Israeli Artifacts Now on Display
at Southern Adventist University

Product of SAU-Hebrew University dig, items support Davidic history. (Posted December 19, 2012)

BY MARTIN G. KLINGBEIL, Southern Adventist University

A unique collection of artifacts from the time of King David, until now available for viewing only in Israel, are on display at Southern Adventist University’s Institute of Archaeology in Collegedale, Tennessee, until April 2014. The artifacts come from an excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the site of an ancient city overlooking the Elah Valley, and are the result of a four-year partnership between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Southern Adventist University.

STUDENT DISPLAY: Cherie Lynn Milliron, an archaeology undergraduate student, explains excavation techniques. [PHOTO: Ryan PIerce}
“Our excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa have completely redefined the discussion of the archaeological evidence for the early kingdom of Judah in terms of the first Judean urban concepts, ethnic identity, writing and literacy, and the identification of the site with the story of David and Goliath,” said Michael G. Hasel, director of the Institute of Archaeology at Southern Adventist University.

The modern site of Khirbet Qeiyafa, overlooking the Elah Valley, is located a day’s walk from Jerusalem between Azekah and Socoh, place names that are both mentioned in the epic story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. The fortress that sits on top of a strategically situated outcrop overlooking the valley has been identified with the biblical city of Shaaraim (“city of two gates”) (verse 52) on account of the two monumental gates whose remains, together with a large fortified city that attests to the state development in the early days of the Davidic monarchy, have been painstakingly excavated by the two universities’ staff and students.

For two years the Institute of Archaeology staff pursued its goal of bringing a selection of these artifacts to Collegedale. Long hours of planning, discussions over object lists, endless e-mail and phone conversations, negotiations with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), extended exhibition design meetings, and broad marketing efforts—all finally led to the moment the object crate arrived together with an Israeli courier at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

FAMOUS FRAGMENT: Replica of the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription on a piece of ceramics; possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription to date, on display at Southern Adventist University. [PHOTO: M. Klingbeil] 
Justo Morales, the institute’s museum coordinator, who has been overseeing the design and installation of the exhibition, described the hectic last days before the opening: “One of the biggest challenges was getting the artifacts mounted and the displays installed within the short schedule we had. Once the IAA courier arrived with the artifacts, we had only three and a half days to do it all. Thankfully, we are blessed with a great team of people who helped us pull it off in time.”

The event itinerary for the inauguration night included a special preview tour of the exhibition. Tony Anobile, an archaeology student at Southern, testified to the impact of his participation: “To see the parts of history that I helped excavate in Israel here at Southern means that I am a part of that history. I have a connection to the people in the Bible.”

The tour was followed by a banquet where there was time to reflect on the artifacts. Responding to a question about the importance of the exhibition in the broader institutional context, Gordon Bietz, president of Southern Adventist University, said: “The exhibition in the Lynn H. Wood Archaeology Museum is a timely reminder of the importance of the work of archaeology. I am delighted that Southern has been able to be on the cutting edge of this work that champions the accuracy of God’s Word.”

Hasel gave an inaugural lecture, in which he provided a panoramic overview of the excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, focusing on the importance of some of the objects that the visitors would encounter as they move through the exhibit: from the true-to-life recreated excavation square that gives a firsthand idea of the archaeological fieldwork, to the restored, large storage vessels that demonstrate the administrative importance of the site in the time of the united monarchy under King David and then centuries later, at the end of the Persian period.

DISPLAY: Diorama of one of the gates at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the biblical Shaaraim [PHOTO: Ryan Pierce]
The center of the exhibition houses a scaled model of one of the two gates and adjacent areas excavated by Southern students and staff. There are three important object groups that demonstrate the variety of finds at the site: a collection of stamped storage handles, a group of six scarabs and stamp seals, and an assemblage of Persian, Greek, and Roman coins. The exhibition is completed by a replica of the by-now-famous Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription that arguably is the oldest Hebrew inscription found to date containing a text that echoes biblical ethics found in Deuteronomy and Isaiah.

Following the inaugural lecture, the doors of the museum were officially opened and attendees were given a chance to move through the exhibition. Sondra Houghton, a board member of the institute, went through the museum twice on the opening night and summarized her impressions: “As I looked at the artifacts, I felt more connected to this biblical narrative. The Institute of Archaeology’s commitment to recover and display these artifacts continues to confirm the authority and authenticity of the Bible.”

The exhibition will remain at the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum on the campus of Southern Adventist University until its April 2014 close. The objects will then return to Israel. More information about the museum, including opening hours, can be found online at
                                                                                                                                                 —with Adventist Review staff

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