From  the  book  by  the  same  name

King David

Mythical Figure or Famous Monarch?

... the greatest leaders of ancient Israel— David and Solomon ...we rarely view this very real light. They are claimed as part of the heritage of three major faiths. The age in which they governed held profound consequences for the future. Yet somehow they have been seen unidimensionally within the restricted confines of institutionalized "sacredness," which has tended to strip them of whatever mortality and humanity they surely possessed. David and Solomon were real men—not myths or legends—1

—Jerry M. Landay

The person of King David looms large on the pages of both the Old and New Testaments, being mentioned some 1,048 times. In the Old Testament he is the primary subject of 62 chapters and the author of 73 psalms. In the New Testament he figures prominently on both sides of Jesus' genealogy and in the place of His birth (Matthew 1:1,6,17,20; Luke 2:4,11; 3:31), for "the Christ is David's son" (Luke 20:41), who will inherit "the throne of His father David" (Luke 1:32). And recently, based on the historical conquests of King David, Jerusalem celebrated the 3,000th anniversary of his capture of their city from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5:7-25).

With such an emphasis on David in the Scriptures, it may come as a surprise to many to learn that until recently all books dealing with the history of the Holy Land had to admit that no trace of David had ever appeared in the archaeological record. Typical was this statement from one of the leading authorities in biblical archaeology, Dame Kathleen Kenyon—words uttered just ten years ago:

To many people it seems remarkable that David and Solomon still remain unknown outside the Old Testament or literary sources derived directly from it. No extra-Biblical inscription, either from Palestine or from a neighboring country, has yet been found to contain a reference to them.2

The Myth of King David

This lack of evidence led many critical scholars to doubt that a historical David had ever existed. Historical revisionists (or mnimalists) argued that the "David Myth" had been a literary invention drawn from various heroic traditions to explain the formation of Israel's monarchy. In one development of this myth, according to the critics, a priestly school surrounding the Temple had sought a theological basis for their own concept of divine government. This was the concept of an ideal king (David) set against an imperfect king (Saul). According to the critics, Saul, of course, did not exist either, but served with David as contrasting theological models of man's choice (Saul) versus God's choice (David). Even so, David's frequent follies showed the superiority of a theocracy (rule by God) over a monarchy (rule by man). Without material evidence to help

clothe these figures in flesh, they remained to many people nothing more than inspiring storybook characters.

Why Can't We Find More?

People are often puzzled as to why so little has been recovered from the earliest period of the monarchy—-the times of Saul, David, and Solomon. One major reason for the lack of evidence may simply be that so little has actually been excavated in the areas related to their reigns. Israel is one gigantic tel, and in places like Hebron and Jerusalem, where the most evidence for this period would be expected, competing religious claims and political unrest make access to some of the most promising sites virtually impossible to archaeologists.

In those areas which have been excavated, there are other reasons for the scarcity of material remains. First, in terms of architecture, later buildings often have eclipsed earlier structures, leaving little of the original to be found. For instance, at the lowest level of the excavations at the southern wall of the Temple Mount, archaeologists have uncovered only a small section of a building that is datable to the time of Solomon. In general, thousands of years of later occupations cover most of the site. Second, in terms of finding monumental reliefs and sculptures, other cultures of this time period left such evidence, but the biblical command against the making of graven images generally eliminated this possibility in Israel.

But what about written records? We have the Bible; aren't there other writings from the biblical period? One reason few written records are found is because the Israelites, in contrast to their neighbors, wrote most of their court documents and other records on scrolls of perishable papyrus. Papyrus was both more efficient and less costly than other forms of writing material. In addition, it represented a more advanced way of communication for a literate society such as biblical Israel. In the Bible, we find evidence for the use of papyrus from the end of the Monarchy period; for example, we read that the prophet Jeremiah wrote his prophecies on papyrus scrolls (Jeremiah 36:2).

The Bible also notes how easily such writing could be destroyed; for example, King Jehoiakim took Jeremiah's scrolls and cut them up and burned them (Jeremiah 36:23).

Finds from the First Temple Period

Despite these considerations of the scarcity of material remains, on occasion exceptions to the rule are discovered. One exception to the law against graven images was an Iron Age ostracon from Ramat Rachel, which bore a painted figure sitting on a throne. Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay has proposed that this might be a picture of the Judean king Hezekiah.

Also, while papyri documents are perishable, the seals which were once attached to these documents still remain: Excavations in the City of David have unearthed numbers of these clay seals (or bullae) in the ruins of houses that were burned by the invading Babylonian army at the close of the First Temple period. In addition, there are outstanding examples of more durable inscriptions from the beginning of the Monarchy and the First Temple period. The Bible notes that prophets of this era sometimes wrote on wood or metal (Isaiah 8:1; Ezekiel 37:16). At Deir Allah, located in the Jordan Valley, amid-eighth century Aramaic inscription mentioning the biblical prophet Balaam (Numbers 22-24) was discovered written in red and black ink on plaster.3 Hebrew inscriptions on stone include the Gezer Calendar (tenth century B.C.), and eighth century B.C. inscriptions such as the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, the Royal Steward Inscription, and the clay ostraca from Samaria, Arad, and Lachish. There are also significant finds inscribed on metal or ivory, such as the seventh-century B.C. silver scrolls from Ketef Hinnom and an ivory pomegranate scepter head. The silver scrolls preserve the earliest known biblical text (from the book of Numbers) and indicate that the biblical text was probably written down soon after the events it describes. According to the inscription on the scepter head, it most likely once belonged to a priest who officiated in the First Temple.

These discoveries, though scant, show the kinds of finds that may be expected and indicate that more is certainly there to be found. The most promising location for such evidence is a ridge south of the present-day Temple Mount in Jerusalem. On this nine-acre site, David's Jerusalem had its start alongside the already 2,000-year-old Canaanite/Jebusite city. Still called 'Ir David ("David's City"), excavations by Kathleen Kenyon and Israeli archaeologist Yigael Shiloh have pinpointed structures probably, mentioned by David, such as a 50-foot-high stack of rocks called the Stone-Stepped Structure, which might be the biblical Millo, upon which David may have built his Fortress of Zion (2 Samuel 5:9). The oldest known element at the site, a water system known as Warren's Shaft, is believed to have been used by David's general Joab to capture the Jebusite city (2 Samuel 5:6-9; 1 Chronicles ll:4-7).4 And in the summer of 1997, Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich uncovered in the southern area of David's City an immense stone structure thought to be a defensive tower. In addition, archaeologist Eilat Mazar, who directed excavations of the Ophel (an area between the Temple Mount and David's City), believes that David's royal palace lies waiting to be discovered just south of the Ophel (and north of the Stone-Stepped Structure).5 The area, once off limits because of Arab orchards planted there, is now accessible to excavators. Perhaps in the near future direct evidence of David's presence will be unearthed here for all to see.

An Unexpected Find

A Key Inscription

Despite the excavations that have revealed an established Israelite presence in the Holy Land near the time of David-— and have even uncovered structures in the City of David related to his time—critics continued to hold fast to the David Myth because no specific mention of David had ever surfaced in such excavations. However, these critics were forced to reconsider their opinions based on new evidence that was unearthed in 1993. The challenge to these revisionists came from a nearly 3,000-year-old monumental inscription (stele) written on black basalt by one of Israel's foreign enemies. Discovered at the northern Israelite site of Tel Dan, this startling inscription includes the words "House of David."

The archaeologist who made this discovery is Professor Avraham Biran, director of the Nelson Glueck School of Bib-heal Archaeology of the Hebrew Union College. The House of David Stele crowned 27 years of archaeological discoveries at Tel Dan, the site in northern Israel where the stele was found. When I visited Professor Biran recently at his office at the Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem, we visited the Skirball Museum (located adjacent to his office), where many of his discoveries at Tel Dan are housed. Holding a replica of the House of David Stele, now enlarged with new pieces unearthed in 1994, he remarked on its contents and its contribution to biblical history:

In a wall constructed somewhere around the end of the ninth to the beginning of the eighth century B.C. we

31. The Tel Dan Stele. The words "House of David" are on the third line from the top, beginning with the second character (reading right to left).

found a fragment inscribed in Aramaic. Its lines speak of warfare between the Israelites and the Arameans, which from the Bible we know was constant between Israel and Damascus [during this period]. In this fragment a king of Damascus, Ben Hadad, is apparently victorious. He has killed someone and taken prisoners and horsemen— But what was really thrilling was to find that he defeated a "king of Israel of the House of David"! So here you have the mention of the "House of David" in an Aramean inscription dated... about 150 years after the days of King David. The following year in another scene of excavation we found two more pieces and these two pieces link to the first one and give us the names of these kings. The king of Israel that is referred to is "Jehoram"... who is the son of Ahab. The king of the House of David [Judah] is "Ahaziahu" [Ahaziah], who is also mentioned in the Bible the exciting thing here is that you have a historical stele referring to historical events of which the
Bible speaks at great lengths [2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:6-10].6

Professor Biran has more precisely dated the inscription to the time of the Aramean usurper Hazael, whom he believes authored the inscription. Hazael's entire reign was characterized by war with Israel, and he went down in biblical history as one of the Israelites' most brutal enemies (2 Kings 8:7-15). Told by the prophet Elisha that he would be king, he murdered the king of Aram, Hadadizr, and reigned between 842-800 B.C. After he ascended the throne, he immediately went to war against Israel, Judah, and Philistia. The biblical record indicates that he decimated Israel's army and turned both it and Philistia into vassal (subservient) states (2 Kings 10:32-33; 12:17). Judah also seems to have shared this same fate (2 Kings 12:17-18). Professor Biran thinks that the House of David Stele was erected as a memorial to these deeds, and was probably written in the latter part of Hazael's reign. The line that contains the reference to the House of David (line 9) is in the context of the slaying of the Israelite and Judean kings. These lines (7b-9), after reconstruction, read: "I killed Jehoram son of Ahab king of Israel and I killed Ahaziahu son of Jehoram king of the House of David."

What Does the Inscription Imply?

The term House of David is a dynastic title implying that if there was a "House of David" there must have been a David. As expected, biblical minimalists have countered that the discovery of the epithet Beth-David ("House of David") means nothing more than that a name was drawn out of Israelite story traditions and used as divine titles often were for places like Beth-el ("house of God"). In this sense, one historical revisionist contends that Beth-David is an "eponymic reference to Yahweh as Godfather." He writes:

... the place name bytdwd ["House of David"] hardly refers to a historical David, but much more likely to a temple dedicated to the divine epithet dwd, the historically known epithet of Yahweh, and the hero of biblical narratives seems to be rather derivative of the familial associations implicit in the form of this place name and its associations with the monarchy in Jerusalem.7     

This view has been supported by the argument that a word divider (usually a dot written in between words to show they are separate) is absent in the letters bytdwd.

However, a number of epigraphists have defended the reference to a historical David,8 including Anson Rainey of Israel and Alan Millard of England, both experts in ancient Aramaic inscriptions. They have demonstrated that there are examples of compound words or names where the word divider is absent.9 In addition, Wheaton College archaeologist professor James Hoffmeier has pointed out that reading bytdwd as a place name is completely unattested in the Bible or any cognate literature from the ancient Near East.10 On the other hand, the reading "House of David" as a title dependent on the historic founder of the line, the Judean King David, appears more than 20 times in

32. The Mesha Inscription, which French scholar Andre LeMaire believes has the line "House of David."

the Old Testament (see, for example, 1 Kings 12:19; 14:8; Isaiah 7:2; and so on).

Recently, the French scholar Andre LeMaire has added new support to an identification of the Tel Dan Inscription with the historic King David. He has identified the reading of the name David in a formerly unreadable line, "House of D...," on the Mesha Stele (or Moabite Stone). If this proves to be the case after scrutiny by other scholars, it will serve as a second example of the phrase "House of David."11 However, even if the name of "David" were not on this ninth-century B.C. memorial inscription from Moab, like the Tel Dan Stele, it also contains other biblical names, such as Omri (1 Kings 16:28). In fact, scholars have not doubted the historicity of Omri simply because he is listed in the Mesha Inscription. If this is so, then why should the historicity of David be doubted if his name appears in an epithet in the Tel Dan Stele? Furthermore, the epithets "the land of Omri" and "the house of Omri" have been found in Assyrian texts.12 If the Assyrians could specify states by the name of a dynasty's founder, regardless of who was currently in power, could not the Arameans? In this regard, the Aramean "House of David" Stele implies that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah during this period were, as the Bible describes, a formidable threat both politically and militarily to the surrounding nations. Revisionists, however, have thought that Israel and Judah were insignificant city-states. But would a dominant foreign power such as Syria have erected a monument commemorating the defeat of unimportant enemies?

In addition, we know that the Mesha Stele also has the term "son of Ahab." Why would the reference to Omri's son Ahab be considered factual while the line about David is thought to be fictional?13 In other words, if there was a King Ahab as dynastic head, then why not a King David? The reason, of course, is that while extrabiblical evidence has existed for a King Ahab, none has previously existed for a King David. As Dr. Jack Sasson— professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—once noted, "No personality in the Bible has been confirmed by other sources until Ahab; not David or Abraham or Adam and Eve."14

If the Tel Dan Stele was accepted as having a legitimate reference to a historic King David, then the revisionist might have to revise his perspective and reconsider the presuppositions that prejudice his interpretation of the biblical text.

Was David Real?

Some scholars are willing to concede that the Tel Dan and Mesha Steles make it plausible that a real figure named David existed, yet they still insist that much of what is recorded in the Bible about David is totally fictional. But, the events ascribed to David in the Bible make more sense if David is assumed to be a real person. While a critic may claim that David's heroic conquest of a giant is mere fiction, there is nothing quite so contemporary as a politician caught in adultery and cover-up (see 2 Samuel 11)! Yet; both aspects of David's life are described with an equal sense of reality. There is, in fact, nothing about David that does not ring true to normal human experience. His devotion and his desires are portrayed in conflict, just as in the best of men. When his passion for God seems too saintly (for example, Psalm 23, 42), we are quickly reminded by his other passions that he is indeed a sinner (Psalms 32, 51). Lust, laziness, infidelity, murder, pride, fear, family feuds, marital failure—all of these are part of the history of this king. Such unidealistic elements are not usually painted into the portraits of myths and legends, and certainly not those intentionally designed to be national ideals and messianic progenitors. Therefore, the finding of a historical acknowledgment of the "House of David"-—-reported by an Israelite foe with no respect for Israelite traditions-—-adds material support to a literary account that already appears historically credible. Archaeologist Bryant Wood summarizes this proper understanding of the importance of the House of David Stele when he says:

In our day, most scholars, archaeologists and biblical scholars would take a very critical view of the historical accuracy of many of the accounts in the Bible, particularly the early books of the Bible. Most scholars today would say that anything prior to the kingdom period is simply folk stories and myths, and here is where biblical archaeology can play a very important role because in the field of archaeology, we can come up with new evidence and new data to help us understand these biblical accounts. Many times the newer discoveries of archaeology have overturned older critical views of the Bible. Many scholars have said there never was a David or a Solomon, and now we have a stele that actually mentions David.15

At present more of the stele is still missing than has been found. Apparently the returning Israelite king who had reconquered Dan destroyed his enemy's "victory stele" and used the stone as building blocks. The majority of these stones may still remain buried somewhere at the entrance to the ancient city. Perhaps archaeologists will soon discover and bring together these lost pieces of the puzzle and complete for us the whole picture. Until then, the small fragments we do have are sufficient to caution the historical revisionists against mythologizing biblical characters such as David. Rather, the historical reality of David encourages us to emulate the example set by this king of old—who though imperfect always returned to a perfect God; therefore, like him, we ought to live as those who are "after [God's] own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14).




Keith Hunt