Lost biblical city of Ziklag discovered by archaeologists


The ruins of Ziklag, the long-lost town famed as a refuge for King David in the Hebrew Bible has finally been discovered by a team of archeologists in Israel.

The town has been the subject of hot debate in recent decades, with numerous archaeologists embarking on excavations to find its prized location. This time around, however, the team are more certain than ever that these ruins are the real deal.

Tel a-Rai, site postulated for Ziklag, where David found sanctuary under the Philistine wing. Picture by Emil Aljem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Located between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, an international team led by the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Macquarie University in Sydney and Hebrew University, have been studying the Khirbet al-Ra’i site since 2015.

Their excavations on the hilltop site found evidence of a settlement from the 12th to 11th centuries BCE under layers of a rural settlement dating to the early 10th century BCE.

Among the dozens of pieces of pottery, oil jars, and wine pitchers, many of the artifacts show characteristics of the Philistine culture, the group of people who were also said to live here in the Hebrew Bible.

Radiocarbon dating also neatly lines up with the time when the town of Ziklag was thought to have stood.

Some uncertainty?

However, not everyone is convinced. Some independent experts not involved in the project are hesitant to jump to the conclusion that this site really is the noteworthy town of Ziklag. Professor Aren Maier, a US-born Israeli archeologist from Bar-Ilan University said: “It’s very hard to accept.” 

References to this site in the biblical texts are consistently much more south, relating to the Negev, the tribe of Shimon, or the southern border of Judah,” Maier added. “Just because you have Philistine finds and then 10th century BCE destruction, that does not make it Ziklag.

Biblical Ziklag

Ziklag is most famous as the town where King David sought refuge after falling out of favor with King Saul, joining ancient Israel’s bitter enemies, the Philistines.

This was not David’s only run in with the Philistines. One of the most retold tales from the Bible in popular culture is the story of King David slaying the Philistine giant Goliath.

Many modern scholars believe that King David was a real historical figure, not merely a myth or legend, although there is continuing debate about the extent of his significance.

Despite his apparent prominence in the biblical narrative, not to mention his extensive presence in art and literature throughout the centuries, the archeological evidence of his life is minimal. 

Coincidentally, last week also saw a groundbreaking research paper that identified the origins of the Philistines. The skeletal remains of 10 individuals were unearthed in a known Philistine cemetery in the ancient port city of Ashkelon in Israel, one of the five Philistine city-states cited in the Hebrew Bible. Three of the individuals were from the pre-Philistine Bronze Age, four infants dated to the early Iron Age in the 12th century BCE, and the last three skeletons were from the later Iron Age around the 10th century BCE. The ancient DNA extracted from these skeletons suggests the Philistines, perhaps surprisingly, came from somewhere in southern Europe. 

In any cases some biblical stuff is going on around the world!

[Haaretz, BasLibrary, Bible Places, King David, Science]

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