Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology



First Samuel 27: 5-6     

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's find Ziklag | David's Elusive Philistine base

After David killed Goliath the Philistine giant, David became a man on the run.  He collected other men who were wanted, fugitives, bandits, on the margins of society. Twice when Saul came to kill David, David spared his monarch's life.  And Saul blessed David.  But David realized that once the troubled king had a change of heart, David would once again be a marked man.

Bernini's David in Rome about to kill Goliath

Sculpture by Bernini in Galleria Borghese, Rome | Photo by Gila Yudkin

David about to kill Goliath the Philistine giant in the Valley of Elah

So David fled to the Philistine capital city of Gath (Goliath's home town) and appealed to King Achish for sanctuary.  Not only for himself, but for his band of six hundred outlaws and his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the Carmelite.  David asked Achish to give him a place "in the country" where he could settle down.
So Achish gave him the town of Ziklag, along the southern boundary of the Philistine territory.  This became David's base from where he launched his brutal raids against the neighboring Geshurites, Amalekites and other non-Israelite peoples. After killing all the residents, man, woman and child, he took sheep, cattle, oxen, donkeys, camels, and chihuahuas (just kidding) as booty.  He divvied it up and gave King Achish his fair "commission."

Is Ziklag to be located at Khirbet a-Ra'i near Lachish

Copyright 2020 by Gila Yudkin

Scholars believe Ziklag was on the periphery of Philistine territory near Judah

But David claimed to the Philistine king that all this loot came from the Israelite settlements he had raided.  (Remember, there were no eye witness victims of David's plunder to say otherwise.)  Thus David lured Achish into thinking that his attacks would make his fellow Judean countrymen abhor him.
In the meantime King Saul was in a standoff with the Philistine army over control of the Jezreel Valley with its lucrative trade routes.  When Saul realized his channel to the Almighty was blocked (like having no cell service!), he sought an alternative medium and secretly visited the witch of En Dor.  She conjured Samuel the Prophet up from the dead who then pointed a long crooked finger at Saul and proclaimed, "Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me!"  And so it was.
Did you ever wonder where David was during this decisive battle? Why he didn't come to the rescue of Saul and Jonathon, his best buddy?
Well, according to First Samuel chapter 29, David and his men had accompanied King Achish of Gath to the gathering point of the Philistine armies at Aphek (basically where the control tower of Ben Gurion Airport is today).  But the Philistine princes upon seeing David and his forces objected, asking, "What are these Hebrews doing here??"
The Philistine princes rightly suspected that David might act as a fifth column and turn on them in the midst of battle.  In this way he could once again regain his favored position in Saul's household.
While professing his trust in David's loyalty, the Philistine king of Gath caved in to his allies and sent David and his 600 men back to Ziklag.  That meant when Saul, along with three of his sons including Jonathon, died on Mount Gilboa, David was some 118 miles to the south of the fateful battlefield.
In fact when David returned to Ziklag, he discovered to his horror that it was deserted and smoldering from an attack by the Amalekites.  His two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, his men's wives and sons and daughters had all been taken captive.  David pursued the attackers and recovered all…and more.  The spoils he sent off to the elders of the Judean towns of Bethel, Ramot, Yattir, Eshtamoa and Hebron.
It was at Ziklag that David received a messenger who brought him news of Saul's tragic death at the hands of the Philistines.  David tore his garments, grieved and wept and fasted.  And at Ziklag David lamented Saul and Jonathon with the song of the bow:  (Second Samuel chapter 1)

"How have the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon –
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice.
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph."

At Ziklag, David inquired of the Lord, where shall he go.  The reply was, "Go to Hebron."  So David left Ziklag and went to Hebron.  At Hebron David was anointed king over the house of Judah.
We know where Gath is, where Ashkelon is, where Hebron is, but where is Ziklag??? This has puzzled Bible scholars for over a century.
I researched this question in 1996 while preparing for a dynamite tour organized around the theme, "Retracing the stories of David and his Greater Son Jesus" for a favorite tour leader.  One of the tour's themes was "David as fugitive."  There were a number of possibilities: En Gedi, Masada, Carmel, Ziph, Beersheba, Ashkelon -- and Ziklag.
I was attracted to the idea of bringing the group to Ziklag.  After all, David spent 16 months there, according to the Book of Samuel. But where was it?  I hit the books and out of a dozen possibilities, the majority of scholars at that time (23 years ago) identified Ziklag with Tel A-Shariyah, some twelve miles northwest of Beersheba, halfway between Beersheba and Gaza.
The name Ziklag, by the way, is unusual in the lexicon of names in the kingdom of Israel.  It is not local Canaanite, nor Semitic.  It is a Philistine name, given to the town by an alien population of migrants from the Aegean region.
I really had no idea where it was exactly.  We didn't have GPS back then or Google maps. And we hadn't visited that particular tel during my guide course some two decades earlier.  I read in the encyclopedia "Madrich Yisrael" volume 6 that Tel A-Shariyah was near Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev.  So there I headed.
Armed with last century maps, I drove to the area in my trusty fire-engine red Fiesta, looking for a beige-colored artificial mound with straight edges peeking up above the flat fields of golden wheat.  (Not exactly a needle in a haystack.)  I spied a farmer on a tractor and he gave me directions towards the ancient mound.  On foot now, I crossed the old Turkish RR tracks and found a path leading up to the tel. It was spectacularly dusty yet visually unimpressive although I did find a lot of potsherds.
Reluctantly I gave up the idea of bringing my group to the site – there was no nearby parking for a bus, it was in the middle of nowhere and so very dusty.  But I was disappointed – Ziklag epitomizes a unique chapter in the David saga.
Imagine then, my surprise this past July [2019] when headlines in Israeli newspapers blared, "Ziklag is found!!"  And not where they thought it was….
Archeologists (from Israel and Australia) digging since 2015 at a site called Khirbet a-Ra'i in the Judean foothills opposite Ashkelon, between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, held a well-attended press conference.  They announced they had found a continuous settlement at Khirbet a-Ra'i with remains from both the Philistine culture and from the era of King David with both periods attested by carbon-14 dating.

Volunteers digging at Khirbet a-Ra'i January 2020

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Volunteers from the U.S. and Australia digging at Khirbet a-Ra'i January 2020

The Philistine strata revealed spacious, massive stone structures with lots of typical Philistine decorated ceramic pottery.  In the foundations of the buildings excavators found bowls and oil lamps which had been deposited during construction as offerings for good luck (or to trap demons).  They also found stone and metal tools similar to those found at other Philistine cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron.
Above the remains of the Philistine settlement was a rural settlement from the early tenth century BC, the time of King David which was destroyed by an intense fire. (Remember that Ziklag had been blazed while David was absent to attend the gathering of Philistine forces at Aphek – see First Samuel 30:1.)
Nearly one hundred complete pottery vessels were found in various rooms from this period along with many large and medium-sized storage jars for oil and wine. Jugs and bowls were found decorated in the "red-slipped and hand-burnished" style typical of King David's time.
There's lots more to say.  And lots more to be uncovered.  Come with me to Ziklag where David spent 16 months.  We'll open our Bibles to First and Second Samuel and Psalms to study the strange episode of Ziklag, focusing upon the anointed David as fugitive, a man on the run.

Copyright  2020  Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David's Court, is thrilled to find another elusive biblical site identified.  She has not yet guided a group at biblical Ziklag although she has been retracing David's footsteps for forty years with her groups.  Gila revels in converting black and white Bible verses to vivid color in 3-D, imprinted upon your heart.
After pining to explore Ziklag for several months, Gila traveled with a group of guides for an in-depth tour at Ziklag at the end of January 2020.  Here are her photos and remarks:

Khirbet a-Ra'i (probably Biblical Ziklag) is beyond the pine trees

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Khirbet a-Ra'i (probably Biblical Ziklag) is beyond the pine trees on the summit

A moderate fifteen minute hike takes you to the first excavated area at Khirbet a-Ra'i

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

A fifteen minute hike takes you to the first excavated area at Khirbet a-Ra'i

Mandrakes, known to increase fertility, were sought after by both Leah and Rachel

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Mandrakes, known to increase fertility, were sought after by both Leah and Rachel!

The so-called Philistine area on the summit of Khirbet a-Ra'i

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The so-called Philistine area on the summit of Khirbet a-Ra'i

Area B is dubbed King David's pavemen for it  is dated to the 10th c BC

Photo:  Silvia Hess

To the left of Gila an area dubbed "King David's pavement" is dated to the 10th c BC

Postscript in 2021
The excavation team has continued to dig at Khirbet a-Ra’i (presumably biblical Ziklag).  In July of 2021 the Israel Antiquities Department announced that an inscription dating from the time of the biblical judges some 3,100 years ago has been recovered for the first time in history from excavations in southern Israel.
The rare inscription bears the name "Jerubbaal" in alphabetic script and dates from around 1,100 BCE.

Rare inscription with the name Jerubbaal found at Khirbet a-Ra'i in July 2021

Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Department

Rare inscription with the name Jerubbaal found at Khirbet a-Ra'i in July 2021

The inscription was written in ink on a pottery vessel and found inside a storage pit that was dug into the ground and lined with stones at the site at Khirbet a-Ra‘i.
The name Jerubbaal is familiar from the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon.  For example, in Judges 6:32 after Gideon had fought idolatry by destroying an altar to Baal, he was renamed Jerubbaal meaning “let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.”
Judges 7 tells the story of Gideon’s triumph over the Midianites who used to cross over the River Jordan to plunder Israelite crops.  Gideon organized a small strike force of 300 soldiers who attacked the Midianites by night near the spring of Harod in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel.  Judges chapter 7 begins, “Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley [of Jezreel].”
Scholars believe that the name Jerubbaal was in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.

The Khirbet a-Ra’I archeological team is continuing to dig each summer, so stay tuned for further discoveries!!

Copyright  2020, 2021  Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

If your heart's desire is to follow the footsteps of David, organize a tour and bring your family and friends.  Gila would be happy to lead you to as many sites as have been identified till now.  Gila's tours are a mix of archeology, geography, Bible and fun.  Read what tour leaders say about Gila.
After David killed Goliath the Israelites pursued the Philistines past Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. (First Samuel 17:52)  Several years ago Shaaraim was identified by the same archeologists excavating now at Ziklag.
Read about the story of Gath, hometown of Goliath, with photos (of Gath, not Goliath!)
Get a slingshot at Gila's Gift Shop while they are still available. See photos of the "traditional slingshot that killed Goliath"
From Ziklag David moved to Hebron and then after seven and a half years to Jerusalem which he made his capital.  Read about the bathing beauty David spied from his palace balcony and the subsequent cover-up.

BOOK GILA for a customized private tour

For four decades Gila has been reenacting David's contest with Goliath when visiting the Elah Valley with her groups.  She even divides the group into Israelites and Philistines with each team creating its own war chant.  Book Gila for your next church tour.
Late 19th century explorers Bliss and Macalister didn't have iPhones for compass directions, weather reports or breaking news, but they did identify Philistine strongholds of Azekah and Gath.  Read more about them.




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin