Archaeologists Just Found the Biblical King David’s Palace. Maybe.

A large, fortified building was found outside Jerusalem. Some archaeologists claim it to be the palace of the biblical King David

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa
Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa orientalizing

In Jewish texts, King David, born a shepherd, becomes a mighty ruler. After slaying the giant Philistine, Goliath, and raising an army, the biblical King David goes on to rule Israel. “David’s first action as king was to capture what is now the City of David in Jerusalem, fortify it and build himself a palace,” says the Jewish Virtual Library. And now archaeologists have found that palace. Maybe.

As Max Rosenthal reports for the Associated Press, archaeologists led by Hebrew University’s Yossi Garfinkel found “a large fortified complex west of Jerusalem at a site called Khirbet Qeiyafa”—a complex that Garfinkel believes is the palace of King David.

“Khirbet Qeiyafa is the best example exposed to date of a fortified city from the time of King David,” said Yossi Garfinkel, a Hebrew University archaeologist, suggesting that David himself would have used the site.

…Garfinkel said his team found cultic objects typically used by Judeans, the subjects of King David, and saw no trace of pig remains. Pork is forbidden under Jewish dietary laws. Clues like these, he said, were “unequivocal evidence” that David and his descendants had ruled at the site.

But as the saying goes, absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. And even the same evidence is open to interpretation. There were a number of civilizations active in the region at the time the structure was built, says the AP, and the fortified construction could have belonged to any of them:

Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University agreed that Khirbet Qeiyafa is an “elaborate” and “well-fortified” 10th century B.C. site, but said it could have been built by Philistines, Canaanites or other peoples in the area.

This isn’t the first time that archaeologists have claimed to have found the palace of King David, either. Back in 2005 the New York Times reported on a similar claim. It, too, faced harsh critics.

The question of who this fortified building belonged to is more than a historical exercise, said the Times. The findings affect modern era political struggles:

The find will also be used in the broad political battle over Jerusalem – whether the Jews have their origins here and thus have some special hold on the place, or whether, as many Palestinians have said, including the late Yasir Arafat, the idea of a Jewish origin in Jerusalem is a myth used to justify conquest and occupation.

Whether the find is the palace of King David or not, the site will surely hold historical significance. According to the Jerusalem Post, local authorities have made the site a national park.

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