Excavation uncovers a unique, significant structure formerly unknown in the region. To be it a shrine — or the site of David’s triumphant parade the the legend ark?


A substantial 8th century BCE synthetic platform found at a Catholic convent in central Israel may have served together an ancient shrine come the Ark the the Covenant, said leading Tel Aviv University excavator Israel Finkelstein. Uncovered at Kiriath-Jearim, the shrine gives potential brand-new insight right into the political machinations that the sibling kingdoms the Judah and also Israel.

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

The joint expedition by Tel Aviv University and the college de France is no on the trace of the elusive ark, however. Indeed Finkelstein, the dig’s co-director, does not think the Ark of the covenant existed.


Rather, it is searching for physical proof from practically three millennia ago of the geopolitical situation in the border town, located in between the 2 monotheistic kingdoms.

The large elevated platform, Finkelstein believes, was constructed by the north kingdom together a shrine to the biblical story of the ark.


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


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An aerial check out of Area C, a wide terrace ~ above the reduced eastern slope, in ~ the finish of the 2017 season, looking north. (Shmunis household Excavations at Kiriath-Jearim)

Alongside some 50 college student volunteers, in the summer of 2017 Finkelstein and also co-directors thomas Römer and also Christophe Nicolle damaged ground ~ above the Shmunis family Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim top top the personal grounds that a Catholic nunnery situated near the main Israeli-Arab town of Abu Ghosh.

According come Römer, an around the world known experienced on the Hebrew Bible, the biblical stories surrounding the Ark the the commitment served pragmatic political purposes. “The kernel the the original narrative was to legit Kiriath-Jearim together the brand-new sanctuary the the shrine after ~ the destruction or the abandonment the Shilo,” created Römer in an e-mail to The times of Israel this week.


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In 1995-96, there was a small salvage excavation top by Gabriel Barkay ahead of convent building on the hill. Over there were extr surveys carried out there through Amir Feldstein in the 1980s, and Boaz Zissu and Chris McKinny in 2013.

“The previous studies – both the rescue dig and also the surveys – attracted a similar picture the the settlement background of the site, yet no find of note has actually been discovered,” claimed Finkelstein.

That is, till the recent game-changing discovery of a massive synthetic platform. The elevated rectangular podium, report the archaeologists, deserve to be reconstructed to have actually been circa 150-110 m in size and covering one area of part 1.65 hectares. Created with common Iron period walls, 3-m vast and i m sorry still was standing 2-m high, the is oriented exactly north-south and also east-west.


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

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

Finkelstein and his co-directors think the platform may have been a shrine constructed by the northern Kingdom in commemoration that the Ark that the covenant story, a compelling narrative that speaks come a legacy shared v the kingdom that Judah.

Could it likewise be one indication that the power battle in the region during the 8th century BCE?


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“A north affiliation the the site in the at an early stage 8th century is no that surprising, since of the dominance of Israel over Judah at that time and also as the Ark stare in the publications of Samuel seems to be of north origin,” stated Finkelstein.

According to the team’s preliminary excavation report, “The score was most likely to legit Kiriath-Jearim as the ‘new’ shrine the the Ark. Accordingly, in the situation of a phibìc Kingdom affiliation, the elevated platform was constructed in order come accommodate one Israelite management compound, including a temple, aimed at conquering the vassal kingdom the Judah.”

A hill with a view

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

According to the current preliminary report “Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim close to Jerusalem, 2017,” i beg your pardon was published in 2018 in the annual peer-reviewed Semitica journal, the hilltop “commands a sweeping see of huge stretches that the seaside plain and the Mediterranean coast (from Jaffa come Ashkelon) in the west, the western communities of contemporary Jerusalem in the east and also the Judean hills in the southeast.”


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In the top terrace in ~ Kiriath-Jearim, a massive wall was uncovered some 15 cm below topsoil. The well-preserved wall surface is circa 3 m broad and maintained to 2.15 m ~ above its external face. (Shmunis household Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim)

Today the hill is carved up by terraced slopes dotted with olive trees, which carry out an evergreen relief come the rock construction the the old 1906 convent, slightly later hostel, and the 1924 Church of our Lady that the Ark the the Covenant.

The archaeological dig is unusually located on exclusive church residential or commercial property under the defense of the French government, a case stemming indigenous a 1949 commitment with the fledgling State the Israel. This day the website serves together the Convent of the Ark of the Covenant, i beg your pardon covers the hill’s summit, and also is occupied by the sisters of St. Joseph that the Apparition.

There is no opportunity of excavating the summit, an important strategic place in the old world. “First, we cannot harass the peace of the convent; second, the summit is most likely eroded; third, it was built over by a large monastery in the oriental period,” Finkelstein enumerated.

Even through the church construction, it is rather surprising the such vital biblical site has actually not yet been excavated. “Perhaps this needs to do with the truth that it is a private property; certainly, one have the right to understand the wish of the nuns no to be disturbed. Now, v the college de France involved, that was easier to obtain the eco-friendly light native the convent,” stated Finkelstein.


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

At the dig’s conclusion, the sisters will be confronted with the decision of whether to open up the website to tourists. The nuns, the said, have been very accommodating, however as the explorations mount, are significantly concerned around their tranquility of mind.


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Illustration native the 13th century Morgan scriptures of David bringing the Ark into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). (public domain via wikipedia)

Rightly so: analysis of the artifacts unearthed so far leave tiny doubt the this is the biblical website of Kiriath-Jearim. The name is mention in several books of the Hebrew Bible, consisting of a detailed story in i Chronicles 13, 5-8, in i beg your pardon King David jubilantly transports the ark to Jerusalem.

“And David go up, and every one of Israel, to Baalah, that is, come Kiriath-jearim, which belonged come Judah, to lug up native 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 also trumpets,” reads the account.

Other historical texts, including the ancient name directory, the “Onomasticon” by Eusebius the Caesarea, a 3rd-4th century Church historian and also counselor that Constantine the Great, also indicate this point out is the biblical site.

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

Technology to plumb ancient depths

To find the most most likely dig spot between the compound’s buildings, the team consulted world War ns Bavarian aerial inspection images as well as modern aerial footage, and also created a hi-tech orthophoto making use of a drone and also Digital key Model.


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“The high-tech methods helped us to visualize the old topography and locate the present of the key terraces. So this methods helped in dictating the areas of excavations, which undoubtedly proved come be highly successful,” stated Finkelstein.



Aerial check out of the site, take away by the Bavarian air force in 1918, feather north. Note big western and eastern terraces. The contemporary building is the old residence of the convent; to its north room the foundations of the north sector of the hostel (the church to be not constructed yet). (Courtesy Shmunis family members Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim)

While the team has actually unearthed numerous artifacts, the discovery of the Iron age platform’s walls was plainly its biggest success.

“Indeed, the visibility of these walls, which sustained an elevated Iron age platform, is the most important uncover so far,” stated Finkelstein.

Due come the 3-D visualizations the the mound, when proof of the platform was ultimately discovered, claimed Finkelstein, “I was surprised and not. Surprised, since this form of elevated podiums is recognized mainly in the northern Kingdom (Israel) and here we space on their an extremely southern boundary. Not surprised, because from looking at the topography and the orthophoto ns suspected the visibility of one elevated platform on the summit.”

The platform, a monumental architectural feat, compels the concern of who developed it? Which human being would have had actually the capacity to construct it in the era argued by the ceramic dating and also the walls’ appearance? In second wrinkle, over there is the paucity the culturally typifying finds. “There is naught in the product culture, except for the podium, to hint in ~ the north,” stated Finkelstein.

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


Digital Elevation model of the mound of Kiriath-Jearim. (Shmunis household Excavations at Kiriath-Jearim)

“Bearing in mental the monumentality the this endeavor, and the fact that no elevated communication of this kind are known in Judah, there room two possibilities in ~ the iron IIB: an Assyrian venture after 720 BCE, or a north Israelite construction prior to 732 BCE, in fact before the beginning of decrease of the kingdom in 747 BCE,” write the excavators in their report.

According come the archaeologists, other comparable platforms were well-known in the northern Kingdom throughout the suggested home window of time, including in the capital Samaria. Typically they consisted of massive support walls with land fills which create an synthetic hill.

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

During the food of the excavation, and also in compare the findings from the smaller earlier digs, the excavators discerned continued, intensified negotiation in the complying with Iron IIC period (700-586 BCE), and also reconstruction that the platform. Additional reconstruction occurred in the so late Hellenistic periods. “The latter may be linked with the fortification initiatives undertaken through the Seleucid general Bacchides,” indicate the scholars.

One platform to ascendancy them all

The second excavation season will certainly commence in respectable 2019 through an equally big team of professionals and volunteers. “This time too we plan to put the main emphasis on the big walls which assistance the elevated platform,” stated Finkelstein.

Finkelstein, because that whom the Ark of the commitment is legend, no fact, said there is no physical evidence at Kiriath-Jearim the the ark having historically resided at the website — nor does he expect to discover any. Yet why the legend was propagated is of interest to the team.


At Kiriath-Jearim, excavation of a set of terraces follow me the southeastern slope of the mound. (Shmunis family Excavations in ~ Kiriath-Jearim)

“Why the north Ark Narrative was introduced into the scriptures is a very an excellent question. It is one of a collection of Northern traditions which found their means to the south. Maybe the idea to be to explain how the ark uncovered its means to Jerusalem,” the said.

Finkelstein’s excavation co-director Römer weighed in, “The Ark narrative to be introduced into the Bible due to the fact that in the present kind it legitimates Jerusalem as the only ‘official’ sanctuary the Yhwh, because according to the Biblical narrative, David moved the Ark over there from Kiriath-Jearim.

“Later redactors made of the remain of the ark in Kiriath-Jearim a short duration in stimulate to indicate that the ark arrived quite conveniently in Jerusalem. But historically that happened much later, probably under King Josiah,” created Römer.

The huge platform in ~ Kiriath-Jearim would have been multi-functional — both as a shrine and a judgment center, claimed the excavators.

“A platform can of food contain a shrine,” claimed Römer, “and the truth that according to 1 Samuel 7:1 the ark walk not return to Shiloh from where it to be captured however came to Kiriath-Jearim plainly indicates the cultic duty of the place.”

Finkelstein said that the story the the Ark “served the ideology of the northern Kingdom during Jeroboam II, and the really territorial needs which stemmed native the domination over Judah.”

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


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