In the footsteps of Judah’s spiritual collapse

I’ve just read another very interesting book. In the Footsteps of King David describes the excavation of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel, just up the valley from the ancient Philistine city of Gath.

Dated on many firm radiocarbon estimations to the late 11th and early 10th centuries BCE, that is, exactly at the time when the biblical King David would have reigned, it has been identified with the city of Shaaraim of 1 Sam 17:52, close to where David fought Goliath.

It shows a brand new kind of city planning, found only at a couple of sites in Judah, that would indicate the move from a scattered community of villages to a royal nation state – that is, exactly what the Bible says occurred in David’s reign.

This refutes the minimalist school of scholars (ie the ones atheists and Wikipedia always quote), who denied there ever was a kingdom of Judah that early. In fact, they also said that King David himself was a legendary character, until the Tel Dan Stele was found in 1993, dating probably from 840BC, which refers to “the house of David.” Since then David’s name has also probably been found on the already discovered Mesha Stele.

Another major debunking was the discovery on the site of an ostracon containing around 70 letters in what has been identified as early Hebrew (not Canaanite), and an inscribed piece of pottery bearing a name only foundĀ  from that period in the Bible. The ostracon is hard to decypher, but may contain very Mosaic style injunctions to support the poor and widows (or else a list of names!).

Now the point is that Khirbet Qeiyafa was occupied for only a short time after it was built on bedrock, before somebody (the Philistines?) destroyed it. It is a time capsule for David’s reign, and thus shows that even an outlying city of Judah had literate inhabitants. It is no longer possible to claim that the Bible accounts must have been invented or transcribed from fuzzy oral tradition centuries later: Jerusalem would have had scribes enough to make and preserve records.


My last “debunking,” and the one on which I want to dwell, is that this site, unlike all the Philistine sites, those in the later northern kingdom of Israel, and indeed ANE excavations as a whole, showed a complete absence of images of gods or goddesses, and of pig bones. In other words, it seems likely that 11th-10th century Judah practised aniconic monotheism, and followed food laws previously claimed to be late “priestly” inventions. Not only does that refute the “history of religions” theory that dominated OT studies for over a century (monotheism evolved gradually from polytheism late in Israel’s history), but it looks like they had some kind of Torah proscribing the eating of pork. If there was no biblical Moses, there must have been someone similar around the same time, possibly of the same name!

In its wider discussion, the book presents an interesting finding, now that a few of the rare sites from the kingdom of Judah have been properly exacavated and dated. And that is that, for the first 300 of Judah’s 400 years, sites show the same absence of figures of deities seen at Khirbet Qeiyafa. However, in the last century, leading up to the destruction of the kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army, such images proliferate. In the destruction levels of Jerusalem itself, female figurines have been found in nearly every house.

What is astonishing is how this correlates with the biblical narrative of the period of the prophets of Judah after the collapse of the northern kingdom. Whilst there had been the occasional idolatrous king of Judah before, the prophets decry the burgeoning idolatry of their times, especially in Jerusalem, and warn of the impending judgement we see in the destruction levels. The apostasy is real and traceable in the artifacts, and the judgement, whilst it cannot be confirmed as divine punishment by archaeology, confirms the contemporary predictions of those like Isaiah and Jeremiah.


If I were a historian, I would be wondering what led to the abandonment of the monotheism seen in the first 3/4 of the record of Judah. Archaeology also shows increasing wealth and social stratification; representing the social injustice that the prophets also condemned. But why should that be accompanied by syncretism and apostasy that had been resisted under quite mediocre kings before, but which flourished amongst the people despite reforming rulers like Hezekiah and Josiah?

I don’t have an answer to that, but I will link it to a contemporary phenomenon in the social and spiritual realm that also cries out for an explanation. And that is how, over no more than two generations, western cultural views on sexual morality and gender have undergone a seismic shift: so seismic, indeed, that the statements of Evangelical church denominations from 2016, that they uphold the biblical concept of marriage, have already been swallowed by acceptance of the whole bizarre and counter-factual narrative of Cultural Marxist progressivism on gender.

If you were at all interested in why Judah fell into idolatry in its final century, this question ought to interest you more, because it’s your world. And it’s a whole lot easier to dig into than the all-too-sparse archaeological remains of David’s kingdom.

Of course, it also matters because the unbelievable warnings of sack-cloth clothed prophets that the whole nation would vanish actually came true. And they might do again.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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One Response to In the footsteps of Judah’s spiritual collapse

  1. Robert Byers says:

    very interesting stufff on matters I like and care about.
    I wish the term BCE was not used. Its BC and the people have not voted it out.
    I also don’t like confidence in carbon 14 dating stuff.
    YES King David was real and they have NO RIGHT to question the written accounts. Its written! they must go a long way to show authors invented it and it was NEW to the audience. the connections between Davids years and what followed is intimate and they don’t question what follows very much.They can’t.
    the more and better excavations are done on these old sites WILL always confirm the bible and not hurt it I predict.

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