In the last few weeks, Israeli archaeologists have announced a sensational find. News reports claimed that King David’s palace had been found. But is this headline accurate? Let us consider the facts of the discovery to the extent that we know them.
Archaeologists under the direction of Y. Garfinkel and S. Ganor have been excavating the site of Khirbet Qeifaya since 2007. The site is located about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem, and it borders the Elah Valley. This valley is one of the major thoroughfares between the coastal plan, where the Philistines lived, and the hill-country, where the Israelites settled and had their capital city of Jerusalem. It was in the Elah Valley that David defeated the Philistine champion Goliath (1 Sam. 17).
Excavations at the site have uncovered a well-planned fortified city from the late 11th-/early 10th–century B.C. This is the period in which many historians place David’s rule over Israel. In the central area of the site, archaeologists unearthed remains of a 10,000-square-foot palatial structure. To the north of the palace, they found a pillared building that was perhaps used as an administrative store-room for the palace. The archaeologists argue that the city is the best example of a fortified town from the time of King David.
King David Slept Here (Maybe)
At this point the archaeologists dabble in speculation. They propose that this site was a center of power and authority for the kingdom of Judah/Israel during the time of David’s rule. They further submit that, although David’s main palatial residence was in Jerusalem, he perhaps would have stayed in the Khirbet Qeifaya palace from time to time. The claim of “King David’s palace found” is somewhat analogous to “George Washington slept here.” In reality, there is nothing found at the site that directly links it to David.
Critics of this claim about David’s palace have been vociferous. Israel Finkelstein, for example, questions whether the remains are even Judean; he says the city may have been built by Philistines, Canaanites, or others. That is a debate worth having: what physical remains differentiate an Israelite site from a Canaanite site?
At a deeper level, many critics are skeptical of this find because they believe David to be nothing more than an a national myth—an Israelite King Arthur or Robin Hood. We have witnessed this all before, of course. When Israeli archaeologists discovered an inscription from Tell Dan dating to the 9th-century B.C. that mentioned the “house of David,” the skeptics went wild and lacked restraint. Some questioned the excavation techniques, and some went so far as to accuse the diggers of planting the inscription. All of these attacks came to no avail. The House of David inscription refers to what it claims to refer: the house and lineage of David, the second king of Israel.
Has King David’s Palace Been Found?
Where, then, should we stand on this discovery? On the one hand, we need to be careful not to buy into the speculative sensationalism that we see and read in the news and that, unfortunately, is sometimes purveyed by archaeologists.
On the other hand, we need not fall into the trap of an automatic hermeneutic of suspicion that dominates the field of archaeology. Let us patiently wait for all the evidence of the excavation to emerge. Then we will have a better idea if this is really “King David’s Palace.”