David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
It is difficult to determine the exact dates when David and Solomon ruled. However, based on information in the Bible and other historical evidences, historians generally accept the following ranges of dates:
King Saul: c. 1030 – 1010 BCE King David: c. 1010 – 970 BCE King Solomon: c. 970 – 931 BCE
The authors argue that most of the archeological evidence in the City of David and surrounding areas suggests significant construction and disruption during the ninth and eight centuries BCE, which is 100-200 years after the supposed time period of King David, who is dated to approximately the tenth-century BCE (David is thought to have conquered Jerusalem around 1005-1000 BCE). The authors also suggest that David and Solomon were actual historical figures, but that they were drastically different than the characters depicted in the Bible.
The Biblical events of King David and King Solomon are typically categorized into three primary sections:
“The History of David’s Rise”
The “Court History”
“The Acts of Solomon”
According to the authors, the Biblical stories of David and Solomon are not accurate historical descriptions of tenth-century BCE. Rather, these stories are anachronisms that were written during the seventh-century BCE. They combine elements of fiction mixed with eighth and seventh-century BCE reality, and they were used primarily to promote political and economic agendas. The acts of David and Solomon were highly exaggerated, and the stories about these two figures were created to bolster religious ideologies. Basically, David and Solomon were written down as religious propaganda. Nevertheless, the images of David and Solomon have become ingrained in our culture due to the widespread adoption of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although historically fictional, the value of David and Solomon as mythological characters is no less significant. These two men represent noble leadership, a golden age, the epitome of power and wisdom, and a utopian future.
I do not fully agree with this assessment. Many of the authors’ arguments are based on speculation and interpretation using evidence from the surrounding landscape. Most significantly, the authors argue that there is no archaeological evidence of significant construction during the tenth-century BCE, and that Judah was filled with nothing more than sparsely populated farming and shepherding communities during the tenth-century BCE. Broadly, they argue that there is no evidence of a united Israel during the tenth-century BCE that aligns with the Bible’s depiction of David and Solomon. The most likely location to provide evidence in support of, or against, David and Solomon, would be the location of Solomon’s Temple. However, Solomon’s Temple was built in the Old Jerusalem, which is the current location of two significant Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Therefore, there is no chance of excavating the site where Solomon’s Temple is believed to exist. Even if we could search this area for Solomon’s Temple, it is unlikely that we would find anything. The site was completely overhauled when Herod built his Temple in 516 BCE, and it is unlikely that any evidence of Solomon’s Temple survived such massive construction.
I think it is possible that the stories about David and Solomon may include some exaggerated numbers or some mis-translated information. However, I don’t think that David and Solomon were simply a result of religious propaganda. And furthermore, from a religious standpoint, I think that we must accept the stories about David and Solomon as historically accurate.
When men receive the authority to decide which parts of the Bible are true and applicable, then men become gods.
We do not have the right to decide what is true, and we do not have the wisdom to decide what is morally correct.
As soon as we concede one part of the Bible as untrue, then we are subsequently faced with the recognition that multiple parts of the Bible might be untrue. At that point, men give themselves the authority to decide what is true and what is false, and what is moral and what is immoral. As soon as we remove the Bible as our ultimate source of truth, then we do not have a firm foundation on which to set our morals and aspirations. The world becomes meaningless, men become gods, and earth becomes heaven. Christians must accept the Bible as wholly true, otherwise, we have nothing to stand on, and we become part of the secular world, which has given themselves the authority to declare truth. I think that there is plenty of archeological evidence to support biblical events, and just because we cannot scientifically confirm every sentence in the Bible, it does not mean that we should not accept the Bible as true.
Earliest Biblical Event Supported by Extrabiblical Evidence
On a wall located in the temple of Amun at Karnak (Egypt), a relief depicts the Egyptian Pharaoh, Sheshonq, conquering his enemies in the Canaanite region, along with the name of each conquered region. Sheshonq is the same person as Shishak, mentioned in 1 Kings 14. In this Biblical passage, Shishak ravaged Jerusalem during Rehoboam’s reign, which occurred during the tenth-century BCE. According to the Karnak relief, Sheshonq’s campaign included conquests in the regions north, south, and west of Jerusalem, but not specifically Jerusalem. Therefore, the relief provides extrabiblical evidence to support the 1 Kings text, which claims that Shishak conquered Jerusalem during Rehoboam’s reign. Although it is likely that the Karnak relief provides extrabiblical evidence, it is unusual that the relief does not mention Jerusalem as one of the pharaoh’s conquests. Some Biblical scholars argue that this is because the name of Jerusalem was simply not preserved on the weathered relief, but the authors argue that this is unlikely. It could also be that the pharaoh was simply not interested in a poor, sparsely populated town like Jerusalem that offered no threat. Or, it could be that Jerusalem held a loose alliance with Egypt and the Philistines at the time. There is no way to know for certain.
First Extrabiblical Evidence of King David
The story about King David and Solomon cannot be purely mythological. There are too many verifiable details regarding the geography of Israel (locations of building, villages, and tribes), the names of Kings and peoples, and extrabiblical historical records (primarily from the Assyrian kingdom in the ninth-to-seventh BCE), for the stories to be entirely fictional. To say that David and Solomon were simply fictional characters, created by a scribe or oral story teller, would require an even larger leap of faith than accepting them as historical figures. Despite the vast number of coincidences that would need to happen for all of the details in the Davidic story to complement archeological discoveries, some skeptics still argue that David was nothing more than a fictional character. The primary basis for this argument is that are no writings from the Assyrians or Egyptians during this time-period that mention King David. The only source of information regarding King David is the Bible. This changed when a stele was discovered in Tel Dan, an ancient site in northern Israel, that contained an inscription written in Aramaic that mentioned the “House of David.” This stele offered the first piece of extrabiblical evidence to support King David’s existence. Unfortunately, the Tel Dan inscription is highly fragmentary, and it does not offer any new insights into David. Nevertheless, the stele can be dated to the time period shortly after that which during David supposedly ruled, and it provides extrabiblical evidence to a House established by David. Clearly, this suggests that David was not simply a fictional character. He was a historical figure, just like the Bible states.
Evidences in the City of David
Located on a steep ridge south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the City of David (aka “Ophel”) is the most likely location to discover archaeological evidence of David’s existence. However, the discoveries in this region are anything but conclusive. For example, the “Stepped Stone Structure” may have been part of the city’s fortification. Artifacts within the structure are dated to approximately the ninth-century BCE, whereas stone terraces underneath the structure are dated to the tenth-century BCE, which is the supposed time of David’s existence.
Similarly, the “Warren Shaft”, which is an underground water tunnel discovered by Charles Warren, may be the water shaft that David used to enter and conquer the City of David. This water shaft supplied Jerusalem with water from the Gihon spring, which was especially useful during sieges. However, it is nearly impossible to place a date on this underground water system, since evidences of tunnel construction range from 2000 BCE to 700 BCE.
Another piece of questionable evidence is the supposed discovery of the tombs of David, Solomon, and the other Kings of Judah. A series of artificial caves, located near the southern edge of the city, contained two barrel-shaped chambers. These chambers may have been the tombs for David and Solomon, but there is no way to know for certain.
Extrabiblical Evidence of a United Israel
The first extrabiblical evidence of a united Israel indicates that Israel was united in the ninth-century BCE by the Omrides, and that the capital city was located in Samaria. This is very different than the Bible, which claims that Israel was united in the tenth-century BCE by the House of David, and that the capital city was located in Jerusalem. Therefore, the authors argue that the events described in the “Court History” of David actually portray the events of the Omrides in the ninth-century BCE. Nevertheless, the Bible does mention the Omrides, and the marriage of the Davidic King Jehoram with the Omride Princess Athaliah, which produced a child named Ahaziah. The Tel Dan inscription, dated to ninth-century BCE, describes how Hazael ruler of Damascus killed Jehoram and Ahaziah, both of whom belonged to the “House of David.” Therefore, the Biblical events described in 2 Kings are confirmed by many extrabiblical accounts including the Tel Dan stele, but these extrabiblical sources seem to suggest events that occurred during the ninth-century BCE rather than the tenth-century BCE, which is commonly associated with King David.
Extrabiblical Evidence of Hezekiah’s Temple Reform
Three Judahite cities – Arad, Beer-sheba, and Lachish – show evidence that supports the Biblical claim that King Hezekiah dismantled the pagan shrines and idols during his reign (2 Kings 18). In each of these cities, the archeological and stratigraphical evidence suggests that altars and cultic practices, which existed in Judah during the eight-century BCE, were removed before the end of the eighth-century BCE. Therefore, it is clear that there was religious reform in Judah during Hezekiah’s reign, which occurred during the eight-century BCE.
The Amarna Letters
The Amarna Letters are a collection of nearly 400 tablets that contain correspondence between two Egyptian pharaohs and Canaanite city-states in the fourteenth-century BCE. Among many other things, they tell us that at the time, Jerusalem was ruled by a certain Abdi-Heba, who wrote letters to the pharaoh with pleas for help. He claimed that the Apiru, who were essentially displaced peasants that turned into bandits and mercenaries, were causing problems. The Apiru described in these tablets accurately depict the types of bandits and outlaws that David supposedly ruled during his exile from Saul. Therefore, it is possible that David was one of the Apiru, and through cunning and courage, he united the Apiru, became their bandit chieftain, and conquered Jerusalem.