Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
Excavation of Khirbet a-Ra‘i – Biblical Ziklag

According to Wikipedia, Ziklag (pronounced Tsiklag) is the biblical name of a town that was located in the Negev region in the south-west of the Kingdom of Judah; and a provincial town within the Philistine kingdom of Gath when Achish was king (and David ran away there for shelter from a furious King Saul). Here’s the zinger, though: according to Wiki, Ziklag’s exact location has not been identified with any certainty.

Not any more.

Excavation of Khirbet a-Ra‘i – Biblical Ziklag / Emil Aljem, Israel Antiquities Authority

The name Ziklag is unusual in the lexicon of names in the Land of Israel, since it is not local Canaanite-Semitic. It is presumed to be a Philistine name, given to the town by the alien invaders from the Aegean sea.

Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, believe they have discovered the Philistine town near Kiryat Gat, 35 miles south of Tel Aviv. The city’s name was a blooper: Kiryat Gat was named for Gath, one of the five Philistine city-states. In the 1950s, archaeologists found ruins at the nearby Tel Erani, which they mistakenly identified as the Philistine city of Gath. The location for Gath is thought to be Tel es-Safi, 8.1 miles to the northeast.

Excavation of Khirbet a-Ra‘i – Biblical Ziklag / Israel Antiquities Authority

Ziklag is mentioned multiple times in the Bible. The runaway David episode was one; Ziklag was also the scene of an Amalekite raid that featured burning and taking local women and children captive, including two of David’s wife. The future king chased after the raiders, killed everyone except 400 boys who tended the camels, and saved both his wives.

The excavation, which began in 2015 at the site of Khirbet a-Ra‘i in the Judaean foothills – between Kiryat Gat and Lachish – has led to the new identification of Ziklag. There have been twelve different suggestions regarding thr location of Ziklag, such as Tel Halif near Kibbutz Lahav, Tel Sera in the Western Negev, and Tel Sheva. However, according to the researchers, none of the suggested sites produced a continuous settlement which included both a Philistine settlement and a settlement from the era of King David. At Khirbet a-Ra‘i, however, features from both the Philistine and Israelite populations have been discovered.

Excavation of Khirbet a-Ra‘i – Biblical Ziklag / Israel Antiquities Authority

Evidence of a settlement from the Philistine era has been found there, from the 12-11th centuries BCE. Spacious, massive stone structures have been uncovered containing finds typical of the Philistine civilization. Additional finds are foundation deposits, including bowls and an oil lamp – offerings laid beneath the floors of the buildings out of a belief that these would bring good fortune in the construction. Stone and metal tools were also found. Similar finds from this era were discovered in the past in excavations in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron and Gath—the cities of the Lords of the Philistines.

Above the remains of the Philistine settlement was a rural settlement from the time of King David, from the early 10th century BCE. This settlement came to an end in an intense fire that destroyed the buildings. Nearly one hundred complete pottery vessels were found in the various rooms. These vessels are identical to those found in the contemporary fortified Judaean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa—identified as biblical Sha‘arayim—in the Judaean foothills. Carbon 14 tests date the site at Khirbet a-Ra‘i to the time of King David.

Excavation of Khirbet a-Ra‘i – Biblical Ziklag / Israel Antiquities Authority

The great range of complete vessels is testimony to everyday life during the reign of King David. Large quantities of storage jars were found in the excavation—medium and large in sizes—which were used for storing oil and wine. Jugs and bowls decorated in the style known as “red slipped and hand burnished” were also found, typical for the period of King David.

Following a regional archaeological study in the Judaean foothills managed by Professors Garfinkel and Ganor, a picture of the region’s settlement in the early Monarchic era is emerging: the two sites—Ziklag and Sha‘arayim—are located on the western frontier of the kingdom. They are both perched atop prominent hills, overlooking main routes passing between the Land of the Philistines and Judea: Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley sits opposite Philistine Gath, and Khirbet a-Ra‘i, sits opposite Ashkelon.

These geographic choices are echoed in King David’s Lament, in which he mourns the death of King Saul and Jonathan in their battle against the Philistines: “Tell it not in Gath, announce it not in the streets of Ashkelon.”

The excavation involved Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, Head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Dr. Kyle Keimer and Dr. Gil Davis of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. It was funded by Joey Silver of Jerusalem, Aron Levy of New Jersey, and the Roth Family and Isaac Wakil, both of Sydney.


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