The description of Solomon’s Temple in the Book of Kings is one of the most complicated passages in the Bible. The segment is short but replete with engineering details of the Temple that included Lebanese cedar, cypress and a pillared hall at its center.
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“For he built the house of the forest of Lebanon: the length thereof was a hundred cubits, and the breadth thereof fifty cubits, and the height thereof thirty cubits, upon four rows of cedar pillars, with cedar beams upon the pillars. And it was covered with cedar above upon the side-chambers, that lay on forty and five pillars, fifteen in a row. (1 Kings 7:2 and 7:3.)
Four rows of cedar pillars, 15 to a row. That means 60 pillars, not 45. Or there are three rows of cedar pillars, not four.
Some translators of the Bible corrected this head-scratcher, writing “three rows of cedar pillars.” But an extraordinary discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean Hills in 2012 provides a clue.
The discovery is a small model of the First Temple, carved in stone, that clearly shows three protuberances above five frames. Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem calls it one of modern Israel’s most important archaeological discoveries.
Starting Tuesday at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum it will be displayed with other finds from the excavation in the exhibit “In the Valley of David and Goliath.”
Protuberances of the sort are found in kingly construction throughout the ancient Middle East and Mediterranean. Garfinkel believes they represent the “ribs” or roof beams. In other words, he thinks the “45” weren’t pillars but beams. Not 45 pillars but 45 roof beams arranged in 15 groups of three over the pillars.
Thus the importance of the stone model to solve the riddle. “It’s the first such model from Judah and is dated to the right time,” Garfinkel says. “It fits the description of the Temple in the Bible. Who needs more than that? This is close as we can get to the Holy of Holies.”
Archaeologists researching the area believe Qeiyafa was the front fortress in the battle against the Philistines, the place where, according to tradition, David fought Goliath.
The excavators, led by Garfinkel and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, have discovered that a small, fortified city existed on the low hill rising above the Elah Valley during the 10th century B.C.E.
The findings include fortified city walls, two gates, a large public structure, inscriptions in ancient Hebrew script, religious artifacts, cooking utensils and jewelry. They have been dated to the era of King David and have reignited the clash over his image and the importance of Jerusalem.
The argument has split the Israeli archaeological community since the early 1990s.
Minimalists argue that King David, if he existed at all, was no more than the leader of a small tribe that controlled a village named Jerusalem. Maximalists believe in the biblical description of a powerful united kingdom that reigned from Jerusalem over large swaths of the Land of Israel.
Khirbet Qeiyafa has now given ammunition to the maximalists; a fortified city has been discovered in Judah on the border of Philistia that dates to the right time and whose construction required the existence of a powerful, centrally-controlled kingdom. It is clearly not a Philistine city: Not a single pig bone lay among the thousands of animal bones discovered, and pork was central to Philistine cuisine.
The city has Judahite hallmarks and is closely tied with Jerusalem, say Garfinkel and Ganor. Below it spreads the valley where the mythical battle between the two cultures, David and Goliath, took place. Opposite it, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) away, is the Philistine city of Gath.
Minimalists, including Prof. Nadav Na’aman of Tel Aviv University, reject the interpretation, saying there is no evidence that Qeiyafa and Jerusalem had anything to do with each other or with David. They say the site is associated with a small Canaanite kingdom that arose for a short time between the Philistines, who controlled the coast, and the mountain.
Either way, whatever was found at Qeiyafa has yet to be shown to the public.
The exhibit will show the story of Qeiyafa via digital simulations of the city at its heyday, models and displays. The curators are accepting Garfinkel’s interpretation of the site and Qeiyafa’s connection with Jerusalem, though they prefer not to delve too deep into the argument.
The dig at Qeiyafa wound up three years ago, and Garfinkel says the clash with the minimalists has simmered down. Of course, the exhibition could start things up again.