This post is a continuation of our Top Ten Biblical Discoveries in Archaeology series. To see the complete series please click here.
The Great Kings of Israel
Without question the two greatest kings of Israel were David and Solomon. The Bible is full of rich stories recounting these two remarkable lives.
David burst onto the scene as a small boy who could play a musical instrument beautifully enough to calm the nerves of his king. The larger than life prophet Samuel secretly anoints David as the new king to replace the unfaithful King Saul. As a young man David shows fierce courage. He steps up, while all the men of the nation cower, and cuts the head off the giant Goliath. David then goes on to eventually become the greatest King of Israel. He is a poet, a warrior, a musician, a leader, a lover and so much more. David had substantial flaws but through it all God deemed him a man after His own heart. His influence is still felt today with the modern nation of Israel using the “Star of David” as their national emblem.
Solomon, additionally, is cloaked in his own greatness. Rarely can a son follow in the footsteps of a famous father. Solomon reaches iconic status through God offering him a unique opportunity, one wish. What is Solomon’s wish? Solomon famously asks not for riches but for wisdom. God, surprised by Solomon’s wish, makes him the wisest man who has ever lived. As an added bonus God goes ahead and makes him rich as well. Solomon’s wealth, influence and wisdom are without rival. These men are famous and contribute a considerable portion of Scripture (traditionally Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon).
The Great Silence
We have two great kings; we also have a great silence. Outside of the Bible there has been absolutely no evidence David or Solomon ever existed. David and Solomon are portrayed in the Bible as international players. Solomon is married to an Egyptian princess, the Queen of Sheba comes to visit and learn from Solomon, David conquers kingdoms, yet nothing has been discovered from any country with any hint to their existence.
You can imagine the doubts this has developed in the scholarly world. Many scholars postulate the nation of Israel was nothing more than the equivalent of a backwoods hick town at the supposed time of David and Solomon. The Bible, it is thought, grossly exaggerates the influence of these kings (who may or may not have lived) in order to create some sort of false national pride to a much later generation. Are these fabricated stories? The archaeological record appears to support this view due to the shocking lack of any mention of their names.
For years millions of people trusted the biblical account of David and Solomon without any archaeological support, then came 1994.
In 1994 archaeologists were digging in northern Israel at the ancient city of Dan. The area surrounding Dan is one of the most beautiful parts of Israel. The excavation had come across some interesting elements but nothing which would rock the archaeological world until a member of the team made an unlikely discovery.
The city gate was being excavated. Most of the gate was constructed with typical building materials of the time, but three of the stones holding the gate together held a history much more interesting than their neighboring stones. These three stone fragments were found covered with ancient writing. The largest stone fragment measured 32x22cm. Of the original writing 13 lines of text are partially preserved. The writing was found to be ancient Aramaic, dating to the mid-800’s BC.
What did the writing say? Interestingly, the stone slab is a form of ancient propaganda. An Aramaean king, most likely Hazael of Damascus, conquered the Israelite city of Dan sometime in the 840s BC. After he defeated the city he evidently erected this inscription in a public place to let everyone know he was now in control of the city. We know from the Bible Jehoram, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, king of Judah, were both defeated by Hazael (2 Kings 8:7-15, 28; 9:24-29; 2 Chronicles 22:5).
In the inscription the Aramaean king claims to have killed the kings of both Israel (Joram) and Judah (Ahaziah) in the course of his southern conquests. Interestingly, this parallels an account of the murders of Joram and Ahaziah in 2 Kings 9, but in the Hebrew Bible’s account it is Jehu who kills the two kings in a bloody coup and seizes the throne of Israel for himself! So we have a strange historical challenge in which each names a different murderer.
This inscription is fascinating on many levels, but what makes it the #2 biblical discovery in archaeology is the way one of the kings is described. The Aramaean king refers to the kingdom of Judah by its dynastic name, a name frequently used in the Hebrew Bible as well: the House of David. This not only indicates that the family of David still sat on the throne of Jerusalem, but this inscription represents the oldest textual reference to the historical King David ever discovered!
The House of David inscription is significant on many levels. First, contrary to all of the ink spilled touting the silence of David and Solomon from the extra-biblical record there is now proof of a historical king of Israel named David. Second, an Aramaean king would not brag about killing a king who was the relative of a guy who led a backwoods hick town. In order for Hazael to brag about killing a king descending from the House of David, David must have been a well-known and influential king even 150 years after his death. Third, after Hazael was eventually defeated it looks like the inhabitants of Dan tore down the inscription, broke it up into pieces and reused the stone fragments to construct their new outer gate showing their disdain for the inscription and love for their historically rich country.
The Tel Dan inscription is amazing. It is made more amazing by the decades of ridicule which surrounded the silence of David and Solomon from the historical record. That silence was broken in such a recent and surprising way through this small 13-line Aramaic inscription. What do you think?
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