It may come as a surprise to some believers that scholars have long questioned, if not denied, the historicity of David and Solomon. Some scholars dispute the claim that David and Solomon ruled a strong, centralized monarchy in the 10th century B.C., arguing that the two were no more historical than King Arthur. For a select few, the two are nothing more than pious fiction invented by Hebrew scribes. The Bible’s lay critics also hold this view, claiming the entire book is an example of ancient mythology. However, high-profile archaeological discoveries are slowly beginning to overturn this popular misconception.
Israeli archaeologist Eliat Mazar believes she has found evidence of a strong, centralized government during the 10th century B.C. On February 22, 2010, the Israeli Web site for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announcing that Mazar had uncovered ancient architecture including a wall, a gatehouse, and a tower. The press release quotes Mazar as saying:
The city wall that has been uncovered testifies to a ruling presence. Its strength and form of construction indicate a high level of engineering.... A comparison of this latest finding with city walls and gates from the period of the First Temple, as well as pottery found at the site, enable us to postulate with a great degree of assurance that the wall that has been revealed is that which was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem in the latter part of the tenth century B.C.E. (“Jerusalem City Wall…,” 2010).
This construction is referenced in the Bible in 1 Kings 3:1, which indicates that Solomon built a wall around Jerusalem, in addition to the temple and a palace for himself.
Mazar is no stranger to making discoveries connecting the archaeological record with the Old Testament. In 2007 she found what appears to be a portion of Nehemiah’s wall. In 2005 she discovered what she identifies as the palace of King David, as well as a bulla (seal impression) of an official named Yehuchal ben Shelemayahu, who is mentioned twice in the book of Jeremiah (37:3; 38:1). Near the same location in 2008, Mazar found another bulla with the name of Gedaliah ben Pashchur, also mentioned by Jeremiah (38:1).
Mazar’s discoveries are not the first that point to the historicity of the United Kingdom. Scholars have long known of the Mesha Stele, also called the Moabite Stone, which mentions the “House of David.” More recently, in 1993 and 1994, Avraham Biran discovered three sections of a stele known as the Tel Dan Inscription, which also mentions the house of David. The phrase “house of X” was used to refer to foreign countries, often by the name of a famous or powerful ruler. In the cases of these two inscriptions, the “house of David” refers to the southern kingdom of Judah.
Just as Mazar’s discovery was being reported in the media, issues of Biblical Archaeology Review were reaching mailboxes all over the country. In the March-April issue, Hershel Shanks reported another discovery that serves as evidence of a powerful state under David and Solomon. In 2008, archaeologists found the earliest example of Hebrew writing to date at the border town of Khirbet Qeiyafa. The inscription reflects the language of the covenant, commanding the reader to worship the Lord, and to provide legal and economic protection for the disadvantaged of society, specifically citing slaves, widows, orphans, children, the poor, and strangers (resident aliens). This mirrors language in the Mosaic law, which commands the Israelites to protect the widow, the orphan, and the “stranger in the land.” Gershon Galli, professor in the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa and translator of the text, believes the inscription dates to the 10th century B.C. (Feldman, 2010).
Why is the text so important? Very few people in the ancient world could read or write. The fact that a scribe was stationed in an out-of-the-way border town shows that a bureaucracy existed that could train scribes and send them to isolated sections of the kingdom.
The Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription is not the only evidence of writing in isolated places in the kingdom. A variety of Hebrew inscriptions dating to the ninth and tenth centuries B.C. have been discovered in other isolated locations. The Gezer Calendar is a short document listing the details of the agricultural season. Because the inscription is not well executed, many scholars believe that it is a practice exercise written by a young scribe-in-training. If it is a school exercise, then it argues not only for the presence of scribes, but also for a system of scribal education, which could only be possible in an area with a centralized government.
Khirbet Qeiyafa has more evidence for a strong monarchy at the time of David and Solomon. It was a fortified town 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, only 6.5 miles from the Philistine city of Gath. Its defenses included a four-chambered city gate that stood 12 feet high and a massive wall composed of an estimated 200,000 tons of stone (Garfinkel and Ganor, 8:5). The fortifications of the town argue for a strong, centralized government in the 10th century B.C. because a rural settlement would not have had the resources to quarry and transport the massive amount of stone necessary for the construction of its defenses. Carbon-14 dating shows that the town was founded no earlier than c. 1000 B.C. and occupied no later than c. 920 B.C., when it was destroyed (Shanks, 2009).
These discoveries are a small part of the mounting evidence in favor of the Bible’s depiction of the United Monarchy. Mazar’s discovery argues for a strong, centralized government capable of carrying out significant building projects in Jerusalem. Khirbet Qeiyafa has only been excavated for two seasons, and may hold further secrets adding to the evidence of a monarchy capable of turning a border town into a powerful fort. As Shanks puts it: “if this was all present in the tenth century at the site of Khirbet Quiyafea, out in the boonies, just imagine what was happening in Jerusalem” (2010, 36:54). Indeed, these discoveries seem to indicate that David and Solomon were very busy putting together a mini-empire. Perhaps one day the critics will be able to overcome their hyper-skepticism and see the picture that the evidence is painting.
Feldman, Rachel (2010). “Most Ancient Hebrew Biblical Inscription Deciphered,” January 10, http://newmedia-eng.haifa.ac.il/?p=2043.
Garfinkel, Yosef and Saar Ganor (2008), “Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha’arayim,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, 8:2-10, http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/JHS/Articles/article_99.pdf.
“Jerusalem City Wall from 10th Century B.C.E. Uncovered” (2010), Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, February 22, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Israel+beyond+politics/Jerusalem_wall_10th_century_BCE_22-Feb-2010.htm.
Shanks, Hershel (2009), “Newly Discovered: A Fortified City from King David’s Time,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 35:38-43, January-February.
Shanks, Hershel (2010), “Prize Find: Oldest Hebrew Inscription Discovered in Israelite Fort on Philistine Border,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 36:51-54, March-April.
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