Skip to: Site Menu | Main content

Data, Paradigms and Paradigm-Collapse Trauma: from Biblical Archaeology to Brutal Biblical Archaeology

With few scientific arguments to buttress their position, they [minimalists] proposed an imaginary, alternative history of biblical Israel and Judah. Instead of fostering a discussion between two competing paradigms based on the interpretation of data, the minimalists resorted to rhetoric and demagoguery, ignoring both the relevant archaeological data and the Bible.

See Also:

A Reply to R. Arav’s Review of Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1

Khirbet Qeiyafa

A Brief Note for Yosi Garfinkel

“The End of Biblical Minimalism?”

Essays on Minimalism from Bible and Interpretation

By Prof. Yosef Garfinkel
Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
July 2012

I. Introduction

Conventional scientific procedure follows a logical pattern. In order to test a scientific hypothesis first one gathers the data, then analyzes it, and finally arrives at conclusions. It is legitimate to propose a new working hypothesis, to test it against the data, and if all known facts support the hypothesis, to propose a new interpretation. Such a new interpretation is commonly called a “synthesis” or “paradigm.” The accumulation of new data is the fuel that keeps science going. New data challenge old interpretations and create a necessity for new understandings. Sometimes different interpretations may be suggested, and different paradigms may exist side by side for a rather long period. New data may shed light on such debates and discredit competitive paradigms.

This is how biblical archaeology developed from the beginning of systematic excavations in Israel. Today, however, in some circles the paradigm has become more important than the data: when new data clearly show that an old paradigm is wrong, the scholars who created the flawed paradigm sometimes reject the new data and desperately attempt to keep the old paradigm alive. Articles reflecting such thinking are symptomatic of “paradigm-collapse trauma” and consist of groundless arguments, masquerading as scientific writing through footnotes, references and publication in professional journals. These articles recall a defense attorney quibbling over minutiae in an attempt to distract the jury from the main accusations against his client. Thus, not only were these scholars wrong to begin with, but they persist in reiterating the same error.

II. Biblical Minimalism and Pseudo Biblical Minimalism

There have been many competitive paradigms in the field of biblical archaeology over the years, but in the 1980s radically different ideas began to emerge. At first, the overemphasized connection with biblical tradition was criticized, and it was proposed to change the discipline’s name: from biblical archaeology to Syro-Palestinian archaeology. The name of the journal Biblical Archaeologist, published by the American Schools of Oriental Research, was changed to Near Eastern Archaeology. A further development was the rise of the so-called biblical minimalists, a movement that developed under the influence of post-modernism, embodying the hermeneutics of suspicion and deconstructionism. This movement questions the historicity of the biblical narrative largely by challenge the legitimacy of the Bible’s portrayal of the historical development of the Davidic dynasty. Particularly relevant to our discussion is the biblical narrative relating to the 10th century BCE, the period known as the United Monarchy. The so-called minimalist school claims that since the Hebrew Bible was written hundreds of years after the time of David and Solomon, the description of that era must be regarded as a literary composition unrelated to authentic historical facts.

Since the archaeological record was inconclusive, the minimalists assumed that the biblical account of the rise of the Davidic dynasty was a myth. The minimalists violated the conventional scientific procedure of moving in a logical progression from the data, to analysis and then to conclusions. Although the marginalization of large portions of the biblical narrative was not supported by the data, minimalist scholarship was unimpeded. With few scientific arguments to buttress their position, they proposed an imaginary, alternative history of biblical Israel and Judah. Instead of fostering a discussion between two competing paradigms based on the interpretation of data, the minimalists resorted to rhetoric and demagoguery, ignoring both the relevant archaeological data and the Bible. As an example, minimalists proposed that the Siloam Tunnel and its inscription be dated to the Hellenistic period, thereby repeating precisely what they accused the biblical writers of doing: creating a purely imaginary mythological/literary history.

This situation changed radically in 1993 and 1994, when several fragments of an Aramaic stele dated to the 9th century BCE were found at Tel Dan. This text specifically mentions a king of Israel and a king of the “House of David.” Reference to the House of David has subsequently been identified in the Mesha Stele, also dated to the 9th century BCE. Thus, there is at least one, possibly two clear references to David only 100–120 years after his reign. This is substantial evidence that David was both a historical figure and the founder of a dynasty, contrary to the minimalists’ claims.

The collapse of the minimalist paradigm is not surprising, since from the beginning it was based more on sensationalism than on sound methodology. The panicked reaction of the minimalists led to ideas that now appear preposterous, as reflected in the following article titles: “House of David Built on Sand,” “Did Biran Kill King David?” or “Eponymic Referent to Yahweh as Godfather.” But even worse, it was claimed that the Dan inscription was nothing but a forgery. The old paradigm had become more important than the new data. From my perspective, this was the point where, in certain circles, biblical archaeology was manipulated and turned into brutal biblical archaeology. By this I refer to a situation in which archaeology and biblical studies cease to be concerned with the past and instead, have been contorted to manipulate current academic politics or as a vendetta to defend injured egos.

The Tel Dan stele ended the first phase of the debate regarding the historicity of the Hebrew Bible. It showed that the mythological/literary paradigm was flawed. To dismiss the historical account of the Davidic monarchy as pure myth was untenable and nothing but unfounded post-modern ideology criticism (for a detailed discussion, with references, see Garfinkel and Ganor 2009:3–18; Garfinkel 2011a). The attacks by Prof. Davis on my recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review are a faint echo of the golden era of the minimalists, before the Tel Dan stele was found.

After the collapse of the mythological paradigm, the minimalists developed a new strategy: the low chronology paradigm. This approach attempted to lower the dating of the transition between Iron Age I and Iron Age II. This transition was traditionally dated to c. 1000 BCE (according to what is commonly referred to as high chronology). The new proposal dated this transition to c. 925 BCE (and is commonly referred to as low chronology). What was achieved by this? The Iron Age I in Judah and Israel was a period of agrarian communities organized along tribal lines. The subsequent period, the Iron Age II, is characterized by an urban society structured around a centralized state. Low chronology places urbanization only at the end of the 10th century BCE, effectively negating the possibility that David and Solomon were rulers of an organized kingdom, and making them mere local tribal leaders (Finkelstein 1996). In addition, low chronology argues that urbanism began in the northern kingdom of Israel while Judah only became a state toward the end of the 8th century BCE.

Our current excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa have far-reaching implications for the heated debate on the transition from Iron Age I to Iron Age II. To date we have excavated approximately 20% of the city and have uncovered a heavily fortified city with a casemate city wall, two gates, two gate plazas, 10 houses and three cultic shrines (Figs. 1–2). The dating of the city is based upon 10 olive pits tested at the Oxford University laboratories, and indicates that the city existed between 1020 to 980 BCE (Garfinkel and Ganor 2009; Garfinkel, Ganor and Hasel 2010, 2011, 2012). These new data entirely contradict arguments favoring the low chronology, which puts urbanization in Judah over 300 years later (Fig. 3).

Since publishing the results of our excavations, eight different articles have been published by Tel Aviv University scholars, challenging our data and attacking our interpretations: Na'aman (4 articles), Finkelstein and Piasetzky (1 article), Finkelstein and Fantalkin (1 article), Singer-Avitz (1 article), Dagan (1 article). All these articles focus specifically on Khirbet Qeiyafa. In addition to these, another article dealing with the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon was published in the journal Tel Aviv (Rollston 2011), which is an organ of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and edited by Israel Finkelstein.

I have no problem with scholars who suggest alternate interpretations of data from this or any other site. This is a healthy process in every scientific discipline. The fact that the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations are the concern of so many scholars is a sign of the site’s importance. To the best of my recollection, never before has such a site, one of the smallest biblical cities in Israel, ever received so much attention. So scholars, please keep on writing: the more the merrier!

The Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations have invalidated the low chronology. Because there is no data to support the outdated low chronology paradigm of 1996, Finkelstein has attempted to overcome the fresh data in a variety of ways. A close look at each of the publications that criticize our interpretation or data reveals serious methodological flaws:

1. Following the second season of excavations Dagan (2009) argued that the entire Iron Age city dates to the Hellenistic period. This idea was based on pottery sherds collected during a surface survey that he carried out at the site nearly 20 years earlier. Archaeological strata and buildings buried deep in a site should clearly not be dated on the basis of surface sherds (Garfinkel and Ganor 2010).

2. Singer-Avitz (2010) argued that the pottery uncovered in the fortified city of Khirbet Qeiyafa should be classified as late Iron Age I rather than early Iron Age II. She presents three typological criteria as the basis for her analysis of the pottery. Later in that article she contradicts her own three criteria (Garfinkel and Kang 2011).

3. Finkelstein and Piasetzky (2010) dealt with the four radiometric dates from Khirbet Qeiyafa available at the time of their writing. They took the highest date and the lowest date and dated the city between these: 1050 to 925 BCE, thus ignoring accepted procedure, which calls for age determinations based upon a number of dates rather than single ones (Garfinkel and Kang 2011).

4. Finkelstein and Fantalkin (2012) recently claimed that we do not understand what is going on at Khirbet Qeiyafa at all, criticizing methodological shortcomings in both our field work and our interpretation of the finds. This article is divided into two sections. The introduction is a vicious attack on every possible aspect of the excavations. The second half suggests that Khirbet Qeiyafa was built by King Saul and destroyed by Pharaoh Shoshenq I.

Ignoring the emotional outburst of the introduction, the authors’ concept is quite simple: the city was built by one king who is mentioned in the biblical narrative and was destroyed by another king who is mentioned in the biblical narrative. This is precisely the old-fashioned approach of W.F. Albright, Y. Yadin, B. Mazar and Y. Aharoni, who freely associated kings and archaeological strata, even when lacking any hard evidence. Finkelstein and Fantalkin have no concrete data to justify associating Khirbet Qeiyafa with King Saul and they simply ignore the radiometric datings from Khirbet Qeiyafa that indicate the city was destroyed decades before Shoshenq I. As the authors are empty handed, and do not have any data to connect the site to either King Saul or Pharaoh Shoshenq I, they resort to rhetorical and demagogic measures. Their article clearly displays the symptoms of paradigm-collapse trauma—literary compilations of groundless arguments, masquerading as scientific writing through footnotes, references and publication in a professional journal.

The amusing title of this article: “Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation” is misleading. Is talk about a kingdom of King Saul less sensational than the idea of a Davidic kingdom? Aside from the Bible, do we know anything about King Saul? Is he mentioned in any extra-biblical source? Is there proof that he existed? Why is the biblical tradition of the kingdom of Saul more realistic than that of King David? In any case, we would be happy to unearth a royal inscription of King Saul at Khirbet Qeiyafa, and would be delighted to uncover a victory stele of Shoshenq I at our site. For the time being, however, we prefer to base our interpretation of the history of Khirbet Qeiyafa on the available evidence from our excavation, rather than engage in such wild speculation.

Following the publication of the above articles by Finkelstein and Piasetzky and Singer-Avitz, we submitted a response to Tel Aviv. It is standard practice for a journal that publishes criticism of a scholar’s work to print their response. This request was rejected by the editor, Professor Finkelstein. In lieu of a response in Tel Aviv, we responded to the attacks in an article in the Israel Exploration Journal (Garfinkel and Kang 2011). This appears to be a case of a scholar using his power as a journal editor to continue publishing articles against the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations while censoring scholarly responses to these attacks. Finkelstein’s credibility as an objective and unbiased editor of a scientific journal is in jeopardy.

What emerges here is clearly an acute reaction to paradigm collapse, in which certain scholars are unable to deal with new data that challenge or invalidate their paradigm. I believe they have mistakenly ignored, distorted, and even manipulated the data, engaged in personal attacks, and have used their professional and editorial power in a questionable manner. The end result debases biblical archaeology.

As more and more data accumulated from our excavations, Professor Finkelstein’s position has become less and less plausible. He has tacitly admitted this by making a serious tactical retreat in the right direction. In 1996 he placed the beginning of the Kingdom of Judah in the late 8th century BCE, but recently argues that Judah became a kingdom at the end of the 9th century BCE (Finkelstein 2012), a hundred years earlier!

III. Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation

Any interpretation of the evidence from Khirbet Qeiyafa must consider the following facts (Garfinkel and Ganor 2009; Garfinkel, Ganor and Hasel 2010, 2011, 2012):
1. Location: Khirbet Qeiyafa is located at the western end of the high Shephelah and controls the entrance to the Elah Valley, the main route from the coastal plain to the hill country, Jerusalem, and Hebron.
2. New settlement: The city at Khirbet Qeiyafa was built on bedrock rather than over the ruins of a Canaanite city from the Late Bronze Age, unlike Late Bronze Canaanite cities, which are always built on top of Middle Bronze Canaanite cities. Why did this location suddenly become important in the late 11th–early 10th centuries BCE?
3. Massive fortifications: The site has an especially impressive casemate wall that incorporates megalithic stones weighing up to eight tons. Similar construction is unknown in Late Bronze Age Canaanite cities, nor is it evident at hundreds of smaller Iron Age I sites in the hill country (commonly known as “Israelite settlement sites”). The building tradition in Philistia used brick rather than stone, as can be seen from walls unearthed at Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. Moreover, casemate walls are unknown in the Land of Israel in either Late Bronze Age Canaanite cities or Iron Age Philistine sites.
4. Two gates: Khirbet Qeiyafa has two gates, one in the west and the other in the south (Figs. 4–5). The gates are of identical size and consist of four chambers. This is the only known example from the Iron Age of a settlement with two gates in the Northern or the Southern Kingdom.
5. Urban planning: The dwellings at Khirbet Qeiyafa adjoin and are incorporated into the wall, with the casemate constituting the back room of every house. Such planning is currently evident at four additional sites: Beth-Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh, Tell Beit Mirsim and Tel Sheva. All these sites are dated to Iron Age II and are located in the south of the Land of Israel, in the Kingdom of Judah. In terms of its dating, Khirbet Qeiyafa precedes them all, attesting that this planning concept was already formulated in the late eleventh century BCE. Casement walls are also known at northern sites such as Hazor and Gezer, but at those sites, such walls are freestanding and do not abut dwellings.
6. Pottery vessels: The assemblage of local ware is relatively simple and includes a small number of vessel types: shallow rounded bowls, shallow carinated bowls, kraters with an inverted upper part and 2–6 handles, simple juglets, black juglets, simple jugs, strainer jugs, cooking pots with an inverted rim, baking trays, and storage jars that usually had a fingerprint on one of the handles. Most of the vessels lack ornamentation. Very rarely, red slip appears on a bowl or jug, which sometimes also features irregular hand burnishing. All these are typical characteristics of the pottery of the early Iron Age IIA (Garfinkel and Kang 2011).
7. Concentrated production of jars and the marking of their handles: Dozens of storage jars were discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, generally with one or more handles marked by a fingerprint. By the middle of the 2012 excavation season, about 600 such handles had come to light. Petrographic examinations indicate that all the jars originate in the vicinity of Khirbet Qeiyafa. This suggests the beginning of a central administration that was fully developed later, as attested by the royal (lmlk) jars.
8. Diet and food preparation: Thousands of animal bones were found at the site, including goats, sheep, and cattle. No pig bones were discovered. Almost every house contained a baking tray – a shallow bowl with a charred inner side, indicating that it had been placed over an open fire with the dough draped over the rough outer side.
9. Commercial ties: Finds from the site suggest the import of items from varying distances:
(a) 10–20 km away: Pottery vessels of the Ashdod Ware type were imported from Philistia. The ornamentation of these vessels typically includes red slip on the face as well as painted horizontal white and black lines. These relatively small vessels, with a volume of up to two liters, were apparently used to transport specialty products such as spices, medicines or special drinks.
(b) 100–150 km away: basalt vessels including both simple implements such as grinding stones and grinding plates as well as a finely crafted and polished bowl and a basalt altar decorated with a floral pattern.
(c) Cypriot imports: A number of pottery juglets that originated in Cyprus were discovered at the site. They are embellished with black bands and concentric circles painted on a white background. (Vessels of the black-on-red family characteristic of the late 10th century BCE were not found at the site).
10. Script: An ostracon found at Khirbet Qeiyafa contains five lines with a total of some 70 letters. The letters are written in an archaic style, in the Canaanite writing tradition (also known as proto-Canaanite script). A good deal of the writing is unclear, making it difficult to decipher. The inscription includes words such as “do not do” (al ta‘as), “judge” (shofet), “slave” (‘eved), el (god), Baal (Baal), and “king” (melekh). According to the epigrapher Haggai Misgav, based on the word ta‘as (to do), the language of the inscription is Hebrew. This is the longest extant inscription from the 12th–9th centuries BCE in the region.
11. Figurines: Three cultic rooms uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa contained an assemblage of ritual paraphernalia: stone altars, basalt altars, pottery libation vessels, shrine models, benches, basins and drainage installations, seals and scarabs. We found none of the human or animal figurines that are frequently found at Philistine or Canaanite ritual sites.
12. Dating: Based on 10 14Carbon readings of olive pits, the site dates to the late 11th and early 10th centuries BCE.
13. End of settlement: The site was destroyed suddenly, as attested by the hundreds of items found on floors or in the debris of collapsed buildings: pottery vessels, stone vessels, metal tools, scarabs and seals. Who destroyed the site?
14. Abandonment of the site: Khirbet Qeiyafa was abandoned following its destruction, and was not settled again until the late Persian period. Why did its inhabitants not rebuild the site, and why did it not become a multi-strata mound?

The data uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa clearly indicate that the site was occupied by a Judean population. Various characteristics of material culture uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa continue in the subsequent period at the classic sites of the kingdom, in layers dated to the 9th and 8th centuries BCE (Garfinkel, Ganor and Hasel 2011; Garfinkel 2011b, Garfinkel 2012):
1. Typical Judean urban planning, with casemate city wall and abutting houses.
2. Typical Judean cooking habits with baking trays and no pig bones. These are in sharp contrast to Philistine population.
3. Typical Judean administration with hundreds of impressed jar handles. This concept is well-known in the later royal (lmlk) jars and rosette jars of the 8th and 7th centuries BCE.
4. Cult rooms with an absence of cult images. This is in sharp contrast to the rich iconographic assemblages known from Canaanite and Philistine temples, or sites in the northern Kingdom of Israel.
5. Hebrew inscriptions.

The cumulative weight of the data indicate that the population of the site was not Philistine, Canaanite or people from the northern Kingdom of Israel. With its dating and location in the Elah Valley, the site marks the beginning of a new era: the establishment of the biblical Kingdom of Judah.

I wish to thank Jason Stanghelle for discussing various aspects relating to this article with me and for his careful editing of its text.



1. Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa at the end of the 2011 excavation season.


2. Map of the Iron Age city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, at the end of the 2011 excavation season. Note the casemate city wall, two gates, two gate plazas and houses. The openings of the casemates are always on the side farthest from the gate. Adjacent to each gate is a gate plaza. In the south, the gate plaza is situated to the left of the entrance while in the west it is situated to the right of the entrance. There is a cult room in each of the buildings bordering the gate plaza, situated next to the plaza. The biblical expression “gate bamot” may refer to this phenomenon.


3. Ten 14Carbon dates were obtained from burnt olive pits found in the destruction layer of Khirbet Qeiyafa. The age determinations show that the city was constructed at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the second half of the 11th century BCE and existed into the 10th century BCE. The graph also shows (in the upper row) the average beginning date for all the samples and (in the lower row) an average final date for all of the samples. These averages enable us to establish the time limits for the existence of the city between 1020 and 980 BCE.


4. An Iron Age gate in the western side of the city.


5. An Iron Age gate in the southern side of the city.


Dagan, Y. 2009. Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean Shephelah: Some Considerations. Tel Aviv 36: 68–81.

Finkelstein, I. 1996. The Archaeology of the United Monarchy: an Alternative View. Levant 28: 177–187.

Finkelstein, I. 2012. The Great Wall of Tell en-Nasbeh (Mizpha), The First Fortifications in Judah, and 1 Kings 15:16-22. Vetus Testamentum 62:14–28.

Finkelstein, I. and Fantalkin, A. 2012. Khirbet Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical Interpretation. Tel Aviv 39: 38–63.

Finkelstein, I. and Piasetzky, E. 2010. Khirbet Qeiyafa: Absolute Chronology. Tel Aviv 37: 84–88.

Garfinkel, Y. 2011a. The Birth & Death of Biblical Minimalism. Biblical Archaeology Review 37/3: 46–53.

Garfinkel, Y. 2011b. The Davidic Kingdom in Light of the Finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa. City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem 6:13*–35*.

Garfinkel, Y. 2012. The Settlement History of the Kingdom of Judah from its Establishment to its Destraction. Cathedra 143:7–44 (Hebrew).

Garfinkel, Y. and Ganor, S. 2009. Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1. The 2007–2008 Excavation Seasons. Jerusalem.

Garfinkel, Y. and Ganor, S. 2010. Khirbet Qeiyafa in Survey and in Excavations: A Response to Y. Dagan. Tel Aviv 37:67–78.

Garfinkel, Y., Ganor, S. and Hasel, M. 2010. The Contribution of Khirbet Qeiyafa to Our Understanding of the Iron Age Period. Strata: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israeli Archaeological Society 28: 39–54.

Garfinkel, Y., Ganor, S. and Hasel, M. 2011. Khirbet Qeiyafa Excavations and the Rise of the Kingdom of Judah. Eretz-Israel 30: 174–194 (Hebrew).

Garfinkel, Y., Ganor, S. and Hasel, M. 2012. Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah. Tel Aviv (Hebrew).

Garfinkel, Y. and Kang, H.-G. 2011. The Relative and Absolute Chronology of Khirbet Qeiyafa: Very Late Iron Age I or Very Early Iron Age IIA? Israel Exploration Journal 61: 171–183.

Rollston, C.A. 2011. The Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon: Methodological Musings and Caveats. Tel Aviv 38: 67–82.

Singer-Avitz, L. 2010. The Relative Chronology of Khirbet Qeiyafa. Tel Aviv 37: 79–83.