Excavation uncovers a unique, significant structure formerly unknown in the region. Was it a shrine — or the website of David’s triumphant parade the the legendary ark?


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In the top terrace in ~ Kiriath-jearim, a massive wall surface was unearthed some 15 cm below topsoil. The well-preserved wall is circa 3 m vast and kept to 2.15 m on its external face. (Shmunis family members Excavations in ~ Kiriath-jearim)
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Illustration indigenous the 13th century Morgan holy bible of David happen the Ark right into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). (public domain via wikipedia)
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Digital Elevation design of the mound that Kiriath-jearim. (Shmunis family members Excavations in ~ Kiriath-jearim)
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An aerial check out of Area C, a vast terrace on the lower eastern slope, at the finish of the 2017 season, spring north. (Shmunis household Excavations in ~ Kiriath-jearim)

Aerial check out of the site, taken by the Bavarian air force in 1918, looking north. Note large western and eastern terraces. The modern-day building is the old house of the convent; come its north room the structures of the northern sector that the hostel (the church to be not built yet). (Courtesy Shmunis family Excavations in ~ Kiriath-jearim)

A substantial 8th century BCE artificial platform discovered at a Catholic convent in central Israel may have actually served as an ancient shrine come the Ark of the Covenant, claimed leading Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein. Discovered at Kiriath-Jearim, the shrine provides potential brand-new insight into the politics machinations the the sibling kingdoms the Judah and Israel.

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Remains the the huge elevated podium have actually been unearthed on a Judean hilltop long associated with the location of biblical Kiriath-Jearim. Follow to the Hebrew Bible, the spot was the 20-year house of the legendary Ark the the agreement until bring away by King David and paraded to Jerusalem.

The joint expedition by Tel Aviv University and also the college de France is not on the trace of the elusive ark, however. Without doubt Finkelstein, the dig’s co-director, does not believe the Ark the the covenant existed.


Rather, it is searching for physical evidence from nearly three millennia ago of the geopolitical case in the border town, located between the 2 monotheistic kingdoms.

The huge elevated platform, Finkelstein believes, was built by the north kingdom as a shrine come the biblical story the the ark.


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“The excavations at Kiriath-Jearim burned light on the stamin of Israel (the northern Kingdom) in the at an early stage 8th century, including, possibly, its domination of Judah,” Finkelstein said The time of Israel. “They likewise illuminate an essential theme in the holy bible – the Ark and its history.”


An aerial watch of Area C, a broad terrace ~ above the reduced eastern slope, in ~ the end of the 2017 season, spring north. (Shmunis household Excavations at Kiriath-Jearim)

Alongside some 50 student volunteers, in the summer the 2017 Finkelstein and also co-directors cutting board Römer and also Christophe Nicolle damaged ground on the Shmunis family Excavations at Kiriath-Jearim on the personal grounds the a Catholic nunnery situated near the central Israeli-Arab village of Abu Ghosh.

According to Römer, an worldwide known professional on the Hebrew Bible, the biblical stories neighboring the Ark that the covenant served pragmatic political purposes. “The kernel of the initial narrative was to legitimate Kiriath-Jearim as the brand-new sanctuary that the shrine ~ the damage or the abandonment of Shilo,” wrote Römer in an email to The times of Israel this week.


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In 1995-96, there to be a small salvage excavation headed by Gabriel Barkay ahead of convent building on the hill. There were added surveys conducted there through Amir Feldstein in the 1980s, and also Boaz Zissu and Chris McKinny in 2013.

“The previous studies – both the salvage dig and also the surveys – drew a comparable picture that the settlement history of the site, however no uncover of note has actually been discovered,” stated Finkelstein.

That is, till the current game-changing discovery of a massive man-made platform. The elevated rectangular podium, report the archaeologists, have the right to be reconstructed to have actually been circa 150-110 m in size and also covering one area of part 1.65 hectares. Developed with usual Iron age walls, 3-m broad and i beg your pardon still was standing 2-m high, the is oriented specifically north-south and east-west.


Israeli archaeologist, Prof. Israel Finkelstein. (Argonauter, CC-BY-SA, via wikipedia)

It is one oddity in the kingdom the Judah, which, follow to the Bible, once ruled Kiriath-Jearim.

Finkelstein and his co-directors believe the platform may have actually been a shrine constructed by the north Kingdom in commemoration that the Ark that the covenant story, a compelling narrative the speaks to a heritage shared v the kingdom that Judah.

Could it additionally be an indication of the power struggle in the region during the 8 hours century BCE?


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“A northern affiliation that the website in the at an early stage 8th century is not that surprising, because of the domination of Israel over Judah at that time and as the Ark stare in the publications of Samuel seems to it is in of northern origin,” said Finkelstein.

According come the team’s preliminary excavation report, “The goal was probably to legit Kiriath-Jearim as the ‘new’ shrine the the Ark. Accordingly, in the situation of a north Kingdom affiliation, the elevated platform was built in order come accommodate an Israelite management compound, consisting of a temple, aimed at conquering the vassal kingdom that Judah.”

A hill v a view

Modern Kiryat Ye’arim is bordered by Abu Ghosh, an Israeli-Arab village celebrated because that its plethora that specialty humus shops. This particular day it is additionally known as Telz-Stone, ~ the European roots of the ultra-Orthodox community residing there. Located less than a kilometer north that the Tel Aviv–Jerusalem Highway, the hilltop ~ above which the convent sit is strategically placed.

According come the current preliminary report “Excavations at Kiriath-Jearim near Jerusalem, 2017,” i beg your pardon was released in 2018 in the annual peer-reviewed Semitica journal, the hilltop “commands a sweeping view of huge stretches that the seaside plain and the Mediterranean coastline (from Jaffa come Ashkelon) in the west, the western neighborhoods of contemporary Jerusalem in the east and the Judean mountains in the southeast.”


In the upper terrace at Kiriath-Jearim, a massive wall was discovered some 15 cm listed below topsoil. The well-preserved wall is circa 3 m vast and preserved to 2.15 m on its outer face. (Shmunis household Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim)

Today the hill is carved up through terraced slopes dotted with olive trees, which administer an evergreen relief to the rock construction the the old 1906 convent, slightly later on hostel, and the 1924 Church of ours Lady of the Ark the the Covenant.

The historical dig is unusually located on exclusive church home under the protection of the French government, a situation stemming native a 1949 commitment with the fledgling State the Israel. This day the site serves together the Convent of the Ark that the Covenant, i beg your pardon covers the hill’s summit, and also is populated by the sisters of St. Joseph the the Apparition.

There is no opportunity of excavating the summit, an important strategic location in the ancient world. “First, we cannot annoy the peace of the convent; second, the summit is probably eroded; third, that was developed over through a large monastery in the byzantine period,” Finkelstein enumerated.

Even through the church construction, the is somewhat surprising the such vital biblical site has not yet been excavated. “Perhaps this needs to do v the fact that that is a personal property; certainly, one can understand the great of the nuns not to it is in disturbed. Now, with the university de France involved, the was easier to get the green light indigenous the convent,” said Finkelstein.

From the initial to plan stages, the team has worked very closely with the nuns in finding ideal spots between the compound’s structures. “The interaction with the nuns is cordial and also friendly,” stated Finkelstein.


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At the dig’s conclusion, the sisters will be challenged with the decision of even if it is to open up the website to tourists. The nuns, the said, have actually been very accommodating, however as the explorations mount, are progressively concerned about their tranquility of mind.


Illustration from the 13th century Morgan holy bible of David happen the Ark into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). (public domain via wikipedia)

Rightly so: evaluation of the artifacts unearthed so far leave tiny doubt the this is the biblical website of Kiriath-Jearim. The name is cite in several publications of the Hebrew Bible, consisting of a detailed story in i Chronicles 13, 5-8, in i m sorry King David jubilantly transports the ark come Jerusalem.

“And David went up, and every one of Israel, to Baalah, the is, come Kiriath-jearim, i m sorry belonged to Judah, to lug up from thence the ark the God… David and all the Israelites played, celebrating with all their might prior to God, with songs and also with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets,” reads the account.

Other historical texts, consisting of the old name directory, the “Onomasticon” by Eusebius the Caesarea, a 3rd-4th century Church historian and also counselor the Constantine the Great, additionally indicate this spot is the biblical site.

Likewise, the excavators note that the Arabic surname of the site, Deir el-ʿAzar, “seems to be a corruption of ‘The Monastery the Eleazar,’ probably the name of the byzantine monastery, i m sorry commemorated the surname of the priest who remained in charge of the Ark as soon as it was preserved at Kiriathjearim (1 Sam 7: 1).”

Technology come plumb ancient depths

To situate the most most likely dig spot between the compound’s buildings, the team consulted civilization War i Bavarian aerial survey images also as modern aerial footage, and created a hi-tech orthophoto using a drone and Digital elevation Model.

“The high-tech methods helped us to visualize the ancient topography and also locate the currently of the main terraces. So these methods helped in dictating the areas of excavations, which certainly proved to be extremely successful,” claimed Finkelstein.


Aerial view of the site, taken by the Bavarian air force in 1918, feather north. Note huge western and eastern terraces. The modern-day building is the old house of the convent; come its north space the foundations of the northern sector that the hostel (the church to be not developed yet). (Courtesy Shmunis family Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim)

While the team has actually unearthed numerous artifacts, the discovery of the Iron period platform’s walls was clearly its greatest success.

“Indeed, the visibility of these walls, which supported an elevated Iron period platform, is the many important discover so far,” claimed Finkelstein.

Due to the 3-D visualizations the the mound, when evidence of the platform was ultimately discovered, said Finkelstein, “I to be surprised and also not. Surprised, due to the fact that this form of elevated podiums is well-known mainly in the north Kingdom (Israel) and here we room on their an extremely southern boundary. No surprised, since from looking in ~ the topography and also the orthophoto i suspected the existence of an elevated communication on the summit.”

The platform, a huge architectural feat, compels the inquiry of who built it? Which human being would have had the ability to build it in the era suggested by the pottery dating and also the walls’ appearance? In secondary wrinkle, over there is the paucity that culturally typifying finds. “There is nothing in the material culture, except for the podium, come hint at the north,” claimed Finkelstein.

Stymied, the scientists commissioned hi-tech Optical engendered Luminescence (OSL) dating, which suggested the time period of stole IIB, or circa 8th century BCE


Digital Elevation model of the mound that Kiriath-Jearim. (Shmunis household Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim)

“Bearing in psychic the monumentality the this endeavor, and also the truth that no elevated platforms of this kind are known in Judah, there space two possibilities in ~ the stole IIB: an Assyrian undertaking after 720 BCE, or a phibìc Israelite construction before 732 BCE, in fact prior to the beginning of decline of the kingdom in 747 BCE,” write the excavators in your report.

According to the archaeologists, other similar platforms were popular in the northern Kingdom during the suggested window of time, including in the funding Samaria. Commonly they consisted of massive assistance walls through land fills which produce an artificial hill.

The ceramic debris close come the wall dates to the steel IIB (900-700 BCE), stated the archaeologists and the time of the building could also allude to the north kingdom: “An elevated platform at Kiriath-Jearim could have been constructed by Israel following the subjugation of Judah by Joash,” as provided in 2 kings 14: 11-13. “Accordingly, the job of Jeroboam II (788-747 BCE), in the center of the 8th century, well-fit both the OSL and the ceramic data,” create the authors.

During the course of the excavation, and also in comparing the result from the smaller previously digs, the archaeologists discerned continued, intensified negotiation in the following Iron IIC duration (700-586 BCE), as well as reconstruction the the platform. More reconstruction arisen in the late Hellenistic periods. “The last may be connected with the fortification efforts undertaken by the Seleucid basic Bacchides,” suggest the scholars.

One communication to rule them all

The second excavation season will commence in august 2019 through an equally huge team that professionals and volunteers. “This time as well we arrangement to put the main focus on the large walls which assistance the elevated platform,” claimed Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, for whom the Ark the the commitment is legend, not fact, claimed there is no physical evidence at Kiriath-Jearim that the ark having historically resided at the website — nor does he suppose to find any. However why the legend to be propagated is of interest to the team.


At Kiriath-Jearim, excavation of a collection of terraces along the southeastern slope of the mound. (Shmunis family members Excavations at Kiriath-Jearim)

“Why the northern Ark Narrative was introduced right into the bible is a very good question. It is one of a series of Northern traditions which found their method to the south. Possibly the idea was to explain how the ark uncovered its means to Jerusalem,” he said.

Finkelstein’s excavation co-director Römer weighed in, “The Ark narrative to be introduced into the Bible because in its present form it legitimates Jerusalem as the just ‘official’ sanctuary that Yhwh, since according come the Biblical narrative, David transferred the Ark there from Kiriath-Jearim.

“Later redactors made of the continue to be of the ark in Kiriath-Jearim a short duration in stimulate to imply that the ark arrived quite easily in Jerusalem. However historically the happened lot later, probably under King Josiah,” wrote Römer.

The large platform in ~ Kiriath-Jearim would have actually been multi-functional — both together a shrine and a judgment center, said the excavators.

“A platform have the right to of food contain a shrine,” claimed Römer, “and the fact that follow to 1 Samuel 7:1 the ark walk not go back to Shiloh from wherein it to be captured but came to Kiriath-Jearim plainly indicates the cultic duty of the place.”

Finkelstein said that the story that the Ark “served the ideological background of the northern Kingdom in the time of Jeroboam II, and the actual territorial demands which stemmed native the dominance over Judah.”

“I doubt that this shrine of the ark was part of a joined Israel (ruled native Samaria) ideological background – the forerunner of the later on Judahite unified Monarchy concept,” said Finkelstein.


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