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This circular hike, much of which is on the Schvil Yisrael trail, provides spectacular views of the Elah Valley (Emeq HaElah). Its highlight is the ruins of the Queyafa fortress dating from the time of King David. It was abandoned after about 50 years, probably because it had outlived its usefulness as a "border" fortress. 

What is the point of doing archeology in Israel? Most of the archeology in this country in the late 1800s was done to prove the accuracy of the Biblical text and to bring to life the biblical stories. However, there was a reaction against this in the modern period by some Israeli archeologist who saw archeology as an academic pursuit that should function independently of the Bible. To these “biblical minimalists” the Bible had no more importance than any other historic text (and some would quip even less). Because there is no archeological evidence of the early monarchy, it must be that the biblical account of David is highly exaggerated. David was no more than a tribal chieftain or warlord, and not the king of a country.

However, the findings at Queyafa have swung this debate in favor of the accuracy of the Bible. Carbon dating of olive pits found in its ruins date this fortress to approximately 1000 BCE, which would be the time of King David. Only a government of an organized state would have had the resources to create a military outpost such as Queafa. Moreover, the findings at Queyafa shed light on the practice of Judaism in this period.

HIKE TO QUEYAFA:

 

Time: Approximately 3 hours

Distance: 7½ Km

Type of walk: Circular

Difficulty: Mainly easy walking on the level. However, there is a short tunnel under the road which necessitates bending one’s head. There is also 10-minute or so incline that is minimally difficult walking on rocks.

Directions and starting point: Enter “Givat Haturmusim" into Waze. The turn-off road is 2.3 Km along route 375 from its intersection with Route 38 on the right side of the road. This turn-off unpaved road is not signed and is not very conspicuous, so be careful not to drive past it. Park in the parking lot.  The closest WC is at the gas station at the intersection of Route 375 with Route 38. 

Public transport:  There is no close public transport.

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Southern Gate of Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah Valley.

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Model of Qeiyafa.

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Ostracon (a piece of pottery) with Hebrew writing in proto-Canaanite script.

The trail:

  • By the parking area is an inconspicuous footpath that leads to a tunnel that goes under Route 375. Adults will need to bend slightly throughout its length.

 

  •  After exiting from the tunnel, turn to the left on the Schvil Yisrael trail. In front of you is a large orchard of almond trees.

 

  •  After a slight curve to the right, take the partially graveled path on the left (this curve is not evident on the map), and follow this path along the edge of the orchard. Keep to the periphery of the orchard when it meets a field, turns to the right, then to the left, and then right again.

 

  • Towards the end of the field, the path turns to the right to cross the stream Nahal Elah. This is usually dry or no more than a trickle and is easily stepped over.

 

  • After exiting from this path over the stream continue straight ahead onto a broad partially graveled path through two sections of the orchard (and not to the left as the Schvil Yisrael sign indicates). At the end of this path and by some white waterpipes, turn right following the Schvil Yisrael markings that have reappeared. This path becomes paved.

 

  • Take the first turning on the left between sections of the orchard on a partially graveled path. Ahead of you at the end of the field is a narrow gate close to some black water tanks. Go through the gate and turn right onto a jeep trail that has metal guards on one side.

 

  • You will soon see a path which is on your left, has a gate and goes up the side of the hill. Go around this gate and up the hill.

 

  •  At the fork close to the top of the hill turn left. You will see some buildings of Ramat Beit Shemesh ahead of you. This trail along the top of the cliff is now more or less flat. After a while, you will see the walls of Quiyafa fortress ahead of you. 

 

  • After a while, there is a Schvil Yisrael sign on a rock in the middle of the path and a broad path on your left going down to the valley. Make a note of it, as you will be returning on this path. After a distance of only 30 to 40 meters there is an unmarked path on your right going up to the fortress. This will lead you to the southern gate entrance of Quiyafa. This path is only a short distance from the main path. If it takes you more than a few minutes and you have not yet reached the fortress you are not on the correct path.

 

  • Tour the fortress by walking ahead to the circumferential path. You will need to cross a low wire to get onto this path. It is worthwhile visiting the western gate by turning left on the circumferential path.

 

  • Continue on the path around the fortress. Return to the southern gate through which you entered the fortress. Take the footpath you previously came on to the main path.

 

  • Turn left when you come to the main path. In 30-40 meters you will see on your right a broad path with schvil yisrael markings on a short rod that leads down the hill. This path is not unduly steep.

 

  • You will eventually come to a road, although you will need to climb over a short metal barrier to reach it. Turn to the right.

 

  • Shortly, you will see a gap in the fencing by a metal gate on your left. There is a blue sign with brown writing “השטח מרוסס." Go through this gate and continue straight ahead between the two sections of a vineyard. Follow the path as it curves to the left at the periphery of the orchard.

 

  • Follow carefully the Schvil Yisrael markings around the periphery of the orchards. You will pass a nature reserve of acacia trees on your right. This path will lead you over the stream.

 

  • Be careful to keep to the periphery of the almond orchard all the way. If you find yourself within the orchard, you may miss the tunnel under Route 375. It has a Schvil Yisrael marking over it. 

 

  • Go through the tunnel and this will bring you back to your car.

 

[It is possible to make this route shorter and a bit easier by following the Schvil Yisrael all the way to the fortress. You will go the same way there and back and the route follows the return path of the circular hike above.]

David and Goliath

 

The Israelites had been struggling with the Philistines since the time of the Judges, even prior to the time of Samson.

The Philistines were Sea People that migrated to the Mediterranean coast from the Aegean region, possibly from Crete or Greece. It is generally believed that this happened in the 12th century BCE, although the Bible tells us that these people were already present on the coast at the time of Moses in the 1400s BCE. They established city-states along the coastal plain of Canaan, including Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. They had no interest in creating a Philistine empire, but they may have perceived the Israelites as a potential threat that could best be combated by going on the offensive and dominating the Israelite kingdom. At the time of King Saul, the Elah Valley, which was part of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, functioned as the border between these two feuding kingdoms.  

 

The word "Elah" means a terebinth tree, and the valley was called this because of the many terebinth trees in this area. The Elah Stream flows from the watershed of the Hebron Mountains and is fed by several tributaries. The Elah Valley was of considerable strategic importance since it provided a convenient route to the mountain ridge for Israelites to travel to the Shefelah and for their enemies to dominate the mountain ridge. Today's Route 375 follows the path of the ancient road. Azekah and Queyafa were fortified cities located strategically at the entrance to the Elah Valley to provide protection to the mountain ridge and its main cities Bethlehem and Hebron. 

As described in 1 Samuel 17:1-3, the confrontation between David and Goliath took place in the Elah Valley. “And the Philistines assembled their camps to war; and they assembled at Socho which belonged to Judah, and they encamped between Socho and Azeka  ….  And Saul and the men of Israel assembled, and they encamped in the Valley of Elah. And the Philistines were standing on the mountain from here and Israel was standing on the mountain from there, and the valley was between them.” 

The parking lot where you parked your car is at the bottom of Tel Socho. The location of the Philistine camp "between Azekah and Socho" suggests that it was located on the ridge on the other side of the valley to where you are now standing. More or less opposite to Queyafa is the narrowest part of the valley and it is possible that it is from here that Goliath taunted and challenged the Israelites.

Goliath proposed settling the conflict with a duel between himself and the Israelites’ best soldier; the nation whose representative lost would submit to the rule of the other. The Israelite soldiers were in a state of panic and no one was prepared to take on the challenge. Undaunted, David volunteered to fight Goliath. With no other options, King Saul hesitantly agreed. David confidently approached Goliath with the famous declaration: “You come to me with spear and javelin, and I come to you with the name of the Lord of Hosts.” (ibid 17:45).

Was this a foolhardy step on the part of an inexperienced, non-armed young lad that could have been a disaster and just happened to work out well – or was David a clever tactician? Goliath was relatively immobile, being born down with armor, whereas David had the advantage of mobility. He could use this mobility to stay at a distance from Goliath’s sword. Moreover, although Goliath was heavily protected, including a helmet, there was one vulnerable part of his body and this was his forehead. If David could stun him, he would fall to the ground from the weight of his armor. David could then decapitate Goliath with his own sword.

Only us readers are privy to the fact that Samuel had previously anointed Samuel as the next king of Israel, a function he could not fulfill if he was severely injured or killed in this contest. He also needed to prove his capabilities as a future leader of Israel. Which is all to say that he knew that God was on his side – not necessarily to support anything illogical but to support a well-thought-out plan. This plan would launch David onto the throne of Israel and a long-lasting dynasty, but would also lead to Saul’s jealousy and civil war.

How Jewish was Queyafa?

 

The fortress of Qeiyafa has been dated by carbon dating to around 1000 BCE, which was the period of King David. It was built on bedrock, which is to say that it was not a tell with proceeding layers of habitation. It was destroyed some 20 to 50 years after being built. The reason for this is not known. However, archeologists love destruction, since there is a greater chance of discovering significant findings in the debris!

 

There was habitation in this fortress after this destruction, in the Byzantine period, when a villa was built at the site of its central Iron Age palace. However, this did not change the nature of the fortress.

Archeologists from the Hebrew University who worked on this site have suggested that this was an Israelite fortress, although their conclusions have been challenged by the archeologist Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University. Nevertheless, the evidence is very convincing that the archeologist Yoself Garfinel is correct and that this was indeed a Jewish and not a Canaanite fortress and this is generally accepted. Moreover, this evidence provides interesting information about the nature of Judaism at the beginning of the Jewish monarchy.

 

Unlike the City of David, which was occupied throughout the First Temple period, there were no idols in the debris. Queyafa was therefore completely monotheistic. Several rooms were found which seemed to have been used for worship. One contained an altar for incense. A small model of a Temple was also found bearing some resemblance to the Temple built by Solomon. At the time of David there was no central shrine in the country as the sanctuary at Shilo had been destroyed by the Philistines, and while the Ark of the Covenant was in Jerusalem the Temple had not yet been built.

The Jewish population here abided by the Jewish laws of holiness, and no pig bones were found on the site, unlike what one would expect in a Canaanite or Philistine city. This was also a place with some degree of literacy. An ostracon was found with five lines of text in the proto-Canaanite script, i.e., the ancient Hebrew script. An ostracon is a shard of pottery on which was etched writing.

 

The exact meaning of the writing has been a matter of debate, but is something like:

You shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord]

Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow]/ Judge the orph[an].

Judge the [ ] [and] the stranger/ [Pl] for the infant/ plead for the po[or and] the widow.

Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.”

(The letters in brackets are likely guesses).

 

Literacy in this community is of interest, since it was less likely present in the Canaanite world. Whatever the exact meaning of these sentences is, it seems biblical in its outlook. It is unlikely, for example, that Canaanites would have been concerned about strangers, the poor and the widow. Concern for the disadvantaged was a revolution in the ancient world that was initiated by the Torah. Jewish prophets will later rile at the breakdown of these laws, but at the time of David they were important enough to be written down in places other than scrolls.

 

Note that the homes within the fortress abut the walls of the fortress with a space between the two parallel walls. The space is divided into compartments or “casemates” and it is called a casement wall. It would have been used for storage and at the time of need for defensive purposes. The space could be filled with dirt and stones and this would strengthen the wall against battering rams. Casement walls are typically found in Israelite architecture from the Iron Age and are found, for example, at Hazor, Gezer, Megiddo and Lachish. Nevertheless, it was not an exclusively Jewish design and is found elsewhere in the Middle East such as in some Assyrian and Hittite cities.

 

The fortress is unusual in that it has two gates. One gate faces the Elah Valley and the other Azeika. The holes for the posts of the gates can be seen.

 

Azeika was a nearby fortress, and it is not clear why David built another one here. Both fortresses would have controlled the road to the Judean Mountains along the Elah Valley and its main cities such as Bethlehem. Azeika is mentioned specifically as being part of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:35), but there may have been times when it passed into Philistine hands. In this instance, another fortress would have been needed to protect the Elah Valley. A somewhat fanciful suggestion is that this was the site of Saul’s camp during the time of David’s victory over Goliath, and David built this fortress for sentimental reasons.

Map of a circular hike to the ruins of Queyafa. (The path in orange is the Schvill Yisrael).

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