This is the 3rd part of a response to an article that was sent to me via Twitter entitled Leading archaeologist says Old testament storeis are fiction. (Yes, that’s the actual title of the article.) That article was sent to me in the midst of a Twitter firestorm of responses to an article I shared entitled 5 Uncomfortable Facts Atheists Need To Hear by Barak Lurie, a former atheist. (You can read my responses to the firestorm here, here, and here.)
The opening sentence of this article, posted on Sunday, March 28, 1993, says: “ABRAHAM, Jacob, Moses, King David, and King Solomon in all his splendour, never existed, a 15-year study of archaeological evidence has concluded.” The first post in this series addressed the question of Is There Archaeological Evidence for Abraham?. The next post addressed the question of Is There Any Archaeological Evidence for Exodus? This post is going to help address the question of whether there is any evidence for David and Solomon.
My first post in this response series started with the following, which I feel is worth repeating as it helps to put the question of whether there is any archaeological evidence for David in perspective.
One thing to understand is that archaeology will not corroborate every detail of history. As J. Warner Wallace points out in his article Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts?:
But what are we to say to those who argue the Biblical archeological record is incomplete? The answer is best delivered by another expert witness in the field, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, historian and Professor Emeritus at Miami University. Yamauchi wrote a book entitled, The Stones and the Scripture, where he rightly noted that archaeological evidence is a matter of “fractions”:
Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.
Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.
Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.
Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.
Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!
Old Testament scholar James Hoffmeier (who specializes in issues of Old Testament historicity and archaeology) says:
As a field archaeologist myself, I am keenly aware of how little has actually survived from the ancient past, owing to natural forces, such as moisture in many forms, deflation, and earthquakes, as well as human impact in the form of later occupation (in ancient times), reusing earlier building materials, human destruction (war and burning), and modern development (urban and agricultural). Realistic expectations about what archaeology can and cannot do for biblical studies must always be kept in mind.
Peter S. Williams quotes in his article Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament:
As Nelson Glueck states, on the one hand “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever contraverted a biblical reference”, whereas on the other “Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”…
Likewise, Joseph Free confirms: “Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which had been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contrary to known facts.”…
And as Lee Strobel observes:
In trying to determine if a witness is being truthful, journalists and lawyers will test all the elements of his or her testimony that can be tested. If this investigation reveals that the person was wrong in those details, this casts considerable doubt on the veracity of his or her entire story. However, if the minutiae check out, this is some indication – not conclusive proof but some evidence – that maybe the witness is being reliable in his or her overall account
With this understanding in place, let’s talk about the final claim on the article in question.
– King David and King Solomon.
Do we have archaeological evidence for David or Solomon? Yes, we have several findings that point to David as well as Solomon.
The Tel Dan Stele
Discovered the same year as the article I’m responding to, it is The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible. As Biblical Archaeology describes it:
The broken and fragmentary inscription commemorates the victory of an Aramean king over his two southern neighbors: the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David.” In the carefully incised text written in neat Aramaiccharacters, the Aramean king boasts that he, under the divine guidance of the god Hadad, vanquished several thousand Israelite and Judahite horsemen and charioteers before personally dispatching both of his royal opponents. Unfortunately, the recovered fragments of the “House of David” inscription do not preserve the names of the specific kings involved in this brutal encounter, but most scholars believe the stela recounts a campaign of Hazael of Damascus in which he defeated both Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah.
Josh and Sean McDowell, in their book Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World, say this:
This stele documents the existence of a royal line of David within two hundred years of his reign and within one hundred and fifty years of the end of Solomon’s reign. It establishes a direct reference to David that is much nearer his time than any previous references and “shows that David was not a late fiction.” (McKenzie, KD, 13)
Evidence, pg 516
Drew Covert explains why this is significant:
This inscription is remarkable in a couple of senses. First, it is remarkable because it is from a hostile source. The writers of this inscription were bragging about their victory over the Israelites. They were not attempting to verify information given to us in the Bible. This lends credibility to the source, because they were not actively trying to confirm a Biblical character.
The second thing that is remarkable is that the stone refers to the “house of David”. Why is this significant? Because it doesn’t just mention King David. It says that there was an entire dynasty that stemmed from the great Israeli King. Hershel Shanks makes this statement in a March 1994 edition of Biblical Archeological Review:
“King of Israel” is a term frequently found in the Bible, especially in the Book of Kings. This, however, may be the oldest extra-Biblical reference to Israel in Semitic script. If this inscription proves anything, it shows that both Israel and Judah, contrary to the claims of some scholarly Biblical minimizers, were important kingdoms at this time.”
In regards to the importance of this, the Archaeological Study Bible says this:
The most remarkable aspect of the Tel Dan Stele is the phrase “House of David”, providing extrabiblical evidence for the existence of David. This is important because some recent scholars have deniced the existence of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, treating David as a character more of legend than of reality. This inscription demonstrates that ancient kings recognized the Davidic dynasty over Jerusalem and by implication validates the historicity of David himself. Some scholars have tried to avoid this implication by arguing for an alternative translation for “House of David,” claiming that the words refer to some place or to a god rather than to King David. Few are persuaded by these protests, and the inscription is widely recognized to be an extrabiblical witness to the dynasty of David.
To read more on this, you can get a free ebook from Biblical Archaeology of the Top Ten Biblical Archaeology Discoveries that has 16 pages covering the Tel Dan Stele.
The Mesha Stele
Josh and Sean McDowell description of this seems to be the best IMO:
The Mesha Stele, originally discovered in 1868 and dated to about 850 BC, contains another reference to the kingdom of Israel. The inscription on this stele, which was destroyed in a battle over ownership, exists now only in a paper facsimile. Its inscription describes how the king of Moab, Mesha, broke from Israel after being under its control for many years. This Mesha seems most likely to be the same King Mesha of Moab that rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab (2 Kings 3).
In addition to this well-accepted reading of the Mesha Stele inscription, it may also contain a direct reference to the Davidic kingdom. Philologist Andre Lemaire, who has spent many years studying the inscription, announced in 1994 that he found in line thirty-one of the inscription the “only possible restoration is bt[d]wd, the “House of David.” (Lemaire, HDRMI, 36)
Evidence, pg 516
You can read more about this archaeological find in Biblical Archaeology’s post on it.
Shishak I Inscription
Biblical Archaeology Truth says this:
Shishak (Shoshenq I) is the first Egyptian king to be mentioned by name in the Bible (I Kings 11:40; 14:25; II Chronicles 12:2-9). To understand his place in history we must revert back to the time when Solomon took over the United Monarchy of Israel and Judah from his father David.
After a couple of quick paragraphs that sum up several chapters of Solomon’s reign and then into his son Rehoboam’s reign in 1 Kings, places a timeline:
Five years after the ascension of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, in 925 BC, the Pharaoh of Egypt (Shishak) invaded Canaan and “took away the treasures” of Jerusalem including “all the shields of gold which Solomon had made” (I Kings 14:25-26).
Biblical archaeologist David Graves explains this one:
In the precinct of Amun-Ra within the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt, next to the Bubastite Portal. there is a large relief commemorating the conquests of Shishak I (22d Dynasty) that mentions his invasion of Judah and Israel, which is also recounted in 1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12.
The OT mentions Shishak (pharaoh of Egypt) seven times (1 Kgs 11:40, 14:25; and 2 Chron 12:2, 5 (twice), 7, and 9) and recounts how Shishaq (Shoshenq I) invaded Judah (region of Benjamin), during the fifth year of the reign of king Rehoboam plundering the temple. This is further supported by the Shoshenq stela fragment recovered at Megiddo (Stratum VA/IVB).
Although Jerusalem or Judah is not mentioned on the Shoshenq list, some have explained that Jerusalem, while subdued, was protected from destruction by the payment of the ransom of the Temple treasures, which were given to the Pharaoh at Gibeon (2 Chron 12:9;1 Kgs 14:26)…
Wiseman describes the archaeological implications best:
In the early divided kingdom the raid by Shishak (Sheshonq I) against Rehoboam c. 928 BC (1 Kgs 14:25–26) is shown in his triumphs depicted on the walls of the Karnak temple of Amun in Thebes, which lists 150 towns in Phoenicia, Judah as far as the Esdraelon valley, and into Edom and south Syria.
To sum this one up, you have external confirmation of an account of Shishak raiding against Rehoboam, who was the son of Solomon and the grandson of David. You can read more about this on Biblical Archaeology here.
These are more direct evidences from archaeology. In addition to these 3, you also have Ziklag being discovered (mentioned multiple times in relation to David) as well as National Geographic reporting on a wall that could only have been built during Solomon’s reign.
This series concludes with the next post: