INTERPRETING THE QEIYAFA OSTRACONThe Qeiyafa Ostracon is a potsherd, bearing five lines of writing; it was found on the floor of a room in a building at Khirbet Qeiyafa, which is a fortress situated SW of Jerusalem; it looks out over the the Elah Valley ("Vale of the Terebinth") and an ancient road to Philistia. The ostracon is now housed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The site has been identified by Yosef Garfinkel as Sha`arayim ("Two Gates", an unusual feature which is present at Qeiyafa); Sha`arayim is a place mentioned in the account of the confrontation between David and Goliath, as being on the road leading to Gath and Ekron (1 Samuel 17:52).
Brian E. Colless
The history of the discovery of the document (by the expedition led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor) is recorded at the Qeiyafa Ostracon Chronicle Part 1; and Part 2 gives an account of the attempts by various scholars to decipher the five lines of faded writing, with two excellent and essential photographs by Clara Amit, and drawings by Haggai Misgav (the official epigraphist of the expedition), Ada Yardeni, Gershon Galil, and Émile Puech. George Grena also provided a copy of his own useful drawing to me personally.
After examining all the available pictures and drawings, and trying numerous possibilities for each of the five lines, and literally joining up the dots to reconstruct the faint letters, I have produced this preliminary sketch of what I see on the sherd (but the one that I eventually publish will not be exactly like this).
This is not my final presentation but an interim sketch
Features of the inscription
The text runs from left to right (the opposite direction to Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew, but the same as on the Izbet Sartah ostracon, to be mentioned below):
(1) notice that the scribe has 'underlined' the first four lines, and the underlining of line 1 makes an upward turn, to indicate the end of the line of writing (the two letters in the remaining space presumably belong to the end of line 2);
(2) from the outset several Hebrew words were recognized by interested scholars (`-b-d 'serve, servant' in line 1; sh-p-t. 'judge, judge' in line 2; b`l 'possess, lord' in line 3; m-l-k 'reign, king' in line 4; and 'l 'El, God' in line 2); but if the lines are read from right to left all these words disappear.
The claim is frequently noised abroad that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found. Not so. This honour belongs to the ostracon from Izbet Sartah: a potsherd, with five lines of writing on it, discovered in Israel in 1976, at `Izbet S.art.ah, near Aphek, perhaps 'Eben-`Ezer, where Israelites and Philistines fought a battle (1 Samuel 4). It is thought to date from the 11th century BCE, early in the Iron Age. In my view of it, the scribe not only provides a copy of the Canaanite consonantary (consonantal alphabet) as he knew it, but in the four lines of text he muses on how writing works : "I am learning the letters, and I am seeing that the eye gives the breath of a letter into the ear through a stylus on clay". An interesting connection is that the Qeiyafa ostracon was likewise found at the site of a battle between Israel and Philistia.
Type of script
The script of the Qeiyafa ostracon is recognizable as Canaanite (or Canaanian, I would prefer to say, and then we might learn to pronounce Cana`an properly, and leave 'Canaanite' for the people called 'Canaanites'); this term is applicable to inscriptions from the Iron Age (after 1200 BCE); the word Proto-Canaanite (or Proto-Canaanian in my dialect) has been applied to it, but I feel that the term should be reserved for the original form of the script (the prototypal version), in the Bronze Age (before 1200 BCE), when the signs were pictorial, and objects such as the snake (N), the door (D), the boomerang (G), the human head (R), and the bovine head ('Aleph, 'ox') were recognizable.
My most comprehensive and compact study of the letters of the Proto-Canaanian consonantal script, which is based on two copies of the proto-alphabet at a stage when the pictorial aspect was still vibrant, is posted here.
A useful comparative table of Hebrew scripts is available, prepared by Kris Udd.
My table of the evolution of the alphabet is available here in enlarged form, and is also posted as an attachment (ABT TABLE) below, and this may be printed out for the sake of clarity in following my discussion of the various letters on the sherd:
the first column shows the likely Egyptian hieroglyphs on which most of the letters were modeled;
the Sinai-Egypt column offers Bronze-Age examples from that region;
the Canaan column has examples from Syria-Palestine in the Bronze Age and the Iron Age;
the Canaan column also has the cuneiform alphabet (Ugarit and elsewhere), which was modeled on the picture-signs;
the Phoenicia column shows the Iron-Age consonantal alphabet of the Phoenicians;
the Greece and Rome lines show the alphabet (with vowels), derived from the Phoenician script;
the Arabia column shows the forms of the script as used in ancient Arabia;
the narrow column labeled BS (Byblos script) provides examples from the Canaanite syllabary as represented at Byblos (Gubla), and each picture represents a syllable (thus the house sign stands not just for B but also for BA, from bayt 'house').
Identification of signs
A curious feature of the Qeiyafa inscription (which is inked not incised, it should be noted) is that the scribe does not write his characters consistently.
'A ('alp "ox", 'Aleph, Alpha) shows three variants (all are among the examples on my table of signs): at the end of line 1 and in the middle of line 2 we can see the ox-head with its horns; the first letter in the top line has the head reclining; at the beginning of line 4 (and 5, apparently) the head is completely inverted like the Greek Alpha and Roman A; the total number is 5 or 6.
B (bayt "house", Beth, Beta) is fairly consistent but somewhat unique: its body is triangular (originally square, representing a house with a doorway) with a projection curling round and downwards at the top on the right; there is one under the protruding part of the sherd, in line 1, and I have also joined the dots on the left side of the dotted circle to reconstruct another B; then there is the fifth character in line 2; beneath that one, in line 3, is yet another B; the last case of B is towards the middle of the bottom line; total 5 or 6.
G (gaml, Gimel, Gamma) was a boomerang, or throw-stick; one example, uncharacteristically inverted, appears at the start of line 3; possibly the scribe has done this to save confusion with P (two instances of P in line 2); total 1.
D (dalt "door", Daleth, Delta) was a door with a post, and sometimes with panels; like B it became more triangular; an example in the top line, standing between B and 'Aleph; another one can be reconstructed from dots between B and 'Aleph in line 2 (in the same sequence of five signs as in line 1); two incomplete instances in line 3, but again the dots point the way to their completion; the one in line 4 is just like Roman D; in line 5 there are two cases; notice that every example is different; D is not a frequent letter in Hebrew, and yet it has the highest total here; but three of the instances are in a word that occurs three times (`bd); total 7.
H (He, Epsilon) was first represented by a person jubilating (hll), generally with both arms raised (but also inverted), and this figure was turned on its side leaving only E, and becoming Greek Epsilon; there is an inverted E in the top-right corner, producing the divine name YH; and possibly another as E to the left of this; total 2.
W was a hook or peg (waw) in the proto-alphabet (--o), a circle on a stem, but it opened out into a form resembling Y; one example (with D on either side of it) in line 3; another in line 4; apparently there is one at the very end of line 5; total 3.
Z (Zayin, Zeta), originally two joined triangles (|><|) is a very infrequent letter, and no instances can be detected here; total 0.
H. (Het, Eta) was originally a mansion with two rooms and a courtyard (h.as.ir), often with a rounded wall (this is a discovery of mine, not found on other tables); but it was reduced to a bisected rectangle; the inner line is usually horizontal, but may be vertical, as on the possible example in line 4 (which seems to have the semicircular courtyard, though it might be an inverted B); the proposed Het at the end of line 3 is based on the weak ink marks, which may have a vertical line inside the square; total 2.
T. (Tet) began as the Egyptian nefer sign (t.ab "fine", nfr as in Nefertiti); it was a circle with a cross (o-+), and, apparently, the cross moved into the circle; it became Theta in the Greek alphabet, but it was not taken over by the Romans; line 2 has two cases of it (both in the word for judge); it is very rare, and since it occurs in a repeated word here, we should really only count it once; total 2.
Y (yad "hand", Yod, Iota) is an arm with a hand; in accordance with this scribe's liking for variety, there are four different stances; the clearest is in the middle of line 4, with the arm upright and the hand pointing leftwards; the example below it, in line 5, has the arm bent with the hand at the bottom, again pointing to the left; another instance is visible in the space between the end of lines 1 and 2, similar to the one in line 5, but the hand is on the right of the arm and pointing downwards; another comparable example (small and faint) is near the beginning of line 3, with a short arm, and the hand on the left pointing downwards, situated underneath a cross-sign (T), as in the case of the Y in the space at the end of lines 1 and 2; total 4.
K (kap "palm of hand", Kap, Kappa) is a hand, sometimes with a wrist (as in Greco-Roman K), and here it is just a simple stick-figure, with merely three fingers, at the very end of line 4; in an extended text there would normally be more cases of this letter, and there may be a K in fourth place in line 2; total 1 or 2.
L (Lamed, Lambda) was a shepherd's crook (perhaps also a rope for tethering animals); here, characteristically, every example is different; the coiled type, shaped like 6, is found in line 3 (centre) and its opposite appears above it in line 2; the plain curve (U-shaped) is found as the second sign in line 1, and a smaller version at the other end of the line, its residue being a series of tiny dots, next to the ox-head; one that is C-shaped stands near the end of line 4; in the bottom line there is a gap after Y, with ink marks showing, and this is like the b-shaped L in line, next to G; total 7.
M (maym, mu, running water or falling water, Mem, Mu) has a vertical stance in all cases, not the horizontal set of waves which will become Greco-Roman M; the obvious examples are in line 2 (1x), line 4 (3x), line 5 (1x); possibly another below the M in the middle of line 4 and above the D in line 5, which has taken a depressed position to make room for the M; it is possible that the three dots at the end of the top line of writing are the remains of a Mem, rather than punctuation marks; total 7.
N (nah.ash "snake", Nun, Nu) was clearly a snake, sometimes a cobra, other times a viper, but the erect cobra was the victor; a clear case is lurking in line 4; an unclear example is possibly near the end of line 3; and in line 1, the fifth letter (this might be an instance of Shin/Sin, like the one at the start of line 2, but the top curve is missing here); total 3.
S (samk "fish" or "support", Samek, Xi) is a controversial subject, as the fish is commonly identified as D (since W.F. Albright publicized the idea) because dag is the West Semitic word for "fish" (the table of Kris Udd agrees with mine in rejecting this error); but samk is another Semitic "fish" word (in Arabic but not Hebrew); samk also means "support", and an alternative sign was used for S (Samek), namely the Egyptian djed pillar (spinal column as the "support" for standing upright), and this became the standard letter in West Semitic scripts; the fish and the spine were both used for s-sounds in the cuneiform alphabet, and the fish survived as S in Arabia; here it is tempting to see a fish in the middle of line 3, but it is one of the many forms of D (Dalet, door) on the ostracon; there is no trace of the "telegraph pole" (--|-|-|), either, and this is disappointing, but Samek is a very infrequent letter; total 0.
`O (`ayn "eye". `Ayin, Omikron) was originally an eye (with or without the pupil), and it was reduced to a circle (with or without a dot); here, with unusual consistency, all cases are circles with a central dot; two examples in the top line; a faint one in the next line; a clearer one in line 3; and I find two together in the last line (the second one above the Beth); total 6.
P (pu "mouth", Pe, Pi) is a mouth, as shown by every example on my table (including the Arabian), but allowing that one of the lips has been removed along the way; Kris Udd shows the mouth as the origin, but also sneaks a boomerang (G) into the picture, prolonging the life of the Albrightian mistake that P began as a "corner"; there is an example of Pe at each end of line 2, facing in opposite directions though looking towards each other; total 2.
S. (s.irar "tied bag", Sadey, San) was a bag tied at the top (the same word as for the money-bags of Joseph's brothers in Genesis 42:35); the bag became deflated in some cases, and torn open in others; I detect one in line 5 (like the type found on the Gezer Calendar inscription, as shown on Udd's table); and perhaps another near the end of line 3; total 2.
Q (qaw "line", Qop, Qoppa) was a cord wound on a stick, and in the Iron Age its upper one or two projections were omitted, making it look like Waw, which consequently had to open up its top; a clear example stands near the end of the bottom line; there is a possible instance in the middle of the top line (its stem is obvious enough, and the circle is discernible); the character between 'A and the M at the start of line 4 is extremely obscure, but I propose Q for it; immediately below it in line 5 is a much clearer circle on a stem, likewise between 'A and M, but this may be R, as also the example in the middle of line 4; R is a frequently occurring letter, and Q is not, and if we accept all these as Q there will be no cases of R (note that we have the same difficulty distinguishing Q and R on the earlier Izbet Sartah ostracon, as can be seen on Udd's table); total 3.
R (ra'sh "head", Resh, Rho) is a human head, usually with a neck; see the notes on Q, for the possibility that the two cases of R are in lines 4 and 5; the normal difference is that R has a somewhat triangular head on its stem, while Q has a circle or oval on its stick; total 2, or more (?).
Sh (thad/shad "breast", Shin and Sin, Sigma) was a human breast (thad), standing for Th, while Sh had various representations of the sun (shimsh), a circle as the sun-disc, or a circle with a serpent, or a serpent (or two) with no disc; at the beginning of line 2 is a vertical example (like Sigma), and towards the end of the line a horizontal form, which became the standard Shin ("tooth"!) and Sin; total 2.
T (taw "mark, signature", Taw, Tau) has always been a cross (+ or x); one example stands near the very end of the inscription; another is in the third position at the top; there are two cases of T above Y, in the top right corner, and between L and B in line 3 (a very faint impression remaining); I propose another at the stary of line 2, between; total 5.
To test whether the occurrences of each letter in this text are commensurate with their relative frequency in a typical Classical Hebrew document, I constructed a chart on the basis of Psalm 18 (17 verses out of 51), which is attributed to "the servant of the LORD, David".
The two most frequent letters to emerge from this exercise on Psalm 18 are Yod (in first position) and Waw (in second place), and this is very surprising, because in documents in other ancient West Semitic languages (Ugaritic and Phoenician), W is among the infrequent letters, and Y is in or around tenth place. One portion of the explanation for the anomaly is that Y and W are also used as vowel-letters (matres lectionis) in Biblical Hebrew (and modern Hebrew); another factor is the ubiquity of the Divine Name, which includes Y and W, and also H (twice). H occurs in the Qeiyafa inscription (in the combination YH, and in 'LHM); thus the Sacred Name is not present in its full form (YHWH), nor is the definite article ha (which was not used in early West Semitic languages).
The most infrequent letters in Hebrew are: Zayin (here 0), Sin (0), Samek (0) Tet (2 but in a recurring word ShPT.), Gimel (1); so this is an acceptable result.
Also rare are: Sadey (here u2), Pe (2 but in a recurring word ShPT.), Het (2), Qop (3, an unusual outcome, appearing in three different words).
Less rare (at the halfway mark) is Dalet, and yet it holds first place in this text (7x, but in the same word `BD three times, and in a name which begins and ends with D).
The full results are (with positions from Psalm 18 in brackets, and apparent anomalies marked with an asterisk*):
'A 5 (5) B 5 (9) G 19 (17) *D 1! (11) H 12 (13) *W 9 (2) Z 22 (21) H. 12 (14) T. 16 (22)
*Y 8 (1) K 19 (15) L 1 (3) M 1 (4) N 9 (10) S 21 (20) `O 4 (7) P 12 (16) S. 12 (19) Q 9 (18)
R 12 (6) Sh 12 (12) Sin 23 (23) T 5 (8)
The correspondences are mostly unobjectionable, and the deviant cases (W Y D) have been explained above.
Interpretation of the text
I have played with all kinds of possible meanings already: here, there, and elsewhere
This time I will follow another line of interpretation.
We need to remember the problems that confront us in approaching such ancient texts:
(1) the aging and fading of the writing over 3000 years;
(2) the idiosyncratic handwriting style of the scribe (no consistency in this case);
(3) the lack of spaces or points to separate the words;
(4) the absence of signs for vowels (only consonants are shown);
(5) the intended meaning of the text is known only to its author.
In transcribing the characters I often use 'A for 'aleph (ox) and `O for `ayin (eye) for ease of distinguishing the two guttural sounds, rather than their simple transcription with ' and ` (remembering that they are the original sources of the letters A and O); emphatic consonants have the dot next to them not under them (H. T. S.); Shin is shown as Sh.
 'A L T `O N Q B `O B D 'A L :
The first sentence could start with 'AL as "El/God" (or 'ALT as "Goddess"); or 'AL as "not" ('AL T`ON "Do not answer", or "Do not worry"); 'AL as the preposition 'el "unto". But the whole line could be made into this statement, as the title of the document:
 'ALT `ONQ B `OBD 'L(HM)
'ALT "curse" or "cursing" or "curses" (Hebrew 'alah, plural 'alot); or seconfd person singular verb from the same root, "you have cursed", or "you have uttered a curse" (against the servant).
Note that the Philistine Goliath is said to have "cursed (qll, not 'lh as here) David by his gods" (1 Samuel 17:43).
`ONQ "Anak" or "the Anak" (`Anaqim were a "tribe" of giants who were located in Ashdod, Gaza, and Gath, Philistine towns, as noted in Joshua 11:21-22, and it has often been assumed that Goliath of Gath was one of them).
B "in" (here "on" or "against"; Hebrew expression ns' 'lh b "lay a curse on", in 1 Kings 8:31).
`OBD (Hebrew `ebed) "servant" or "slave".
'AL "El" or "God"; or 'LHM "Elohim, God".
 "The cursing of the Anak against the servant of God."
Or: "The curse of the Anak on the servant of God."
Or: "Anak you have uttered a curse against the servant of God."
 Sh P T. `O B D 'A L M T Sh P T. Y H
 G L YT B `O L D W D [ N S. H. ]
 ShP T. `OBD 'AL MT ShPT. YH
 GLYT B`OL DWD NS.H.
ShPT. "he has judged" (3rd person singular masculine, perfect tense); the suspicion here is that it means "has passed judgement on", and the implication is that the death penalty has been executed.
`OBD 'AL "the servant of God" (as in line 1); "my servant" in line 5.
MT "man" or "warrior" (Hebrew mat); or else "dead man" (Hebrew met). But the letter in the space might be B or M.
ShPT. YH "Yah has judged".
GLYT "Golyat" (Goliath from Gath, or the Gittite), the champion of the Philistines in the battle against Israel in the Elah Valley (1 Samuel 17); elsewhere it is reported that another Goliath the Gittite was slain by Elhanan the Bethlehemite (2 Samuel 21:19) though the Chronicler has Elhanan killing Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite (1 Chronicles 20:5). There is a space before G and some ink marks; it could be a letter that has been deliberately erased, or possibly K (perhaps ka, suffix-pronoun, 2 p. s., hence "I have judged you, Goliath").
B`OL "Ba`al" a title, meaning "Lord" (applied to the weather-god Hadad); as a verb it means "be master" or "possess"; as an epithet it could refer to Goliath here; as a verb it could have the following name DWD as its subject, "he has become the master".
DWD "Dawid" (David), a unique name in the Hebrew Bible, belonging to Dawid of Bethlehem, who became the second king of Israel; he is called "the servant of the LORD" (Psalm 18:1), and the word of the Lord to David was, "By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the Philistines and all their enemies" (2 Samuel 3:18).
NS.H. is not a clear reading, but if it is right then as a verb it would say "he has prevailed", or as an adverb "ever" or "enduringly".
[2-3] The servant of God has judged the (dead) man; Yah has judged Goliath; David is the master for ever (or: David is the victor, he has prevailed).
 'A Q M W N R M Y H. D M L K
 'AQM W NRM YH.D MLK
'AQM "I arise" (1st person singular, imperfect tense, root qwm, "stand up").
W "and" (conjunction).
NRM "we raise" (1st p. pl., imperfect tense, hiph`il, root rwm, "be high"); or perhaps NQM (root nqm "avenge") "we avenge, we vindicate".
YH.D "together", or "the community".
MLK "a/the king" (root mlk, "reign"); the king who is being raised up might be Saul, though he had been rejected by the LORD (1 Sam 16:1), and David had been anointed as the next king (1 Sam 16:2-14); so the king mentioned here might be David, to be "elevated" to kingship, and the internal war is imminent (2 Sam 3:1) between the "house of Saul" and "the house of David" (a term found in the Tel Dan Inscription). If the text was written down at the time of the battle of the Valley of Elah, then the "king" would indeed be Saul.
 "I rise up and together we raise up the king"
(or: " I rise up and we raise up the community of the king").
 'A R M [`O M ] `O B D Y L S. D Q T W
 'ARM `OM `OBDY LS.DQTW
'ARM "I raise up" (1st p. sg., imperfect tense, hip`il, root rwm, "be high"); if there is a second M in the space, it could be polel, with the same meaning of "uplift".
`OM "people" (`am) or "with" (`im); this is written between the lines and is not easy to detect, but if there is nothing there why do the letters of line 5 dive down suddenly?
`OBDY "my servant"; the same person as "the servant of God" in lines 1 and 2, identified as David.
LS.DQTW "to righteousness (or: justice)", "justly" or "rightly", if the W is not there; the L (preposition "to" or "for") is not certain; , if the final Waw is really there, it would say "for his righteousnesses (acts of righteousness)".
 "I raise up the people of my servant for his acts of righteousness."
 The cursing ( ’LT) of the Anak (giant) ( ‘NQ)
against (B) the servant ( ‘BD) of God ( ’L).
 The servant of God ( ‘BD ’L) has judged (ShPT.)
the (dead) man (MT) || Yah has judged (ShPT. YH)
 Goliath (GLYT) || David (DWD) is the master
(B‘L), he has prevailed (or: evermore) (NS.H.).
 I rise up (’QM) and (W) together (YH.D)
we raise up (NRM) a/the king (MLK).
 I raise up (’RM) the people (‘M) of my servant
(‘BDY) for his righteousness (LS.DQTW).
The question to ask now is whether this is poetry. Note that if the first line is translated "Anak you have cursed", then the text will have a different shape. If line 1 is the title of the piece, lines 2 to 5 take the form of a prophetic oracle, with God ('El) speaking about the result of the contest between his servant Dawid (David) and the `Anaq (Anak) named Goliyat (Goliath). There is poetic parallelism throughout the text:
 The cursing of the Anak against the servant of God.
 The servant of God has judged the dead man,
Yah has judged  Goliath;
David is the master evermore.
 I rise up and together we raise up a/the king;
 I raise up the people of my servant for his righteousness.
The prophet who delivers this oracle is not named. Three prophets (each accorded the title nabi') had a connection with David: Shemu'el (Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:20; 16:1-13, the secret anointing of David to be the next king); Gad gave David counsel and direction (1 Samuel 22:5); Natan (Nathan) was the official prophet of King David (2 Samuel 7:2, for example); all three are named as recorders of David's doings (1 Chronicle 19:29, where Samuel is a seer, Nathan a prophet, and Gad a visionary); and there were others, notably the band of prophets which Saul met (1 Samuel 1o:1o). David also consulted priests in Nob (1 Samuel 22:9-23), namely Ahimelek, who "gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine" (22:10), and his son Abiathar, who fled with David when Saul had all the priests in Nob slaughtered. Incidentally, Nob is near Jerusalem, and this might partly explain the statement that appears immediately after David had cut off the head of Goliath with the giant's own sword: "David picked up the Philistine's head and took it to Jerusalem" (more precisely to Nob?), though "he placed his weapons in his tent" (1 Sam 17:51, 54).
It is a pleasant surprise to see in this inscription two characters who are known in the Bible doing what they did in the Bible story, at the very place where it is said they did it, and at the very time in history when it happened, during the reign of King Saul, towards the beginning of the 10th Century BCE.
It must have been Saul who built the fortress at Sha`arayim (Khirbet Qeiyafa). The headlines we have been seeing about this inscription are wrong. This is not about the kingdoms of David and Solomon, and the tribe of Judah, but about the reign of King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul was the king of Israel who mustered the army against the Philistines (1 Sam 13:2-3; 14:52), and he eventually appointed David as an officer (18:5). Possibly Saul was in this fortress when he summoned David into his presence, as there is no mention of a tent (17:31-40), though the account says (17:2) that “Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and encamped in the Valley of the Terebinth (Elah)”.
The length of Saul’s reign is not recorded (it is given as “ ___ and 2 years” in 1 Samuel 13:1), but he must have had at least twenty (or “[twenty] and two”) years on the throne of Israel, before 1000 BCE. In Saul’s time Jerusalem was not the capital of Israel; but when David became the ruler, he chose Jerusalem as his city.
Saul had his centre in the citadel of his hometown, namely Gibeah of Benjamin, or Gibeah of Saul (1 Samuel 10:26; 14:2; 14:16; 22:6; 26:1). This was probably on the prominent mound now known as Tell el-Fûl, situated three miles north of Jerusalem. So the main entrance of Sha`arayim (Qeiyafa), the east gate, faced towards Gibeah rather than Jerusalem. Both Gibeah and Sha`arayim were bastions against Philistine attacks (especially from Gath and Ekron). When the Philistines saw David had slain their champion, they fled in panic, and “the men of Israel and Judah” pursued them along the Sha`arayim road to Gath and Ekron (17:52). Both of these Israelite strongholds, Gibeah and Sha`arayim, were eventually destroyed, and presumably they fell when Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle by the Philistines, who then occupied the land (1 Samuel 31:1-7).
The Qeiyafa ostracon is certainly a document about David, but not King David. Rather it is a record from the time of King Saul, and it is Israelite, not specifically Judahite.
is indeed a Hebrew inscription, with regard to its language, though its
handwriting is not the official Old Hebrew script. However, it is not the
oldest Hebrew inscription we possess, as is often asserted, nor the earliest
known Israelite inscription. For the present, that distinction belongs to the
Izbet Sartah ostracon, which was found at the site of an earlier battle between
Israel and Philistia, namely Eben-ezer (1 Samuel 4).
Please remember, this is "work in progress" and not my last word on the subject. There is a possibility that the shard is broken at the top, and that there was more writing preceding the present line 1 . Also, the space at the bottom has many dots that could be the remains of letters. However that may be, this text seems to merit the title "the David and Goliath inscription".
Earlier studies were: