referenced in the official press release that was copied/pasted on my site, but a careful reading of my post will show I did not reference Canaanite shrines/cult at all. I only contrasted the Qeiyafa shrines with Philistine finds from Tel es-Safi/Gath just a short distance away. (One may also notice my “If this interpretation holds up…” comment near the top of the post.) Please be careful with sweeping judgments that may oversimplify or even misrepresent fellow bloggers.  🙂

    In any event, one thing about these shrines that does contrast with those of Canaanites is the lack of figurines. With all of the cultic artifacts unearthed so far at Qeiyafa, there are still no religious figurines or human representations of any kind. Besides, the biblical text freely admits Canaanite influence in the cult of early Israel. Some parallels should really come as no surprise.

    There is a lot to debate and consider in this. There are even multiple (and plausible) theories on  the origins of Israel. A majority opinion today does not eliminate or delegitimize other possibilities. Given the limited data we possess on Late Bronze/Early Iron Israel, it’s especially important for those of us on both sides and in the middle to approach this discussion without being dogmatic.

    Best wishes,
    Luke Chandler

    • Actually, I thought your post at least indirectly illustrated some of the continuities, and so I linked to you with the “contrary to” in mind, rather than thinking of you as a poorly-informed reader! Sorry for the inadvertent insult, and thank you for being so gracious in your response!