Yigal Levin Identifies The Israelite Camp in the David and Goliath Story as Khirbet Qeiyafa

According to an article by Yigal Levin in the August 2012 issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the archaeological site of Khirbet Qeiyafa is none other than the Israelite camp mentioned in the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

Levin begins his article by rejecting the many recent attempts to identify Khirbet Qeiyafa with one of the sites in the Bible, “especially those that are mentioned in chapter 17 of 1 Samuel, the famous tale of the duel between David and Goliath” (p. 73). Levin disputes Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor’s identification of Qeiyafa with Shaaraim (“Sha’arayim”), in part because while Shaaraim is associated with towns from a period of settlement, Qeiyafa is younger (late IAI or IAII transition). Levin also disputes Gershon Galil’s identification of Qeiyafa with the royal administrative center of Netaim, on the basis that the archaeological finds do not support such an administrative function for the site.

Levin then takes up suggestions by David Adams and by Israel Finkelstein and Alexander Fantalkin in which they make links between the Israelite encampment mentioned in 1 Samuel 17 and Khirbet Qeiyafa. Adams reasons, ‘if one were to take seriously the words attributed to Goliath in his challenge to the Israelites, ‘choose for yourself a man and let him come down to me’ (I Sam 17.8), then it may be that the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa (whether already built, in the process of construction, or not yet fortified) served as Saul’s headquarters on the hill overlooking the battlefield during the famous conflict” (“Between Socoh and Azekah”, p. 65). Finkelstein and Fantalkin similarly point out that Khirbet Qeiyafa “would provide the missing toponym – the place of encampment of the Israelites – in the 1 Sam 17 account” (“Khirbet Qeiyafa”, p. 48) (p. 81).

What Levin proposes, in addition, is that the ma’gal (מעגל) mentioned in 1 Sam. 17.20 refers to the Israelite encampment and should be identified with Khirbet Qeiyafa. Levin notes that the term ma’gal refers especially to a round or circular camp. The circular shape of the Israelite camp matches the distinctive shape of Khirbet Qeiyafa:

Khirbet Qeiyafa - round like the ma'gal in 1 Sam. 17.20

Khirbet Qeiyafa – round like the ma’gal in 1 Sam. 17.20

So Levin concludes:

In this case, a round-shaped military installation, placed exactly where many commentators over the ages have assumed that such an installation would be placed, from the approximate time-frame referred to in the biblical story that mentions such an installation, can only mean one thing: Khirbet Qeiyafa is the ma’gal of 1 Sam. 17.20.
(p. 82)

Levin cautions that this “does not, of course ‘prove’ that David really killed Goliath” (p. 83). He acknowledges that the story in 1 Samuel 17 might “not represent any particular historical event at all” and that the ’round camp’ at Khirbet Qeiyafa may have been built decades later than the setting of the story. Yet, Levin notes, the round structure of Khirbet Qeiyafa “would still have been visible and known to the author of 1 Samuel 17, who “guessed its function, and worked it into his story” (p. 84).

So – although identification of archaeological sites with biblical placenames is a risky business – Yigal Levin has pointed out two major factors which support the identification of the Israelite encampment in 1 Samuel 17 with a site which probably only came into being after any “King David” had lived. That is, Khirbet Qeiyafa meets expectations for the approximate geographical position and the circular shape of the Israelite encampment mentioned in 1 Samuel 17 – but is probably a fictional setting invented after the purported time that the duel between David and Goliath had taken place.


Yigal Levin, “The Identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa: A New Suggestion”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 367  (August 2012): 73-86.

See earlier at Remnant of Giants:

Ethnic Cleansing of Khirbat Zakariyya allows for excavation of site mentioned in David and Goliath story, Tel Zakariyya (“Azekah”)“, 29 February 2012

Finkelstein vs. Garfinkel: The historical worth of the story of David vs. Goliath“, 9 May 2011


Filed under 1 Samuel 17, Archaeology, Biblical Exegesis, Goliath

7 responses to “Yigal Levin Identifies The Israelite Camp in the David and Goliath Story as Khirbet Qeiyafa

  1. Pingback: Back Flips | theologyarchaeology

  2. Does Levin account for the hundreds of jar handles with round/circular impressions uniquely clustered at this site? I had not thought of this until now, but it’s interesting that they have only been found in this prodigious quantity at a round/circular-walled site.


    • Deane

      Levin mentions the fingerprinted jar handles, commenting that the handles, cultic objects, and an ostracon are not inconsistent with a brief (about 20 years or so) occupation towards the end of IAI. He makes no connection between the round fingerprint shape and the name of the site – and they are fingerprints rather than drawn circles.


      • I have not yet seen any that contain fingerprints, though some certainly could have been made by fingers; most are more precisely round than fingertips are (& more precisely round than Qeiyafa of course). Currently I believe they were made with the end of a wand, like the ivory type that bore carved pomegranates. Yosef Garfinkel & Hoo-Goo Kang are aware of this.


      • Deane

        I haven’t seen those – interesting point, GM.


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