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David and Solomon

Modern archaeology has shown that the story of the United Monarchy, told in the books of Samuel and Kings are largely fictitious.

David

Apart from Abraham and Moses, King David is certainly one of the main characters in the Old Testament. Told principally in I & II Samuel and I Kings 2, we see a king whose conquests united Israel and Judah into one kingdom and whose empire included Syria and Hamath to the north, Moab, Ammon to the east, Philistine to the west and Edom to the south. (II Samuel 8: 3-13; 10). Surely such a vast empire would leave immense archeaological evidence.

The date normally ascribed to King David’s reign is 1005-970 BCE. Although no one doubts the existence [a] of King David, there is no archaeological evidence for his kingdom beyond his existence. As archaeologist John Laughlin noted:

[T]here is little in the overall archaeological picture of the tenth century BC that can be connected with David.[1]

Whatever evidence there is points to the fact that the story about the granduer of David’s empire is a myth of a fictional golden age created by later writers. Earlier discoveries which were touted as evidence of David’s feats have been discredited. Perhaps the most well known, as described in the rose tinted “biblical archaeology” book, The Bible as History, was the “discovery” in 1867 by British explorer Charles Warren of the water shaft that runs into the city from the Gihon spring, the one that was supposedly used by David in his attack on Jerusalem. (II Samuel 5:8) [2] However according to archaeologist Ronny Reich of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who led the extensive digs in Jerusalem in the late 1990’s, the “Warren Shaft” as it is now called, is a natural fissure in the rock that has nothing to do with the Jerusalem water system or with David’s surprise attack. There is nothing there dating from the time of David. There are only potteries dating to the 18th century BCE (Canaanite) and 8th century BCE (Israelite). The “Warren Spring” is just one example of an archaeological dead end. [3] After 150 years of archeaological digs the is not a single piece of evidence of the Davidic capital. [4]

What of David’s vast empire? It never existed. One would have expect to find such a vast empire to be described by the neighbouring kingdoms. Yet there is no description of any kind about any vast empire in Palestine during that time in the texts of the Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The extensive conquests narrated of David would have required enormous infrastucture and manpower. Yet extensive archaelogical studies concentrating on Judah - David’s base - have shown that the Judah of the tenth century BCE was sparsesly populated - only 5,000 inhabitants including Jerusalem - with no major urban centers. It consisted of Jerusalem which was “no more than a typical highland village”, Hebron and about twenty small villages. [5]

This above findings explain why there is so no archaeological evidence found for the tenth century empire of David. Judah was still remote and underdeveloped. If David was indeed king, he was never king over the vast regions described in the Bible. [6]

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Solomon

According to the Bible, Solomon, David’s son and successor, who was king around 970-931 BCE, ruled over an even larger empire than this father. His vast kingdom spans from the Euphrates to the border of Egypt (I Kings 4:21). Solomon’s fame and influence spread far and wide. (I Kings 10:1) His diplomatic skills is proven by his securing alliances with other nations such as Egypt (I Kings 3:1) and Tyre (I Kings 5). He was also known for his massive architectural projects including the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 6) and the royal palace on Ophel (I Kings 7). He also improved on the fortifications of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (I Kings 9:15). He also built 40,000 stalls of horses for his 14,000 chariots and 12,000 horseman (I Kings 4:26).

As in the case with his father, David, modern archaeology simply have no evidence for this empire nor any of his supposed architectural undertakings. Solomon’s Temple is described in details in I Kings 6 yet despite the extensive archaeological digs in the city, in the words of archaeologist John Laughlin, “not a single piece of this building has been found.” [7] There is also no sign of any of the other grand architectural works that he supposedly built; his palace, or the fortifications at Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. [8]

Discoveries in the earlier part of the twentieth century that supposedly showed the extensive building network of Solomon has been discredited by modern research.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s an expedition to Megiddo was made by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. On the lowest level of the excavation, they found two sets of buildings. Each of these buildings have long chambers connected to one another. Inside each chamber are two low partition walls made up of pillars and throughs (like mechanical gears spread out horizontally). This was identified by one of the leaders of the expedition, P.L.O. Guy, as the famed stables of King Solomon. He based his interpretation on passages in I Kings which mentioned Solomon’s building techniques, his activity at Megiddo and his cities for chariots and horseman (I Kings 7:2, 9:15, 9:19, 10:26). He even counted the stalls for horses (450) and shed for chariots (150). [9]

However things got a little more complicated soon after. In the 1960’s further excavations were done at Megiddo. Below the layer of the “stables” were found buildings with architecture which parallels a distinctive (and common) Syrian palace architectural style known as bit hilani. This architecture was similar to the one discovered in Hazor in the 1950’s which was attributed also to Solomon. This means that the “stables” being on a higher stratum could not have been from the time of Solomon. Since then even the building at Hazor have been proven to be of a later date than Solomon. For one thing bit hilani palaces appear in Syria only in the early ninth century BCE, after the time of Solomon. How could a copy preceed the original? Finally improved dating methods with architectural styles, pottery and carbon-14 have supported the conclusion that the buildings discovered at Hazor and Megiddo date to the early 9th century BCE. Long after the death of Solomon! [10]

We are also told that Solomon was a skilled diplomat and that his influenced was felt outside his empire as well. Yet this is no corroborated by any extra-Biblical sources. In no ancient Near Eastern text do we hear even a whisper about Solomon’s great kingdom. He was supposed to have married the Pharaoh’s daughter and secured an alliance with Egypt (I Kings 3:1), yet we find no reference to this in contemporaneous Egyptian records. This silence is deafening. It speaks volumes against the historicity of the description of the extend of Solomon’s empire and influence. [11]

The archaological evidence on the population, settlement patterns and economic resources of Judah mentioned in the section on David extends to the time of Solomon also. As the archaeologists Finkelstein and Silberman succintly put it:

As far as we can see on the basis of archaeological surveys, Judah remained relatively empty of permanent population, quite isolated and very marginal right up to and past the presumed time of David and Solomon, with no major urban centers and with no pronounced hierarchy of hamlets, villages and towns. [12]

The archaeological evidence shows that Jerusalem rose in prominence only in the ninth century BCE when the united monarchy had split back into two parts. Jerusalem was, at best, only a small town during the time of David and Solomon. It may have been the capital of Judah but it was never the capital of Israel. [13]

Like the story of his father, David, the story of Solomon told in the Bible is a piece of historical fiction.

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Notes

a.The discovery of the “Tel Dan Stela” in 1993, a ninth century BCE inscription seems to clinch this. The inscriptions tells of the invasion of Israel by Hazael, King of Damascus around 835 BCE. In the inscription is written how this king slew the king who was of “The House of David”. (See Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p128-129; Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible, p122 and Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So, p.162-164)

References

1.Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible: p124
2.Keller, The Bible as History: p190-191
3.Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So: p143-144
4.Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, p132-134
Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So: p145
5.Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p132, 142-143
Marcus, The View from Nebo: p125
6. Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p132, 142-143
7.Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible: p127
8.Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p131-135
9.Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p135-137
Keller, The Bible as History: p205-207
10.Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p137-142
11.Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So: p181
12.Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p132
13. Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So: p146

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