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King David and Archaeology

King David and Archaeology December 17, 2021

Is the Biblical King David Merely a Myth? Findings of the Latest Secular Archaeology & Historiography

King David: a Legendary and “Embellished” Figure Like King Arthur and Robin Hood?

The substantial historicity of the united monarchy of Judah (i.e., the reigns of Saul: c. 1037-c. 1010 BC, David: c. 1010-c. 970 BC, and Solomon: c. 970-c. 931 BC) was widely accepted in the middle years of the 20th century, even within secular archaeological circles. But by the 1990s, what is called archaeological or biblical “minimalism” became quite the fashionable view to take among a new generation of archaeologists who worked in Israel.

It was the high water mark of skepticism, and influenced and infused by a marked “anti-biblical” or “anti-traditional” or (shall we say?) “vehemently secular” spirit. Older “truths” were no longer accepted as established or given. Many archaeologists in the 1990s and continuing until the present time, held or hold a view similar to the following:

Nadav Na’aman, an authority on Jewish history . . . at Tel Aviv University, describes David’s story as “extraordinary fiction.” But he believes that it contains kernels of truth, preserved as the tale was passed down by oral tradition. (“In Search of King David’s Lost Empire”, Ruth Margalit, The New Yorker, 6-22-20)

In other words, David was regarded similarly to how King Arthur is viewed by most historians: a real person (not nonexistent), but vastly mythologized, to such an extent that the “kernel” of historical truth and fact have been mostly lost amidst the colorful and memorable legends built up around him. The late Philip R. Davies, Bible scholar at the University of Sheffield, confidently proclaimed this very thing, “I’m not the only scholar who suspects that the figure of King David is about as historical as King Arthur” (“‘House of David’ Built on Sand: The Sins of the Biblical Maximizers,” Bible Archaeology Report, 20:04, July/August, 1994, p. 55)

Ze’ev Herzog, archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, took an even more extreme view in a 1999 front-page story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, titled “The Bible: No Evidence on the Ground”:

Following seventy years of intensive excavations in the Land of Israel, archeologists have found out: The patriarchs’ acts are legendary, the Israelites did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, they did not conquer the land. Neither is there any mention of the empire of David and Solomon, nor of the source of belief in the God of Israel. These facts have been known for years, but Israelis are a stubborn people, and no one wants to hear it. (cited in Margalit, ibid.)

I submit that stubbornness and excessive dogmatism are traits not confined to Israelis and not (if I do say so) utterly unknown among minimalist archaeologists. Tom Meyer, a biblical scholar at Shasta Bible College in California, described this sort skepticism among scholars, who thought that King David

. . . never existed and was a figment of the imagination of a post-exilic Jewish community who, after returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity in the fifth century BC, invented King David as a national figure which the fledgeling nation could rally around as they rebuilt their country. (cited in “Archaeology news: ‘Incredible artefact testifies to the existence’ of Bible’s King David”, Sebastian Kettley, Express UK, 2-15-21)

Thomas L. Thompson, professor of Old Testament at the University of Copenhagen, and author of Early History of the Israelite People (1992), stated:

It is out of the question that Saul, David, and Solomon, as described as kings in the Bible, could have existed. I think the biblical accounts are wonderful stories, invented at the time when Jerusalem was part of the Persian Empire in the 5th Century BC. (cited in “Leading archaeologist says Old testament stories are fiction”, David Keys, Independent, 3-28-93)

God has a wonderful sense of humor, and it is often exhibited (or so it seems to me) in the particular timing of new archaeological findings that support the truthfulness and historical trustworthiness of the Bible.  In March 1993, all biblical scholars and archaeologists (minimalist and maximalist alike) agreed that there was no “concrete evidence” (such as in written monuments or documents) of the existence of King David outside of the Bible itself.

Tel Dan Stele

Then, lo and behold, in July 1993, just four months after the above article (hence, the humorous element), definitive evidence of this nature was found in Israel. Eric H. Cline, Chairman of the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literatures at George Washington University, told the story in his book, Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2009). A portion of it was adapted for an Internet article, “Did David and Solomon Exist?”, The Bible and Interpretation,  October 2009:

The first inscribed fragment of the Tel Dan Stele was found in [July] 1993 at the site of the same name, located in northern Israel near the modern Lebanese border and the headwaters of the Jordan River. The site has been continuously excavated since 1966 by teams led first by Avraham Biran and now by David Ilan of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. . . .

Two more fragments came to light the following summer, in [June] 1994, and the three fragments now form what is left of the Tel Dan Stele. It is possible that more will be found in the future.

As it is currently reconstructed, the inscription describes the defeat of both Joram, king of Israel, and Ahaziyahu, king of Judah, by a king of Aram-Damascus in the ninth century BCE. It reads in part:

Now the king of Israel entered formerly in the land in my father’s land; [but] Hadad made me myself king, and Hadad went in front of me; [and] I departed from [the] seven [ . . . ] of my kingdom; and I slew seve[nty ki]ngs, who harnessed thou[sands of cha]riots and thousands of horsemen. [And I killed Jo]ram, son of A[hab,] king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahazi]yahu, son of [Joram, kin]g of the House of David; and I set [their towns into ruins ? . . . the ci]ties of their land into de[solation ? . . . ] . . . other and to overturn all their cities ? . . . and Jehu] [ru]led over Is[rael . . . ] siege upon [ . . . ]

The finding of the inscription caused a major sensation and was published on the front page of the New York Times and in Time magazine. It continued to make news when Niels Peter Lemche, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and one of a group of scholars lumped together as “biblical minimalists” who were at the forefront of the debate on David and Solomon’s existence suggested that the inscription might be a forgery planted by the excavator, Avraham Biran. . . . Today, after much further discussion in academic journals, it is accepted by most archaeologists that the inscription is not only genuine but that the reference is indeed to the House of David, thus representing the first textual evidence found anywhere outside the Bible for the biblical David.

“House of David” is also biblical terminology (e.g., 1 Sam 20:16; 2 Sam 3:1-6; 1 Kgs 12:19-26; 2 Chr 10:19 and many other instances).

As for its dating, Wikipedia adds: “The language of the inscription is a dialect of Aramaic. Most scholars identify [King] Hazael of Damascus (c. 842 – 806 BCE) as the author, although his name is not mentioned. Other proposals regarding the author have been made: George Athas has argued for Hazael’s son Ben-Hadad III, which would date the inscription to around 796 BCE . . .”

Prominent Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, who regards himself as neither a minimalist nor a maximalist (somewhere in the middle of the spectrum), described the decisive importance of this find:

Much of the minimalist effort has been invested in the claim that David and Solomon . . . are not historical figures. They argued that, like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon are not mentioned in any extra-biblical texts, and should therefore be seen as legendary personalities. This argument suffered a major blow when the Tel Dan basalt stele was discovered in the mid-1990s. . . .

Moreover, it most probably specified the names of the two later kings — Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah — both of whom are mentioned in the biblical text. (The Quest for the Historical IsraelDebating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel, co-author Amihay Mazar, Society of Biblical Literature, 2007, p. 14)

Mesha Stele

There are plausible reasons for the seemingly puzzling scarcity of such archaeological evidence for King David, as described in my article, “Rarity of Non-Biblical Mentions of King David Explained”: drawing from the work of the eminent Egyptologist Kenneth A. Kitchen. But there is more. Arguably, a second mention of the “House of David” occurs in the Mesha Stele (c. 840 BC), connected with King Mesha of Moab, “written in a variant of the Phoenician alphabet, closely related to the Paleo-Hebrew script” (Wikipedia). It was discovered in August 1868 in Dibhan, Jordan, but re-interpreted in light of the Tel Dan Stele, so that many think it refers to “House of David” and also a possible second mention of David.

Opposing views existed, as always. According to Wikipedia:

In 2019, Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na’aman and Thomas Römer concluded, on the basis of high-resolution photographs of the squeeze, that the monarch mentioned is referred to by three consonants, beginning with ‘B’, and the most probable candidate is not David, but Balak, a biblical Moabite. [36][37][38]

French epigrapher, historian and philologist André Lemaire had actually suggested a reading of “House of David” in 1992, before Tel Dan Stele was discovered (see, “High-tech study of ancient stone suggests new proof of King David’s dynasty”, Amanda Borschel-Dan, The Times of Israel, 5-3-19). The same article noted how Michael Langlois, of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, used his own fancy hi-tech methods to discover something further:

After layering the images together, in a startling discovery, Langlois found a previously overlooked dot, which indicates a break between words throughout the entire tablet, as was customary among scribes at the time. The word-breaking dot, which is very clear under the new imaging, comes exactly after the area interpreted to read “House of David” and indicates a space after the final daled of David.

That rules out the Tel Aviv University [Finkelstein’s] paper’s proposed “vertical stroke,” said Langlois. No new sentence could start before the vav, since there are no Moabite words that are spelled only with a vav and final daled.

Langlois repeatedly stated to The Times of Israel that he is not trying to “prove the Bible.” However, he said, “from a purely historical standpoint, the most obvious solution is that there was a kingdom of David.”

“In my paper I’m not trying to discuss whether King David exists, just trying to read the stone, and my conclusion for line 31 is that the most likely reading is Beit David, which takes into account the traces of letters and the combination of them,” said Langlois. To read any other way, he said, is basically stating a refusal to believe in the possibility of a biblical King David.

Ronald Hendel, professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish studies at the University of California, Berkeley, “noted that Balak lived 200 years before David and, therefore, a reference to it would not make sense; Hendel also dismissed Finkelstein’s hypothesis as ‘nothing more than a guess’ ” (Wikipedia).

“Large Stone Structure” / King David’s Palace? / City of David

Many exciting, Bible-affirming discoveries have been occurring in the City of David portion of Jerusalem: the ancient portion of the city that dates back to King David and before: directly south of the Temple Mount. The late Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered in February 2005 what is called the Large Stone Structure, and what she believed to be the palace of King David. The Wikipedia article on this site describes the verifying discoveries made there:

The first of two notable written finds at the site is a bulla (seal) of a government official named Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi. This person seems to be mentioned (twice) in the Book of Jeremiah [37:3 and 38:1], and thus presumably lived in the late seventh or early sixth century BCE (i.e., at about the same time as Jeremiah).[2] The second bulla discovered at this site is that of another government official, Gedaliah, son of Pashhur, of that same time period, who also seems to be named in the Book of Jeremiah [38:1-4].[3]

. . . Artifacts found within the Large Stone Structure that support a possible tenth century BCE date include imported luxury goods, including two Phoenician-style ivory inlays, which were once attached to iron objects. . . . A quantity of luxury round, carinated bowls with red slip and hand burnishing support both the tenth century BCE date and a sophisticated and urban life-style.[6] A bone has been radiocarbon dated by Elisabetta Boaretto at the Weizmann Institute of Science, showing a probable date between 1050 and 780 BCE.[6] A large section of a “delicate and elegant” Black-on-Red jug, also found in the structure, is of a kind dated to the second half of the tenth century BCE.[7][8]

The Wikipedia article on Eilat Mazar details further corroborating discoveries:

In 2012, Mazar announced the discovery of inscription at the Ophel excavation. The Ophel inscription was made on a large storage jar, and only a piece of 8 letters has been preserved. Several readings were suggested, as well as several attributions, possibly to Jebusites or to Hebrews. It dates to 11th–10th century BCE.[12][13][14]

. . . In 2015, Mazar made the discovery of the royal bulla of the biblical Hezekiah, which reads “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah” and dates to between 727–698 BCE.[16][17] This was, according to Mazar, “the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archaeological excavation.”[18][19]

In 2018 Mazar published a report discussing the discovery of another bulla which she said may have belonged to Isaiah, a prophet and contemporary of Hezekiah. She believed the fragment to have been part of a seal whose complete text might have read “Belonging to Isaiah the prophet.”[20]

. . . Israel Finkelstein and other archaeologists from Tel Aviv University have flagged concern that, with reference to her 2006 dating of the “Solomonic city wall” in the area to the south of the Temple Mount known as the “Ophel“, “the biblical text dominates this field operation, not archaeology. Had it not been for Mazar’s literal reading of the biblical text, she never would have dated the remains to the 10th century BCE with such confidence.[23] Nevertheless, scholars now agree with Mazar’s dating of this structure.[24][25][26]

First Temple-Period Wall

Science News, reported that “Archaeologists Find Section of First Temple-Period Jerusalem’s City Wall” (7-15-21). The First Temple was built soon after David’s death during Solomon’s reign (c. 970-c. 931). The new find is on the eastern section of the City of David.

Tunnels and Shafts Under Jerusalem

Hezekiah’s Tunnel, or the Siloam Tunnel (which I walked through in October 2014), was designed to bring water from the Gihon Spring to Jerusalem during times of siege warfare, has long been widely accepted as dating to the time of King Hezekiah (r. c. 716-c. 686 BC). It is mentioned four times in the Bible (2 Kgs 20:20; 2 Chr 32:2-4, 30, and Is 22:11).

The famous Warren’s Shaft, a 13-meter high vertical natural karstic “chimney” under ancient Jerusalem discovered in 1867, has also been equated with the biblical “shaft” which was the means by which David’s soldiers captured the previous Jebusite city:

2 Samuel 5:7-9 (RSV) Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. [8] And David said on that day, “Whoever would smite the Jeb’usites, let him get up the water shaft . . .” . . . [9] And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built the city round about from the Millo inward. (cf. 1 Chr 11:5-8)

Khirbet Qeiyafa

Another very exciting support of the time-frame of David’s kingdom is Khirbet Qeiyafa, 20 miles west of Jerusalem on the top of a hill in the Elah Valley, overlooking the spot where the Bible reports that young David killed Goliath. I was privileged to visit it in 2014, and with the permission of our guide, we even “dug” on the (unoccupied) site a bit, and I found several specimens of possibly 3000-year-old pottery to bring home as souvenirs. Wikipedia reports:

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa began in 2007, directed by Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, [excavations continued every year till 2013] . . . Nearly 600 square metres (6,500 sq ft) of an Iron Age IIA city were unearthed. Based on pottery styles and two burned olive pits tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University, Garfinkel and Ganor have dated the site to 1050–970 BCE, . . .

Discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa are significant to the debate on archaeological evidence and historicity of the biblical account of the United Monarchy at the beginning of Iron Age II.[23] Garfinkel said in 2010 that the Qeiyafa excavations support the idea “that the kingdom of Judah existed already as a centrally organized state in the tenth century BCE”.[24][25][26] . . . Releasing the preliminary dig reports for the 2010 and 2011 digging seasons at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the Israel Antiquities Authority stated: “The excavations at Khirbat Qeiyafa clearly reveal an urban society that existed in Judah already in the late eleventh century BCE. It can no longer be argued that the Kingdom of Judah developed only in the late eighth century BCE or at some other later date.”[28]

The presence of two gates, and the location, caused Garfinkel and Ganor to identify the city with the biblical Shaaraim (“two gates” in Hebrew: Josh 15:35-36; 1 Sam 17:52; 1 Chr 4:31-32). Others have speculated that it is one of the following biblical cities: Azekah, (Josh 10:10-11; 15:20, 35), Neta’im (1 Chr 4:23), or Adithaim (Josh 15:36).

Garfinkel, Ganor, and Michael G. Hasel summed up the results of their excavation research in their book, In the Footsteps of King David: Revelations from an Ancient Biblical City (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2018):

The tens of thousands of animal bones found at Khirbet Qeiyafa . . . include bones of goats, sheep, and cows, but no pig bones [i.e., the inhabitants followed Mosaic dietary requirements: see, e.g., Lev 11:7]. (p. 47)

Cult paraphernalia found at Khirbet Qeiyafa includes standing stones, basalt altars, libation vessels, and temple models. The rich Canaanite or Philistine iconography, however, is unknown . . . It appears that the inhabitants of Khirbet Qeiyafa obeyed the commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4). (p. 48)

We obtained 17 different radiometric dates from olive pits . . ., which clearly indicate that the city had been destroyed no later than 980 to 970 BCE. . . . probably the best radiometric dating we have so far for any level in a biblical city. . . . Khirbet Qeiyafa can be dated to the time of David or Saul, but not to Solomon’s reign, which is later than the results obtained. (p. 95)

A potsherd, or “ostracon” of momentous significance was found at the site:

[T]he epigrapher, Haggai Misgav, determined that the language is Hebrew, making this the most ancient known Hebrew inscription. (p. 121)

A second inscription was also discovered during the 2012 excavations:

The inscription includes a personal name: Eshbaal, son of Beda. . . . the name Eshbaal is known from the Bible, but has never before appeared in an ancient inscription. All the occurrences of this name come from the 10th century BCE and are mostly connected with the reign of King David. . . .

In the Bible, Eshbaal was the second king of Israel, the son of King Saul and a rival of David (1 Chronicles 8:33). . . .

[I]t has been suggested that three other men bore the name Eshbaal, but that the Baal element was replaced and the final form became Jashobeam. These men all fought with David: one was one of his mighty warriors (1 Chronicles 11:11), another was the Korahite who joined David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:6), and he third was the head of David’s first division (1 Chronicles 27:2) . . .

In the following centuries, however, the personal name Eshbaal, or any other personal name including the element Baal, disappears form the biblical text . . . (pp. 124-126)

Tel ‘Eton / Eglon

Biblical Eglon is mentioned eight times in the Book of Joshua, during the period about two centuries before David. It is believed that Tel ‘Eton is a remnant of this city. It’s located 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) south of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which itself is 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) southwest of Jerusalem; and it’s 16 kilometers (10 miles) west of Hebron, which in turn is 28 kilometers or 18 miles south of Jerusalem. In ancient times, cities in the same political jurisdiction or “nation” if you will, were usually spaced no more than 18 miles from each other (within one long day’s walk).

These four locations: Jerusalem, Hebron, Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Eglon fit that pattern, and all existed during King David’s reign, suggesting indeed some sort of united “kingdom” of Judah (albeit a small one) under King David and his son and successor Solomon. Major Israeli newspapers announced this exciting find in 2018. Haaretz (Nir Hasson, “Did King David’s United Monarchy Exist? Naked Mole Rats Uncover Monumental Evidence”, 4-19-18) exclaimed:

Skeptics claim that no fortifications, public works or signs of statehood have been found in the region of Judah from the Davidic era. Now, claim Bar-Ilan University archaeologists excavating a monumental structure at Tel ‘Eton, near the Hebron hills in the central Israeli lowlands – they have.

They believe that structures dated to later times, may have actually originated earlier. The Bar-Ilan team argues that they found evidence of that very thing, with the help of a system they developed – mapping by mole rat.

Their work on rodent-assisted surveying was published in 2016 by the Cambridge University Press. . . .

Radiocarbon samples from a foundation deposit and olive pits and coal found on the floor indicate that the Tel ‘Eton house was first built in the late 11th century B.C.E. or the 10th century. . . .

The bottom line: Factoring in the monumental building in Tel ‘Eton and Khirbet Qeiyafa, far from Jerusalem, and the 10th-century B.C.E. fortification of towns like Beit Shemesh, and construction of new towns such as Lachish, Tel Zayit and Tel Burna – Faust thinks the 10th century B.C.E. kingdom in Jerusalem gradually expanded toward the lowlands, a buffer zone between the hilly kingdom and the powerful Philistines on the coastal plain.

The Times of Israel followed with its report on 5-14-18 (“Proof of King David? Not yet. But riveting site shores up roots of Israelite era”, Amanda Borschel-Dan):

The publication of results garnered from carbon-dating a few olive pits and charcoal uncovered in the foundations of a rare complete massive Israelite building that once towered over the hilltop. . . .

[T]he outline of the 225 meter squared structure is readily impressive, with its 750 kilo sophisticated chiseled “ashlar” cornerstones, to its skeletal, multi-room divisions that illustrate the practical uses of its stone-walled spaces. . . .

“The youngest possible date for the construction, . . . is 921 BCE, thus apparently ruling out any construction date which is later than the time of the United Monarchy (from the first half of the 10th century to around 930 BCE),” wrote [excavator Avraham] Faust and fellow Tel ‘Eton researcher Dr. Yair Sapir in the scholarly Radiocarbon journal. . . .

In a Bar-Ilan press release, Faust and Sapir clearly state, “the association with David is not based on direct archaeological evidence, but solely on circumstantial grounds.”

However, they add, “If someone thinks that there was no king by the name of David, we should find another name to call the highland king in whose time the region was incorporated into the highland kingdom.”

See the lengthy scholarly report from Faust and Sapir, published by Cambridge University Press / Radiocarbon on 13 March 2018: “The ‘Governor’s Residency’ at Tel ‘Eton, The United Monarchy, and the Impact of the Old-House Effect on Large-Scale Archaeological Reconstructions”.

Archaeological Verification of Cities Associated with David in the Bible

Another way to support biblical accuracy in general, and particularly with regard to King David, is to demonstrate from archaeology that cities associated with King David in the Bible, existed at the purported period of his life (c. 1040 BC-c. 970 BC). If they didn’t exist during his time, that would constitute a problem of biblical chronology or accuracy. If they did, it’s not proof of David, but it is consistent with the biblical report being accurate.

An inspired document, as Christians and Jews believe the Hebrew Bible is, would be historically trustworthy and exhibit many evidences that it’s not mere mythology or fiction or legend. The sort of argumentation I am presenting is not so much intending to prove that King David existed, as it is to disprove the alleged disproofs of his existence; “defeating the defeaters” so to speak. The two endeavors are logically and epistemologically distinct.

Ziklag Based on excavations from 2015-2019, researchers believe that a site near the present-day city of Kiryat Gat in southern Israel is the biblical Ziklag, where David found refuge from the paranoid King Saul, who was pursuing him (1 Chr 12:1; see other mentions). A Fox News article observed:

Some 12 other sites in Israel have been considered as the possible location of Ziklag, although experts note that none of the sites has a continuous Philistine settlement and a settlement from the time of King David. The site near Kiryat Gat [Khirbet al-Rai], however, meets both criteria. . . .

“Evidence of a settlement from the Philistine era has been found there, from the 12-11th centuries BC,” explain the researchers. “Spacious, massive stone structures have been uncovered containing finds typical of the Philistine civilization.” . . .

“Above the remains of the Philistine settlement was a rural settlement from the time of King David, from the early 10th century BC,” the researchers added. “This settlement came to an end in an intense fire that destroyed the buildings.” [see 1 Sam 30:1] (“Biblical city with links to King David discovered in southern Israel”, James Rogers, 7-9-19; see similar article in Haaretz, 7-8-19)

Bethsaida Rami Arav, associate professor at the University of Nebraska, discovered a city gate here [et Tell] from the time of David. The city had been founded in the 11th c. BC and was destroyed in 920 BC (about fifty years after David’s death). The Jerusalem Post reported that the gate likely dates from the time of the First Temple, built by Solomon (r. c. 970-c. 931)  when the city was known as Zer [Josh 19:35]. (See: “Ancient city gate from the time of King David discovered in Israel”, James Rogers, Fox News, 6-21-19).

Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (edited by Avraham Negev and Shimon Gibson, New York and London: Continuum, revised edition of 2001, “Bethsaida” (p. 81) concurs: “A substantial settlement existed at the site in Iron Age II [1000 to 920, when it was destroyed] . . .”

Bethlehem This was David’s home town (1 Sam 17:12, 15, 58; 20:6), where he was anointed by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16:1-13). Negev and Gibson (ibid., “Bethlehem (a)”, 79-80) state: “The archaeological record at present shows the earliest settlement existed amid the fertile fields of Bait [or Beit] Sahur on the lower ground half a mile to the east, where remains of all periods from the Chalcolithic to the Iron Age have been found. Perhaps ancient Bethlehem was located there.”

Wikipedia informs us that “The earliest known mention of Bethlehem was in the Amarna correspondence of 1350–1330 BCE when the town was inhabited by the Canaanites.” Jacob’s wife Rachel [18th c. BC] was buried there (Gen 35:19; 48:7), and in the book of Ruth, set during the time of the judges (c. 1200-c. 1037), it’s mentioned seven times; five of them in the first chapter.

Gath Archaeological consensus seems to place this city at Tel es-Safi, between Ashkalon and  Beth Shemesh. In the Bible, it is said to be the hometown of Goliath (1 Sam 17:23), and where the Philistines ran and were slain, after Goliath’s death (1 Sam 17:52; cf. 2 Sam 1:20). Negev and Gibson (ibid., “Safi”, p. 445), inform us that “Excavations have uncovered explicit stratigraphic evidence of  the LB, Iron I and Iron II [1000-586 BC].”

Ashkelon It’s mentioned in the Bible at the time of Saul’s death and David’s ascension to the throne (2 Sam 1:20), and three times in the earlier books of Joshua and Judges. Negev and Gibson (ibid., “Ashkelon”, p. 58) state that “Philistine remains . . . were uncovered dating from 1100 BC” and that it wasn’t destroyed until “604 BC”: so it was present during David’s life dates.

Ekron This is also mentioned as a place where the Philistines fled in terror after Goliath’s defeat at the hands of David (1 Sam 17:52), so it would have to, of course, be there at the time (c. 1024 BC) for the Bible to be accurate. It is believed to be Tel Miqne. Negev and Gibson (ibid., “Miqne”, pp. 339-340) verify that “Stratum V”: discovered during the thirteen seasons of excavations between 1981 and 1996 is dated “the first half of the 11th century BC” [1100-1050]. Stratum IV was destroyed “in the first quarter of the 10th century BC” [1000-975 BC].

This means that it was  occupied when David killed Goliath but no longer was when David was 40-65 years old and reigning as king. Thus, the Bible doesn’t mention it as an existing city during this latter period. It was mentioned again by the prophet Jeremiah [c. 650-c. 570 BC] as fit for judgment (Jer 25:15-17, 20). Sure enough, Negev and Gibson note that it revived at “the beginning of the 7th century BC” but was again destroyed “at the end of the 7th century BC”: in other words after Jeremiah’s birthdate, so that his prophecy of doom is seen to be accurate.

The same prophecy was applied to Ashkelon, and we saw above that it was annihilated at the same time (604 BC). The “remnant of Ashdod” (Jer 25:20 “prospered until the Hasmonean Revolt [167-160 BC]. During the rebellion Judas Maccabeus ‘took it, and laid it waste’ (Antiquities of the Jews Book 12, 8:6) His brother Jonathan conquered it again in 147 BCE and destroyed the temple of Dagon of biblical fame (Antiquities Book 13, 4:4; 1 Samuel 5:1-5).” [Wikipedia, “Ashdod”]. These events qualify as a divine judgment according to biblical criteria, and we can also conclude (as Christians who believe in God and the supernatural) that Jeremiah gave accurate prophecies concerning divine wrath.

Gibeah Saul is mentioned as being there while David was still seeking to evade his wrath (1 Sam 22:6). Archaeologists identify it as Tell el-Ful, which is well-attested as having existed during Saul’s and David’s time. Negev and Gibson (ibid., “Ful”, p. 184) noted that “the remains of a tower-like structure” was “identified by the excavators as the Citadel of Saul . . . The pottery from the earliest phase of this tower is typical of the 11th-10th centuries BC.” Saul reigned here for 22 years, according to the Bible (1 Samuel, chapters 8-31).

Gibeon mentioned in conjunction with David seven times in 2 Samuel 2, 3, 20, and 21. Negev and Gibson (ibid., “Gibeon”, p. 200) state that “except for some traces of settlement in the Late Bronze Age  all the remains on the site are from the Iron Age and later periods.” In other words, again, archaeology verifies the Bible’s chronology, including the time of David. There is indeed a (fully excavated) large “pool” there (2 Sam 2:13), which is “37 feet in diameter and 82 feet deep.”

Hebron David reigned in Hebron during his first seven years as king of Judah (c. 1010-1003 BC; 2 Sam 2:11; 5:1, 3-4; 1 Kgs 2:11; 1 Chr 11:1, 3; 12:23, 38). Leibel Reznick, in his article, “Did Hebron Disappear?” notes the skepticism of many “noted historians and archaeologists . . . [who] boldly claimed that Hebron was . . . uninhabited during Early Iron age (1250-1000 BCE), . . .” He contends that this cynicism is unwarranted, and based on “six serious blunders.” These are too detailed to examine, but the link to the article may be followed for those who wish to pursue the discussion in depth.

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Photo credit: Jastrow (2006). Statue of King David (1609–1612) by Nicolas Cordier (1567-1612) in the Borghese Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, Italy [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: All you ever wanted to know about the “status” of King David according to present-day archaeology is compiled in one convenient and comprehensive article.


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