Archaeologists identify Ziklag, Philistine city where David fled from King Saul.
The Philistine city of Ziklag is mentioned in multiple Biblical narratives, often in connection with David. Until recently, scholars have not been able to say with certainty where the city was located. The Philistine name ‘Ziklag’ is very different from the Canaanite-Semitic titles associated with ancient sites in Israel today, and was not preserved in connection with a particular location. Now, researchers from the Hebrew University, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Macquarie University in Sydney believe they can safely claim they’ve found the location of Biblical Ziklag.
Over the years, twelve antiquity sites have been suggested as Biblical Ziklag, including Tel Halif, Tel Sera in the Negev, Tel Sheva and others. According to the researchers, however, none of these sites have continuous settlement including both a Philistine settlement and a settlement from the era of King David. Given the account in 1 Samuel, we would expect to see both. At Khirbet al-Ra’i, an archaeological site near Gath, archaeologists have found both a Philistine and 10th century occupation.
Excavations at Khirbet al-Ra’i began in 2015 and have proceeded in cooperation with Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Saar Ganor of the IAA and Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davis of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. The site is located in the Judea foothills between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, which aligns well with David’s flight to the Philistines for refuge from Saul. With funding from Joey Silver of Jerusalem, Aron Levy of New Jersey, and the Roth Family and Isaac Wakil (both of Sydney), the archaeologists have excavated some 1,000 square meters.
In their excavations, Garfinkel, Ganor and Keimer discovered massive stone structures dating to the Philistine era (12-11th centuries BCE). They also discovered bowls and an oil lamp laid beneath the buildings’ floors as foundation deposits (offerings placed beneath a structure to bring good fortune in construction and use). These foundation deposits along with other finds, such as various stone and metal tools, are similar to discoveries made at the Philistine cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gath.
Above the Philistine occupation was a rural settlement from the early 10th century BCE, the time of King David. Nearly one hundred complete vessels were recovered including a large number of storage jars used for storing oil and wine. Jugs and bowls bearing ‘red slipped and hand burnished’ decoration were also found, characteristic of the 10th century BCE. Carbon 14 samples from inside the vessels were also used to establish this date. This settlement was ended suddenly by an intense fire, preserving the vessels in a layer of destruction debris.
Many of the whole vessels discovered at Khirbet al-Ra’i are identical to those found in in Khirbet Qeiyafa (Biblical Sha’arayim), a nearby fortified Judean city. In their regional study of archaeology in the Judean foothills, Profs. Garfinkel and Ganor have envisioned the region’s settlement during the early Monarchic era. Ziklag and Sha’arayim are both located atop prominent hills on Judea’s western front, overlooking the routes connecting Philistia and Judea. Khirbet Qeiyafa (Biblical Sha’arayim) in the Elah Valley sits opposite Philistine Gath, and Khirbet a-Ra’i (Biblical Ziklag) sits opposite Ashkelon. This geographic description is echoed in King David’s Lament, when he mourns the death of King Saul and Jonathan in their battle against the Philistines: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon.”
Abby VanderHart, FIAA Contributor