Biblical Studies Student Experiences Archaeology at Khirbet Qeiyafa

By: Monica Rey, 2012 Heritage Fellow

This summer the ASOR 2012 Heritage Fellowship gave me the exciting opportunity of spending a few weeks entrenched in the work of my academic “neighbors” in the field of archaeology. As a biblical studies student, Carol Meyers, Ann E. Killebrew, and other scholars have impacted me in their ability to deliberately “bridge” the gap between Bible an archaeology in their work. Consequently, I am able to walk away from this archaeological excavation with a much richer and fuller perspective on the engagement of these disciplines (Bible and archaeology) now from an experiential perspective. Continue reading

Secrets of The Bible’s Buried Secrets

Contributed by Tristan Barako, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Providence Pictures

When The Bible’s Buried Secrets premiered on PBS this past November, it was NOVA’s most watched show in the past five years, attesting to the enduring interest that biblical archaeology holds for the general public. The two-hour special was produced by Providence Pictures, where I now work as senior researcher and writer. The president/producer/director of Providence Pictures, Gary Glassman, took the unusual step of hiring me—someone with absolutely no prior experience in film production—on the strength of my background in archaeology and biblical studies. He and NOVA wanted to make sure that the film was as accurate as possible. To that end we enlisted the support of more than 30 ASOR members, who generously gave of their knowledge and granted us complete film access to their excavations and artifacts. Through their participation and the collective effort of all our staff and crew, we’ve shown that a documentary about biblical archaeology can be both a popular and scholarly success.

To give the readers of this blog some sense of the filmmaking process, here are a few behind-the-scenes peeks of the challenges we faced while making The Bible’s Buried Secrets. Most of what follows relates to my uncredited cameo appearances. In the interest of full disclosure, it must be said that Michael Homan, the moderator of the ASOR blog, also appears in the film. It was originally a more substantial role—his big line went something like “Ron, you better come down here; we just found something that’s going to make your day!” —but that part of the scene, unfortunately, ended up on the cutting room floor.




A reenactment of the discovery of the Tel Zayit abecedary.

Idol smasher: The climax of the destruction of Hazor was a close-up, slow motion shot of a statue of a seated male being decapitated. We had originally planned to shoot this scene in Israel, so we had our Art Director there, Gal Oren, make three replicas of the statue, but we ran out of time so we had to do it in the U.S. instead. The location we ended up using was Gary’s garage in Providence, where we clamped the statue (made of plaster, not the original basalt) to a low table and positioned a Duraflame stick in front of the camera. Then we smoked up the garage and I put on a robe, dirtied up my arm and hand, and grabbed the mallet. I was a bit nervous because I wanted to make sure that the head came off cleanly, similar to how the original was found at Hazor. To stay in the frame I had to approach the statue at an odd angle, but this did not get in the way of a near perfect strike: the head flew off and crashed against the back wall. Good thing, because I shattered the next two replicas.




Smashing idols in Gary’s garage.

German scholar: This was my most challenging role given the amount of time on camera and the task at hand—channeling Julius Wellhausen. To prepare for it we bought a nineteenth-century German Bible and rented a three-piece suit from a costume company in California (surprisingly we couldn’t find anything on the east coast). I also let my beard grow out a little. Finally, I found a section in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia that contained clear J and E passages. Despite all these preparations we overlooked something, as pointed out to me by a friend who is a German historian: the wedding band was on my left hand, whereas Germans typically wear it on the right. There goes the Emmy for best research.




Playing Julius Wellhausen

Gila’s assistant: In this scene, a recreation of the discovery of the Tel Dan Stela, I played only a supporting role: the guy holding the stadia rod for Gila Cook who found this famous inscription in 1993. We followed her recollection of events throughout, which included loading her up like a pack mule, while I ambled off the tell empty-handed. I felt especially insensitive because she was battling laryngitis that day and we made her go up and down the hill with all that equipment a few times on multiple takes, but she was a real trooper and the scene turned out beautifully.




Loading up Gila

Dead Israelite: We used Nazareth Village for many recreations including the scene where one of the Jerusalem priests rescues scrolls from a building set aflame by the Babylonians. Again I donned a robe and got smudged up, but this time all I had to do was lay sprawled out in the background. I’m really not visible because of all the smoke. Our Director of Photography, Nick Gardner, inhaled so much of it that he woke up that night with a splitting headache.




Tristan as a dead Israelite

YHWH: In one of the many scribal scenes, we wanted an extreme close-up of someone writing the personal name of the Israelite god, YHWH. Most of our recreation actors were modern-day sopherim, whom we casted for their ability to write Torah scrolls. The problem was, though, they refused to write the divine name. I volunteered to do it, but I write left-handed and all our scribes were righties. So we pressed into service our thoroughly secular, dread-locked soundman, Amir Liani, who did a great job considering that it was his first time writing in paleo-Hebrew.




YWHW in Paleo-Hebrew

For more information about Providence Pictures and The Bible’s Buried Secrets, including additional behind-the-scenes features, visit:

www.providencepictures.com and www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible.

10th Century BCE Hebrew Inscription Found at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Contributed by Y. Garfinkel (November 5, 2008)

Ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa

Ostracon from Khirbet Qeiyafa

This summer an extraordinary Semitic inscription was found at Khirbet Qeiyafa. It was uncovered inside the fortified city, near the gate, lying on a floor level of a building. The city existed for a rather short time, within the 10th century BC, thus, the dating of the inscription is perfectly secured to the beginning of the First Temple period, known as the United monarchy, the time of kings David and Solomon.

The inscription is a large pottery fragment (ostracon), ca. 15 × 15 cm. written with ink. It contains five rows, divided by black lines. Each row has 10 letters or so in Proto-Canaanite script. According to the preliminary observations of the epigraphist, Dr. Haggai Misgav, the language of the ostracon is Hebrew. This is the longest Proto-Canaanite inscription ever found and the earliest Hebrew text known to date. Other possible Hebrew inscriptions are the Gezer calendar (ca. 900 BC), the stele of king Mesah (ca. 850 BC) or the Samaria ostraca (ca. 800 BC). The new inscription is earlier by 100-200 years from the other earlier Hebrew inscriptions. As the decipherment has just begun, it is still immature to talk about the content, but it clearly bears a massage, a letter sent between two people.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Paleography: The complicated writing techniques developed in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt enabled only professional scribes to read and write. Contrarily, the simple Semitic alphabet writing technique enables larger segments of the population to read and write. Thus, it is one of the most important intellectual inventions of human kind. But the early developments of the Semitic alphabet and its transmitting to the early Greek, and then to Latin and the rest of the world is poorly known. The earliest type of alphabet script, known as Proto-Canaanite, was found in Canaan, Sinai peninsula and Egypt in various sites dated from the second millennium BC (Middle Bronze and Late Bronze periods, ca. 1700-1200 BC). In this stage it was rather pictorial in character, adopting Egyptian hieroglyph signs.

Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa

Aerial photograph of Khirbet Qeiyafa


In the Iron I period (1200-1000 BC) the hieroglyphs became more and more schematics, and it was assumed that at ca. 1000 BC the script became standardized in various aspects, like the number of letters (22), the direction of writing (from right to left) and the shape of the letters. As the Greek letters are quite similar to Proto-Canaanite script it was generally believed that they adopted the alphabet script in the late second millennium BC.

Very few early alphabet inscriptions are known. Most of them are either very short, or just a list of the letters (abecedary). Almost all of them do not have a secure archaeological context, thus lacking clear dating. The new inscription is the first Proto-Canaanite script clearly dated from the 10th century BC. It will now serve as the anchor for the entire developments of the early alphabet scripts: the Semitic (Phoenician, Hebrew and others) as well as the Greek.

Implication to Biblical History: Currently, there is a bitter debate about the historical accounts of Kings David and Solomon as presented by the Biblical tradition. The main arguments so far were the luck of urban centers that can be clearly dated to the time of the United Monarchy (Early Iron Age IIa period).

On September 13th 2008 a colloquium of some 40 Israeli archaeologists took place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The pottery from the fortified city was presented and discussed. There was a general agreement that the assemblage is indeed from the very beginning of the Iron IIa period. The new excavations clearly indicate that already in the time of David and Solomon urban cities were constructed in Judah. The fortifications of the site required 200,000 ton of stones. The upper part of the gate was built with ashlar stones, a clear characteristic of royal activities in the Biblical period. There was a need for administration to organize these massive building activities and indeed the new inscription indicates that writing was in use. The new inscription indicates that writing was indeed practiced in the biblical kingdom of Judah from its very beginning. Thus, historical memories could have been survived for generations and the biblical traditions regarding the period of kings David and Solomon cannot be overlooked.

Gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa

Gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa


Acknowledgments. Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations are conducted by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Mr. Saar Ganor, on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Funds were kindly provided by J.B. Silver, the Berman Center for Biblical Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Foundation Stone and the Curtiss and Mary Brenan Foundation. The expedition website is: qeiyafa.huji.ac.il