Coordinates: 31°41′47″N 34°57′26″E / 31.69639°N
34.95722°E / 31.69639; 34.95722
31°41′47″N 34°57′27″E / 31.6963°N 34.9575°E /
Iron Age, Hellenistic
Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor
Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological Project
This article is about the archaeological site. For mention of this
city in the Bible, see Shaaraim.
Khirbet Qeiyafa (Elah Fortress; Hirbet Kaifeh) is the site of an
ancient fortress city overlooking the Elah Valley. The ruins of the
fortress were uncovered in 2007, near the Israeli city of Beit
Shemesh, 30 km (20 mi) from Jerusalem. It covers nearly
2.5 ha (6 acres) and is encircled by a 700-meter-long
(2,300 ft) city wall constructed of stones weighing up to eight
tons each. A number of archaeologists, mainly
Yosef Garfinkel and
Saar Ganor, have claimed that it might be the biblical city of
Sha'arayim, because of the two gates discovered on the site, or
Neta'im and that the large building at the center is an
administrative building dating to the reign of King David, where he
might have lodged at some point. this is based on their
conclusions that the site dates to the early Iron IIA, ca. 1025–975
BCE, a range which includes the biblical date for the Kingdom of
David. Others are sceptical, and suggest it might represent either a
Philistine or Canaanite fortress. The techniques
and interpretations used to reach the conclusion that Khirbet Qeiyafa
was a fortress of
King David have been criticised.
3 Site and excavation history
4 Debate on United Monarchy
6 Archaeological finds
Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription
Khirbet Qeiyafa shrines
9 King David's Palace
10 See also
13 External links
14 Exhibited artifacts
The meaning of the Arabic name of the site, Khirbet Qeiyafa, is
uncertain. Scholars suggest it may mean "the place with a wide
view." In 1881, Palmer thought that Kh. Kîâfa meant "the ruin of
tracking foot-steps". The modern Hebrew name, מבצר
האלה, or The Elah Fortress was suggested by Foundation Stone
David Willner and Barnea Levi Selavan at a meeting with
Garfinkel and Ganor in early 2008. Garfinkel accepted the idea and
excavation t-shirts with that name were produced for the 2008 and 2009
seasons. The name derives from the location of the site on the
northern bank of Nahal Elah, one of six brooks that flow from the
Judean mountains to the coastal plain.
View of Tel Azeka from Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel. Top wall is later;
lower walls from
Iron Age site. Note plastered room interior wall.
The Elah Fortress lies just inside a north-south ridge of hills
Philistia and Gath to the west from
Judea to the east. The
ridge also includes the site currently identified as Tel Azekah.
Past this ridge is a series of connecting valleys between two parallel
groups of hills. Tel
Sokho lies on the southern ridge with Tel Adullam
behind it. The Elah Fortress is situated on the northern ridge,
overlooking several valleys with a clear view of the
Behind it to the northeast is Tel Yarmut. From the topography,
archaeologists believe this was the location of the cities of Adullam,
Azekah and Yarmut cited in Joshua 15:35. These valleys
formed the border between
Philistia and Judea.
Site and excavation history
The site of
Khirbet Qeiyafa was surveyed in the 1860s by Victor
Guérin who reported the presence of a village on the hilltop. In
1875, British surveyors noted only stone heaps at Kh. Kiafa. In
1932, Dimitri Baramki, reported the site to hold a 35 square metres
(380 sq ft) watchtower associated with Khirbet Quleidiya
(Horvat Qolad), 200 metres (660 ft) east. The site was mostly
neglected in the 20th century and not mentioned by leading
scholars. Yehuda Dagan conducted more intense surveys in the 1990s
and documented the visible remains. The site raised curiosity in
Saar Ganor discovered impressive
Iron Age structures under
Khirbet Qeiyafa began in 2007, directed by Yosef
Garfinkel of the
Hebrew University and
Saar Ganor of the Israel
Antiquities Authority, and continued in 2008. Nearly 600 square
metres (6,500 sq ft) of an
Iron Age IIA city were unearthed.
Based on pottery styles and two burned olive pits tested for carbon-14
at Oxford University, Garfinkel and Ganor have dated the site to
1050–970 BCE, although
Israel Finkelstein contends evidence
points to habitation between 1050 and 915 BCE.
The initial excavation by Ganor and Garfinkel took place from August
12 to 26, 2007 on behalf of the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Institute of Archaeology. In their preliminary report at the annual
ASOR conference on November 15, they presented a theory that the site
was the Biblical Azekah, which until then had been exclusively
associated with Tell Zakariya. In Sept. of 2008, Joseph Silver,
the chief funder of the excavation, while walking around the exterior
of the city wall in the SE part with Garfinkel and Ganor, identified
features in the city wall similar to the features found by Garfinkel
and Ganor in the western gate, and stated that it was a second
gate. In November, with volunteers from the Bnai Akiva youth
organization, the area was cleared and an excavation organized by
Garfinkel and Ganor confirmed the architecture of the second gate. The
identification provides a solid basis (though not definitive and not
without debate) for identifying the site as biblical
gates" in Hebrew).
In 2015 a plan to build a neighborhood on the site was cancelled, to
enable the archaeological dig to go forward.
Debate on United Monarchy
Main article: Kingdom of
Israel (united monarchy)
Elah fortress walls
Khirbet Qeiyafa are significant to the debate on
archaeological evidence and historicity of the biblical account of the
United Monarchy at the beginning of
Iron Age II. Three major
hypotheses were advanced by Garfinkel, Nadav Na’aman and Ido Koch,
Israel Finkelstein. Garfinkel said in 2010 that the debate could
not "be answered by the Qeiyafa excavations." He is of the opinion
that "what is clear, however, is that the kingdom of Judah existed
already as a centrally organized state in the tenth century
BCE". Nadav Na’aman and Ido Koch held that the ruins
were Canaanite, based on strong similarities with the nearby Canaanite
excavations at Beit Shemesh. Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin,
maintained that the site shows affiliations with a North Israelite
entity. In 2015 Finkelstein and Piasetsky specifically criticised
the previous statistical treatment of radio-carbon dating at Khirbet
Qeiyafa and also whether it was prudent to ignore results from
neighboring sites. As no archaeological finds were found that
could corroborate claims of the existence of a magnificent biblical
kingdom, various scholars have advanced the opinion that the kingdom
was no more than a small tribal entity.
Releasing the preliminary dig reports for the 2010 and 2011 digging
seasons at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the
Israel Antiquities Authority stated:
"The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society
that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can
no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the
late eighth century BCE or at some other later date."
Gershon Galil of the
University of Haifa
University of Haifa identified Khirbet
Qeiyafa as the "Neta'im" of 1 Chronicles 4:23, due to its proximity to
Khirbet Ğudrayathe (biblical Gederah). The inhabitants of both cities
were said to be "potters" and "in the King's service", a description
that is consistent with the archeological discoveries at that
Yehuda Dagan of the
Israel Antiquities Authority also disagrees with
the identification as Sha'arayim. Dagan believes the ancient
Philistine retreat route, after their defeat in the battle at the
Valley of Elah
Valley of Elah (1
Samuel 17:52), more likely identifies Sha'arayim
with the remains of Khirbet esh-Shari'a. Dagan proposes that Khirbet
Qeiyafa be identified with biblical Adithaim (Joshua 15:36). Nadav
Na'aman of Tel Aviv University doubts that
Sha'arayim means "two
gates" at all, citing multiple scholarly opinions that the suffix
-ayim in ancient place names is not the dual suffix used for ordinary
The fortifications at
Khirbet Qeiyafa predate those of contemporary
Lachish, Beersheba, Arad, and Timnah. All these sites have yielded
pottery dated to early
Iron Age II. The parallel valley to the north,
Samuel I, runs from the
Philistine city of
Ekron to Tel
Beit Shemesh. The city gate of the Elah Fortress faces west with a
path down to the road leading to the sea, and was thus named "Gath
Gate" or "Sea Gate." The 23-dunam (5.7-acre) site is surrounded by a
casement wall and fortifications. The top layer of the fortress
shows that the fortifications were renewed in the Hellenistic
Garfinkel suggests that it was a
Judean city with 500–600
inhabitants during the reign of
David and Solomon. Based
on pottery finds at Qeiyafa and Gath, archaeologists believe the sites
belonged to two distinct ethnic groups. "The finds have not yet
established who the residents were," says Aren Maeir, a Bar Ilan
University archaeologist digging at Gath. "It will become more clear
if, for example, evidence of the local diet is found. Excavations have
shown that Philistines ate dogs and pigs, while Israelites did not.
The nature of the ceramic shards found at the site suggest residents
might have been neither Israelites nor Philistines but members of a
third, forgotten people." Evidence that the city was not
Philistine comes from the private houses that abut the city wall, an
arrangement that was not used in
Philistine cities. There is also
evidence of equipment for baking flat bread and hundreds of bones from
goats, cattle, sheep, and fish. Significantly, no pig bones have been
uncovered, suggesting that the city was not
Canaanite. Nadav Na'aman of Tel Aviv University nevertheless
associates it with
Philistine Gath, citing the necessity for further
excavations as well as evidence from Bet Shemesh whose inhabitants
also avoided eating pork, yet were associated with Ekron. Na'aman
proposed identification with the
Philistine city of Gob.
Yigal Levin has proposed that the ma'gal (מעגל) or "circular camp"
of the Israelites which is mentioned in the story of
David and Goliath
Samuel 17:20) was described this way because it fitted the circular
shape of the nearby Khirbet Qeiyafa. Levin argues that the story
David and Goliath is set decades before
Khirbet Qeiyafa was built
and so the reference to Israel's encampment at the ma'gal probably
does "not represent any particular historical event at all". But when
the story was composed centuries later, the round structure of Khirbet
Qeiyafa "would still have been visible and known to the author of 1
Samuel 17", who "guessed its function, and worked it into his
Pottery in situ, 2009
The site consists of a lower city of about 10 hectares and an upper
city of about 3 hectares (7.4 acres) surrounded by a massive defensive
wall ranging from 2–4 metres (6 ft 7 in–13 ft
1 in) tall. The walls are built in the same manner as the walls
of Hazor and Gezer, formed by a casemate (a pair of walls with a
chamber in between). At the center of the upper city is a large
rectangular enclosure with spacious rooms on the south, equivalent to
similar enclosures found at royal cities such as Samaria, Lachish, and
Ramat Rachel. On the southern slope, outside the city, there are Iron
Age rock-cut tombs.
The site, according to Garfinkel, has "a town plan characteristic of
the Kingdom of Judah that is also known from other sites, e.g., Beit
Shemesh, Tell en-Nasbeh,
Tell Beit Mirsim
Tell Beit Mirsim and Beersheba. A casemate
wall was built at all of these sites and the city’s houses next to
it incorporated the casemates as one of the dwelling's rooms. This
model is not known from any Canaanite,
Philistine or Kingdom of Israel
The site is massively fortified, "including the use of stones that
weigh up to eight tons apiece."
"500 jar handles bearing a single finger print, or sometimes two or
three, were found. Marking jar handles is characteristic of the
Kingdom of Judah and it seems this practice has already begun in the
Iron Age IIA."
Area "A" extended 5×5 metres and consists of two major layers:
Hellenistic above, and
Iron Age II below. Area "B" contains four
squares, about 2.5 metres deep from top-soil to bedrock, and also
Iron Age layers. Surveys on the
surface have also revealed sherds from the early and middle Bronze
Ages, as well as from the Persian, Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic,
Mameluke and Ottoman periods.
Išbaʿal son of Beda inscription
The Hellenistic/upper portion of the wall was built with small rocks
atop the Iron-II lower portion, consisting of big boulders in a
casemate design. Part of a structure identified as a city gate was
uncovered, and some of the rocks where the wall meets this gate are
estimated to weigh 3 to 5 tons. The lower phase was built of
especially large stones, 1–3 meters long, and the heaviest of them
weigh 3–5 tons. Atop these stones is a thin wall, c. 1.5 meters
thick; small and medium size fieldstones were used in its
construction. These two fortification phases rise to a height of 2–3
meters and standout at a distance, evidence of the great effort that
was invested in fortifying the place.
In 2012 an inscription in Canaanite alphabetic script was found on the
shoulder of a ceramic jar. The inscription read "Išbaʿal son of
Beda" and was dated to
Iron Age IIA.
Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription
Artist's rendition of the ostracon
A 15-by-16.5-centimetre (5.9 in × 6.5 in) ostracon, a
trapezoid-shaped potsherd with five lines of text, was discovered
during excavations at the site in 2008.
Although the writing on the ostracon is poorly preserved and difficult
Émile Puech of the
École Biblique et Archéologique
Française proposed that it be read:
1 Do not oppress, and serve God … despoiled him/her
2 The judge and the widow wept; he had the power
3 over the resident alien and the child, he eliminated them together
4 The men and the chiefs/officers have established a king
5 He marked 60 [?] servants among the
and understood the ostracon as a locally written copy of a message
from the capital informing a local official of the ascent of Saul to
the throne. Puech considered the language to be Canaanite or
Gershon Galil of
Haifa University proposed the following translation:
1 you shall not do [it], but worship (the god) [El]
2 Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3 [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or
4 the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king
5 Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
On January 10, 2010, the
University of Haifa
University of Haifa issued a press release
stating that the text was a social statement relating to slaves,
widows and orphans. According to this interpretation, the text "uses
verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as asah ("did") and
`avad ("worked"), which were rarely used in other regional languages.
Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah ("widow")
are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local
languages. The content itself, it is argued, was also unfamiliar to
all the cultures in the region besides that of Hebrew society. It was
further maintained that the present inscription yielded social
elements similar to those found in the biblical prophecies markedly
different from those current in by other cultures that write of the
glorification of the gods and taking care of their physical
Gershon Galil claims that the language of inscription
is Hebrew and that 8 out of 18 words written on inscription are
exclusively biblical. He also claimed that 30 major archeological
scholars do support this thesis.
Other readings are possible, however, and the official excavation
report presented many possible reconstructions of the letters without
attempting a translation. The inscription is written left to right
in a script which is probably Early Alphabetic/Proto
Christopher Rollston and Demsky consider
that it might be written vertically. Early Alphabetic differs from
old Hebrew script and its immediate ancestor. Rollston also
disputes the claim that the language is Hebrew, arguing that the words
alleged to be indicative of Hebrew either appear in other languages or
don't actually appear in the inscription.
Millard believes the language of the inscription is Hebrew, Canaanite,
Phoenician or Moabite and it most likely consists of a list of names
written by someone unused to writing. Levy and Pluquet give
several readings as a list of personal names using a computer-assisted
Hebrew University archaeologist
Amihai Mazar said the
inscription was very important, as it is the longest Proto-Canaanite
text ever found.
In 2010 the ostracon was placed on display in the
Iron Age gallery of
Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Khirbet Qeiyafa shrines
In May 2012 archeologists announced the discovery of three large rooms
that were likely used as cultic shrines. While the Canaanites and
Philistine practiced their cults in separate temples and shrines, they
did not have separate rooms within the buildings dedicated only to
religious rituals. This may suggest that the rooms did not belong to
these two cultures. According to Garfinkel the decorations of cultic
rooms lack any human figurines. He suggested "that the population of
Khirbet Qeiyafa observed at least two biblical bans, on pork and on
graven images, and thus practiced a different cult than that of the
Canaanites or the Philistines," Also, three smaller portable
shrines were discovered. The smaller shrines are boxes shaped with
different decorations showing impressive architectonic and decorative
styles. Garfinkel suggested the existence of a biblical parallel
regarding the existence of such shrines (II
Samuel 6). One of the
shrines is decorated with two pillars and a lion. According to
Garfinkel, the style and the decoration of these cultic objects are
very similar to the Biblical description of some features of Solomon's
King David's Palace
On July 18, 2013, the
Israel Antiquities Authority issued a press
release about the discovery of a structure believed to be King
David’s palace in the
Judean Shephelah. The archaeological team
uncovered two large buildings dated to the tenth century BCE, one a
large palatial structure and the other a pillared store room with
hundreds of stamped storage vessels. The claim that the larger
structure may be one of King David's palaces led to significant media
coverage, while skeptics accused the archaeologists of
sensationalism. Aren Maeir, an archaeologist at Bar Ilan
University, pointed out that existence of King David’s monarchy is
still unproven and some scholars believe the buildings could be
Philistine or Canaanite. The massive structure located on a
hill in the center of the city was decorated with alabaster imported
from Egypt. On one side it offered a view of the two city gates,
Ashdod and the Mediterranean, and on the other, the Elah Valley.
During the Byzantine era, a wealthy farmer built a home on the site,
cutting the palace in two.
Archaeology of Israel
^ Rabinovitch, Ari (October 30, 2008). "Archaeologists report finding
oldest Hebrew text". Reuters. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
^ a b c d e Garfinkel, Yosef; Ganor, Saar (2008). "Khirbet Qeiyafa:
Sha'arayim" (PDF). Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. 8.
ISSN 1203-1542. Archived from the original (pdf) on October 4,
2011. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
^ Catling, Chris (January 6, 2009). "Elah city-fortress, Khirbet
Qeiyafa". Current World Archaeology (33): 8. Retrieved November 16,
^ Kalman, Matthew (October 31, 2008). "'Proof'
David slew Goliath
found as Israeli archaeologists unearth 'oldest ever Hebrew text'".
Daily Mail. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
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Retrieved March 26, 2011.
^ "Have Archaeologists Found King David's Palace?". Bible Gateway. 31
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^ a b "King David's Palace at Khirbet Qeiyafa?". Bible History Daily.
Retrieved 1 August 2013.
^ a b Finkelstein, Israel; Fantalkin, Alexander (2012). "Khirbet
Qeiyafa: An Unsensational Archaeological and Historical
Interpretation" (PDF). TEL AVIV, Vol. 39. pp. 38–63. Retrieved
July 20, 2017. We cannot close this article without a comment on the
sensational way in which the finds of
Khirbet Qeiyafa have been
communicated to both the scholarly community and the public. The idea
that a single, spectacular finding can reverse the course of modern
research and save the literal reading of the biblical text regarding
the history of ancient
Israel from critical scholarship is an old one.
Its roots can be found in W.F. Albright’s assault on the Wellhausen
School in the early 20th century, an assault that biased
archaeological, biblical and historical research for decades. This
trend—in different guises—has resurfaced sporadically in recent
years, with archaeology serving as a weapon to quell progress in
Khirbet Qeiyafa is the latest case in this genre
of craving a cataclysmic defeat of critical modern scholarship by a
miraculous archaeological discovery
^ a b Julia Fridman, 'Crying King David: Are the ruins found in Israel
really his palace? ,' at Haaretz, 26 August 2013."Not all agree that
the ruins found in
Khirbet Qeiyafa are of the biblical town Shaarayim,
let alone the palace of ancient Israel's most famous king."
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Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Judean
Shephelah: Some Considerations" (pdf). Tel Aviv: Journal of the
Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. 36: 68–81.
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history of the site". Foundation Stone. Retrieved November 5,
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^ Conder and Kitchener, 1883, SWP III, p. 118
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Hebrew University of
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Beit Shemesh Scraps Plan for New
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Israel in the Biblical
Period". In Berlin, Adele; Brettler, Marc Zvi. The Jewish Study Bible
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Gordon, Christianity Today 1/18/2010
^ a b c Shtull, Asaf (21 July 1993). "The Keys to the Kingdom".
Haaretz. Retrieved 2011-07-14.
^ Garfinkel, Yosef (May–June 2011). "The Birth & Death of
Biblical Minimalism". Biblical Archaeology Review. 37 (03).
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Shaaraim — the gateway to the Kingdom of
Judah" (PDF). Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. 8 (24).
^ Ethan Bronner (2008-10-29). "Find of Ancient City Could Alter
Notions of Biblical David". New York Times. Retrieved
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inscription?". Haaretz. Associated Press. October 30, 2008. Retrieved
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David and Solomon". National
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^ a b c Garfinkel, Yossi; Sa'ar Ganor; Michael Hasel (19 April 2012).
"Horvat Qeiyafa: The Fortification of the Border of the Kingdom of
Judah". Hadashot Arkheologiyot – Excavations and Surveys in Israel
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^ a b c Garfinkel, Yossi; Ganor, Sa'ar. "Horvat Qeiyafa: The
Fortification of the Border of the Kingdom of Judah". Israel
Antiquities Authority. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
^ a b c d "Most ancient Hebrew biblical inscription deciphered".
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^ Leval, Gerard (2012). "Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of
Israelite Monarchy." Biblical Archaeology Review. May/June 2012,
Émile Puech (2010). "l'ostracon de Khirbet Qeyafa et les débuts de
la royauté en Israël". Revue Biblique. 117 (2): 162–184. On a
affaire au premier document de quelque longueur, en langue cananéenne
ou hébraïque, bien daté et de quelque importance pour l'histoire de
la langue, de l'orthographe et pour l'histoire en général, sans une
quelconque influence philistine.
^ a b "Qeiyafa
Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological
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Christopher (June 2011). "The
Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon: Methodological
Musings and Caveats". Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of
Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. 38 (1): 67–82.
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Ostracon: Methodological Musings and Caveats". Tel Aviv: Journal of
the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. 38 (1): 67–82.
^ Alan Millard (2011). "The ostracon from the days of
David found at
Khirbet Qeiyafa". Tyndale Bulletin. 62 (1): 1–14.
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Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon". Digital Scholarship in the
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^ "Archaeologist finds first evidence of cult in Judah at time of King
David". Phys.org. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
^ "Earliest Evidence of Biblical Cult Discovered". Discovery News.
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^ "3,000-year-old palace in
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Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography,
and Archaeology. 3. London: Committee of the Palestine Exploration
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Khirbet Qeiyafa.
AFOB (Archaeological Fieldwork Opportunities Bulletin) Online Listing
for Khirbet Qeiyafa[permanent dead link]
The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from
Khirbet Qeiyafa in Jstor
Survey of Western Palestine, Map 17: IAA, Wikimedia commons
"In the Valley of
David and Goliath." A special exhibition at the
Bible Lands Muse