About the Site

The Dig

The Shmunis Family Excavations at Kiriath-jearim is a joint project of Tel Aviv University and the Collège de France, funded by Sana and Vlad Shmunis (USA). Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University and Thomas Römer and Christophe Nicolle of the Collège de France direct the project. The staff of the expedition includes French, Israeli and American archaeologists. The first season of excavation took place in the summer of 2017 (see preliminary report) and the second season took place in August 2019.

The Site

Kiriath-Jearim is located in a commanding spot in the Judean highlands, 12 km west of Jerusalem. The Arabic name – Deir el-Azar – probably stems from the reference to Eleazar, who according to 1 Samuel 7: 1 took charge of the ark of the covenant when it was brought to Kiriath-Jearim. The identification of Deir el-Azar with biblical Kiriath-Jearim is accepted unanimously. The mound is ca. 250 x 250 m in size = 5 hectares, one of the biggest Iron Age tells in the highlands. It has not been damaged by modern construction.

The site is mentioned many times in the Bible: as a border town between the territories of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in the Ark Narrative, the list of returnees from exile and other places. According to the Book of Samuel the ark had been captured by the Philistines following the defeat of Israel in the battle of Eben-ezer. It then spread havoc in Philistines cities and was hence returned to Beth-shemesh. From there it was taken to Kiriath-Jearim and finally brought by King David to Jerusalem.

The Ark Narrative and the strong polemic against the town in the Bible hint at the existence of a temple in late-monarchic times.


All the aerial photographs are courtesy of William Schlegel, Satellite Bible Atlas.

The Monastery of the Ark of the Covenant

The Monastery is situated at the summit of the site. Remains of a Byzantine church, probably commemorating the tradition of the ark, were uncovered here in the beginning of the 20th century. They can be seen in the modern church of Notre Dame.


Why Dig at Kiriath-Jearim?

  • Explore this critically important site, close to Jerusalem, mentioned in the Bible time and again.
  • Delve into the history of the highlands of Judah and hence, the history of ancient (biblical) Judah, as well as on the status of Jerusalem and its countryside.
  • Shed light on the cult history of Judah and Jerusalem, including the question whether a temple (to the God of Israel?) existed here in late-monarchic times in parallel to Jerusalem.
  • Discover the historical background of important biblical texts, such as the Ark Narrative.
  • Deploying cutting-edge archaeological methods and scientific techniques for the first time on a site the highlands.
  • Have an amazing summer experience in the Holy Land!