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Extrabiblical Evidence for King David

McKenzie, Steven L. King David: A Biography. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

The first part of King David attempts to answer two questions: 1) “Do sources outside of the Bible indicate that David really existed?” and 2) “How may the Bible be used to reconstruct David’s life?” (10).  Although one might surmise that someone as famous and powerful as King David would be greatly attested in the “thousands of ancient documents from hundreds of sites throughout the Middle East” that have been excavated in last two centuries, the truth is that “there is little concrete information about David outside of the Bible” (10).  To be fair, however, the time period in which our author places the rule of the Davidic Kingdom (ca. 1000 B.C.E.) is known as a “dark age” because there is relatively few records from this period of Mesopotamian history than for other historical time periods (10).  “The relative paucity of documents from this period may help to explain why no mention of David was found for such a long time” (11).

Before the summer of 1993 scholars could claim there was not a shred of historical evidence for the historical David outside the Bible.  However, this is no longer true.  Three artifacts have since been discovered that appear to confirm the historicity of King David: 1) the Tel Dan Stele, 2) The Mesha Stele (11-18), and 3) The Shoshenq Relief.  The Tel Dan Stele is simply an inscribed monument (or “stele”) found in the ancient ruins of the city of Dan in northern Israel.  This monument was crafted from a very expensive stone and “was most likely the work of a king,” “clear and elegantly inscribed” (11).  Thought to have been erected by an Aramaic King in ancient Syria sometime before 800 B.C.E., the monument makes reference to “Jehoram son of Ahab, King of Israel” and “Ahaziahu son of Jehoram, king of the House of David” (12).  Both Kings are biblically attested (2 Kgs 9-10) and the language of the “House of David” also parallels the biblical language about the Davidic Kingdom (1 Sam 20:16; 2 Sam 3:1, 6, 1 Kgs 12:19, 26, 2 Kgs 17:21; 2 Chr 10:19; 21:7; Neh 12:37; Ps 122:5; Is 7:2, 13; 16:5; 22:2; Jer 21:12; Zech 12:7-12; 13:1).

The Mesha Stele was a Moabite Stone found in 1868 among the ruins of Dibon (the ancient capital of Moab) that also makes mention of “the house [of Da]vid.”  Even though this monument is “less certain” than the Tel Dan Stele because it is broken and the full phrase is only partially visible, it apparently “would refer to the nation of Judah or its royal family” (14).  The Mesha stele and the Tel Dan inscription together “seem to accord with the Bible’s depiction of David as the founder of the nation and dynasty of Judah—‘the house of David’” (15).

The third discovery known as the Shoshenq Relief hails Pharaoh Shoshenq’s raid into Palestine in 925 B.C.E. in a carving on the temple of Amun in Thebes.  In the context of a list of places that Shosenq claims to have captured in southern Judah and the Negev (the stronghold of the Davidic Kingdom) a phrase appears that the British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen renders “highland/heights of David” (15).  The reference in this third piece of historical evidence is more disputable and may not refer to King David at all, though some have understood it that way.  In light of the three aforementioned discoveries, the claim that there is no certain reference to David in history is a distortion of the facts (16).  In addition to these inscriptions, there are also archeological sites that are possibly linked to David (17).  This leads the author to conclude:

Archaeology has not yet proved David’s historical existence.  But it has not disproved it either.  The evidence is interpreted differently by different people.  The assumption that David was a real person remains a viable and defensible one.  The references to his name in inscriptions add some weight to this assumption, as do the “Solomonic” cities (23).

:::::::::::::::::::::::::

“Archaeologists have sometimes said that the evidence would force them to invent the figures of David and Solomon if the Bible did not give their names.”

- McKenzie (19)

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10 Comments

  1. anon says:

    Archaeologists [oh, yeah - which ones, Israeli?] have sometimes [what not always, just after a few beers?] said that the evidence [what evidence? this article sites three pieces in total] would force them to invent the figures of David and Solomon if the Bible did not give their names. [now you're just being silly]

    Also, one should be suspicious about such ‘evidence’ considering:

    a) The political forces driving such Archaeology, vis a vis the Palestinian situation and the legitimacy of land theft.

    b) The huge number of proven fakes that have been produced as the ‘new evidence’ of the vast and all powerful Israeli empire.

  2. theophilogue says:

    Anon,

    Thanks for giving a voice to radical skepticism. Your questioning McKenzie’s ideas are very welcome here. I only have a few thoughts about your comments:

    1) I am summarizing McKenzie’s book, not my own thoughts, thus your evaluation of my post is really an evaluation of McKenzie’s analysis

    2) the most recent of McKenzie’s cited archeological discoveries was 16 years ago; these artifacts still haven’t been demonstrated as “proven fakes”

    3) given point 2, the fact that today’s archeologists have the tools to know the difference between ancient artifacts and fakes (as your point b takes for granted) works against your assumption that McKenzie’s cited evidence is “fake,” since modern tools of analysis have failed to produce any signs of fraudulence

    4) “evidence” does not mean “proof,” just empirical data that must be interpreted; you can interpret the Tel Dan Stele, The Mesha Stele and The Shoshenq Relief as “fake” if you so desire, but it would be against the scholarly consensus of non-Israeli archeologist’s and historians, as well as against failures to prove these artifacts as fraudulent

    5) what would be the qualifications, by your standards, for considering a “discovery” genuine?

    Thanks,

    Bradley

  3. Jason says:

    fantastic! great article. I was just google searching “extra-biblical evidence for king david” and came across this.

  4. theophilogue says:

    Thanks Jason. I’m glad you found it helpful.

  5. Isaac Haskiya says:

    Anon and others sceptics fixated in saying “No” to everything. I´ve got an answer for yous! 4000 heavy ones, my main battle tanks, that say that David Hamelekh has existed. You want to question that just bring it on!Land theft you say? Watch your tongue, buddy. I have the courage of signing my comment with my real name. You don´t! Anôn means a small donkey in French. So hi-ha to you! By the way, Doctor Eilat Mazal says hello to you too!

  6. Isaac Haskiya says:

    Theophilogue,
    In my spontaneous wrath I forgot to thank you for the three extra-biblical pieces of evidence. I am a Jew and an Israeli and I do not like people taking liberties with the honour of my nation. States are established on conquered territory; that´s the truth.
    The rest is commentary. All the best.
    Yitzhak Hizkiya (as the King!)

  7. Linda says:

    Regarding theophilogue’s post: “…3) given point 2, the fact that today’s archeologists have the tools to know the difference between ancient artifacts and fakes…” all I have to say is this:
    How long did it take archeologists to figure out that the Piltdown man was a fake?
    This question renders your point 3 invalid.

  8. Linda,

    Thanks for raising the concern. The Piltdown man was exposed in 1953 by microscopic technology, which revealed file markings on the teeth. We are now in the year 2014 with more advanced technology. That doesn’t invalidate my point; it bolsters my point.

    Any thoughts?

    Bradley

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