The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Book 1. The Crisis of Sacred History
King David Examined
The early part of Iron Age II is thought to represent the “Golden Age” of the 10th century kings David and Solomon—yet its material culture is of a surprisingly low level.
David Appears in Egypt
King David, the killer of Goliath, the Philistine giant, and founder of the Jewish state, is such a part of our own mythology of the western world after 2000 years of enforced reading of the Hebrew scriptures we have in the Christian Old Testament, that it might surprise people to know that the main evidence we have that he ever lived is… the Jewish scriptures! Philip R Davies of Sheffield University says bluntly, “King David is about as historical as King Arthur”.
Surely this is a surprise, after all David is supposed to have become a noted person in the Ancient Near East, setting up what was briefly a substantial empire stretching from Egypt to Anatolia under his son King Solomon. Surely then, the records and correspondence of nearby nations must have said more about him, and the evidence left in his own country must have been substantial. In fact, the bible is the only written source concerning the so-called United Monarchy, and so it is the source of any historical presentation of the period. David’s Tower in Jerusalem is not David’s but Herod’s, and David’s Citadel in Jerusalem is not David’s but Moslem, built by the Mamelukes and the Ottomons, though many devout religious tourists do not realize, or, will not hear, any of it.
The ancient water system of Jerusalem, of which parts remain, were thought to have been built by David. In 1995, they were shown to have been built 800 years earlier! The archaeologist, Ronny Reich, showed this using eighteenth century BC pottery associated with the complex itself (but in so doing removed large amounts of rubble, allegedly sixth century, that might itself have been valuable for dating).
The historical David is nowhere to be found in the landscape of the city most closely associated with his rule.
No king called David is visible at all. Saul, David and Solomon seem not to have existed, and if they did, the bible gives them less than a century round about 1000 BC, yet the bible devotes more words to them than any other Jewish king or period. All the more curious that history outside the bible has nothing to say about these kings, even when it relates to the period in question. The evidence outside the bible of most of what is in it is hard to find. No one until recently has been bold enough to question the bible!
So far, archaeology has confirmed the existence of only the following kings of Israel and Judah—Omri, Ahab, Jehu, Jeroboam II, Pekah, Hoshea, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh—a mere nine out of 43, or ten if David is included—a Babylonian puppet, Yaukinu (Jehoiachin), who hardly ever ruled in Jerusalem, can be added, after the fall of the city—minor figures in a minor country, but David was the founder of an empire and a house that supposedly still could be traced a thousand years later. More of even the minor figures might have been expected to have been mentioned in Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian records.
Recently, some “scholars” of biblical “history” claim that archaeological discoveries verify that David, king of Israel, was historical. The name of king David has been found on an Egyptian inscription from the tenth century BC. In conventional terms, in the 15th century BC, Pharaoh Thutmose III initiated the practice of carving on the walls of the great temple of Amun in Karnak, Upper Egypt, the names of territories he conquered, or over which he claimed dominion. The last of the Egyptian rulers to follow this custom was the tenth-century BC pharaoh Sheshonq I, who biblical scholars believe is the Pharaoh Shishak of the Bible (1 Kgs 14:25 and elsewhere). Sheshonq supposedly campaigned in Palestine in 925 BC. In the following year, he had a vast triumph-scene, including over a hundred place-names, carved on the exterior south wall of the temple of Amun.
Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool, says “David” is the likely reading of a name in Sheshonq’s hieroglyphic list. Yet, even if genuine, this is only the third time king David has been found mentioned in ancient inscriptions. Chronological revizers place Sheshonq almost 200 years after Kitchen’s date, so even if the appearance is true, it is not close to the time of the biblical David, but 300 years later, time for legends to be arising.
Kitchen jeers that this dating of Shoshenq puts David in the middle of the long and successful career of Rameses II, and to extend his empire to the Euphrates, David would also have been up against Hattusil III of the Hittites, who concluded a peace with Rameses with whom he had been warring for a long time. Thus the land between, Palestine, would have been hardly the place to found an empire. Kitchen asks:
Is it even remotely conceivable that these two formidable rulers should just sit idly by, cowering with armies in mothballs, while some upstart prince from Jerusalem’s hills calmly carved out three-quarters of their hotly-disputed territories (and revenues) for himself? This is sheer fantasy…
“It’s the way you tell ’em”. Er, no. But Kitchen cannot even begin to imagine that David is a mythical and not a real man. In fact, the abolition of Jewish mythical history and its consequences in Egyptian Chronology brings Merneptah within a few decades of Omri, the historical founder of Israel. His boasting stele, conventionally dated to about 1200 BC, would better be put about 950 BC. He was putting down the Israelites, it seems, but not long after, they succeeded in forging their own little kingdom under Omri.
Lack of Sure Evidence that David Existed
Tel Dan Stele
Much vaunted as the clearest reference to David is in the ninth century BC Tel Dan inscription found in fragments of a monument in 1993 by Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran. The strata in which it was found, needless to say, has been the subject of dispute. Information about the place of discovery of the first Tel Dan fragment is contradictory. Was it part of a wall or part of the adjacent pavement?—important information for dating, since the pavement seems to be older than the wall. Written in Aramaic, the find seems to be a victory stele celebrating the victory of an Aramean king over Judah and Israel. J J Bimson says:
We can now be fairly certain that the inscription gives a propagandistic account of the defeat of Jehoram (king of Israel) and Ahaziah (king of Judah) at Ramoth-Gilead and their subsequent deaths.
The king whose victory it celebrates is therefore Hazael. It suggests that a reinterpretation and lowering of Iron Age stratigraphy right across Palestine may be required. R Chapman says the stele, historically dated to 825-800 BC, came from a level conventionally dated to the 10th or 11th centuries BC. So, Israelite dates will have to be reduced by two centuries, making David a contemporary of Jehu—unless he is a myth, that is. Bimson’s conclusion about the Tel Dan inscription is:
Its significance as a chronological anchor may turn out to be even more far reaching than its reference to the “House of David”.
The fragment does not speak of “David” but to “bytdwd”, interpreted as “Beit David” or the “House of David”. The supposed name of David in the Egyptian inscription is a hundred years earlier, less than 50 years after David’s death.
The Tel Dan fragments are suspiciously fresh in their clarity. Unlike other old stelae in which the cuts are damaged, there seems little sign of such natural wear even though the monument had been broken into pieces and incorporated into a wall where it had lain weathering for almost three millennia.
The stone was reused in a temple complex that was destroyed about 733 BC by the Assyrian, Tiglath Pileser III. Pottery suggests it was put in place in the wall about 850 BC. It could only have been written by Aramaeans then destroyed by Israelites in this time if it had a short life of only a decade or so (Omri to Ahab). Yet the palaeographic date is a century later according to Professor Giovanni Garbini.
Garbini notes several other anomalies in the language of the text all of which suggest to him that a forger has been at work, though he does not suggest it is the archaeologist. Why does it speak all about Israelites though it is an Aramaic inscription? Hadad is mentioned once but Israel three times and, of course, “bytdwd” too. That it is written as one word by an Aramaean is odd. For a small fragment, it is peculiarly informative when such fragments of stelae are usually hard to place and interpret. Garbini considers these peculiarly fortunate elements as not conducive to accepting it as genuine. Moreover, the content is strangely parallel to the Moabite inscription as if it formed a template, except that no suitable towns in Dan were known to replace the towns of the Moabite stone. There are other similarities with the Zakur inscription, that the style seems to copy, even down to punctuation.
Nor is Garbini the only one who is supicious. Professor Fred Cryer of Sheffield University is reported to be too. Russell Gmirkin writes online that he attended a conference at the Israel Museum where Cryer asked him to look carefully at the prominently displayed Tel Dan Inscription. Gmirkin saw scratch marks and recognized the implications. Cryer invited other experts at the seminar to look too, and about half were surprised at what they saw. The others pooh-poohed it. Gmirkin videotaped the inscription, discovering two other clues that it had been made on an already broken rock. Any competent and unbiased forensic scientist could quickly tell whether the cuts were modern but none will get the chance. Gmerkin even had to have permission to photograph it.
Garbini summarises—it isn’t the first time that we have been faced with epigraphic forgeries, all characterized by a precise ideological matrix, that of giving an extra-biblical foundation to the facts and people found in the Old Testament, when its essentially religious and ideological nature does not necessarily entail that those people and events described there really occurred in history, as we conceive history now. A factory for biblical forgeries has been exposed in Jerusalem, among its products being the supposed Solomon Stele, and the Jesus ossuary. The factory was working undetected for over twenty years, and many museums round the world must, the authorities believe, have many forgeries made here among their exhibits, notably bullae. It is unlikely that it is by chance that the production of epigraphic forgeries has intensified in inverse proportion to the progressive decline of Albrightian optimism regarding the confirmation that facts provided by “biblical archaeology” bring to the text of the Bible.
The French palaeographer, André Lemaire, claims an even less clear reference to the “House of David” in the long-known (discovered in 1868) but still not completely deciphered stele of king Mesha of Moab (also called the Moabite Stone), which is contemporaneous with the Tel Dan Stele. This also might refer to the “House” but the reading is unclear. Worse, the reading of “David” depends on a reconstruction of the initial letter of the name. It is likely to be “d” but no one can be sure—except Lemaire! “House of David” could mean, not a dynasty, but those (people) who owe allegiance to the God David and worship him at his temple (house). In a similar way, Israel could be a word meaning sons of the God El.
The new evidence from Sheshonq’s lists is that a place name in the lists is “hydbt dwt”. The first word means “highland” or “heights”. The question is how we should read the second term, “dwt”.
The first letter is “d”. The second letter seems to be “w”, the equivalent of the Hebrew letter “waw”, which can be read as the long vowel “o” or as the consonant “v”. Both usages are found in the Sheshonq list (and in Hebrew generally). The third letter is clearly a “t”. Thus the word could theoretically be read “doot” or “dvt” enunciated as “davit”. Neither makes any sense except as a proper name.
Could the reading “davit” really be “David?” Kitchen makes the case that it can—and that it is. He has found a reference in another Semitic language in which “t” replaces the final “d” in the name of King David. This occurs in a sixth century AD Ethiopic inscription from South Arabia. The reference is unmistakably to the biblical king David. It appears in a victory inscription by an Ethiopic ruler from Axum who had invaded South Arabia. In celebrating his triumph, the ruler cited two psalms (19 and 65) and named David in this connexion. David is spelled “Davit” exactly as in the Sheshonq list.
Kitchen explains that the mention of the “Heights of David” makes sense in the Sheshonq list of toponyms. Before he became king, David was a fugitive active in this area. He fled from King Saul and was joined by his fellow tribesmen and fugitives until he had a force of 400 men. His first stop was at Philistine Gath, whose ruler he would later serve. From Gath, David went to Mizpeh of Moab. From there he returned to Judah, by which time his force had increased to 600 men. He roamed about in the wilderness of Ziph, including the Hill of Hachilah, in the wilderness of Maon, in the wilderness and heights of Engedi, near the Dead Sea, and in the Arabah, the valley south of the Dead Sea, always escaping from Saul’s men. Finally, David made an alliance with the Philistine king of Gath, who gave David the city of Ziklag (1 Sam 21-30). No one knows were Ziklag was, but it must be near the Negev if not in it.
The eleven rows of Sheshonq’s list of conquests is divided into three main sections, differentiated geographically. The apparent reference to David occurs in the second block of rows which are sites in south Judah and the Negev. Another name in this row is “the Terrain of Tilwan (or Tilon)”. So “the Heights of David” seems to follow this structure. However, for a long time scholars thought they also saw a “field of Abraham” in the list but that is now rejected. Interpretations are far from certain.
Nevertheless, Kitchen thinks it is not surprising that a place in this region would be named the “Heights of David”, given David’s importance and his association with the place. Kitchen concludes:
I do not claim certainty, but there is at least a high degree of probability. “David” here is nothing too spectacular.
David as Legend
That then is a summary of the latest and earlier bits of archaeological evidence for the existence of king David. Because the saga of David occurs in the Holy Book it has rarely been understood as anything less than true history, but the curious lack of concrete evidence for such an amazing soldier casts doubt upon its historical truth.
The situation is quite like that of Jesus—everyone believes it is true yet the evidence amounts to some books written by people with a keen interest in propagating the truth of the myth. Indeed the bible is full of similar myths unsupported by historical or archaeological evidence that no “scholars” bother to question because they are committed religionists, bound by their own faith, fears and paymasters. There is no unequivocal evidence outside the scriptures for:
Not that David is necessarily purely mythical. He is possibly a legend rather than a myth, but either way, his exploits are much larger than his life. This is typical of myth and legend. No one knows who king Arthur was, yet volumes of astonishing mythology have been built around this romantic figure. The same applies to William Tell and Robin Hood, both likely to be entirely mythical figures of romantic legend. If there is a real man at the core of any of these myths, he has been quite hidden by all that has accreted about him.
Isn’t it likely that David is the same? Possibly some Canaanite bandit, got a local name for himself and songs were written about him. Over the years the songs and the exploits grew and the central figure achieved god-like proportions. Amihai Mazar, a senior archaeologist of Hebrew University, which takes a traditional stance on biblical history, is a strong biblicist who upholds the bible’s stance on David and Solomon. It is just that the might and grandeur of the United Monarchy was exaggerated.
Perhaps, he began as a god, then became personified, just as the Hebrew Almighty God was also much more human in stories meant to be primitive than the more refined Ormuzd figure of the post-exilic Jewish Priesthood.
David is introduced as a minstrel in the court of Saul entertaining the king, but Saul has forgotten him when he suddenly appaears as a shepherd with a sling to take on the mighty Philistine champion, Goliath. Later, it turns out that a warrior called Elhanan really killed Goliath, and for doing it was promoted to be one of David’s 30 “men of valour”.
Achish is the ruler of Gath who shelters David for sixteen months when he is a warrior on the run. Later again, David took Gath but later still, 4-5 years later, Achish is still the king of Gath.
Most Christians and Jews are not interested in these contradictions in God’s Word, and those crazies who call the bible “inerrant” spend a lot of time inventing hidden history to explain them. The historian ought to look quizically at these contradictions and wonder whether any of the supposed sacred history is reliable, and, if some of it is, how do we know what it is. The two verses 1 Kg 5:1 and 4 are in different places in the Septuagint from their places in the Masoretic text, meaning that when the Septuagint was translated there was no final agreement on where these two passages should be. It implies they had been late additions.
The story of how David got the throne of Saul is a true one, but not of David. It is told by king Idrini of Alalakh in a fifteenth century BC inscription on his monumental statue.
David built his empire by conquering the surrounding people (2 Sam 8), the Philistines, Moabites, Elamites, Ammonites and Amalekites, not to mention the Aramaeans who appear as an afterthought. The strange thing is that Saul fought all of the same people (1 Sam 14:47), Moabites, Edomites, Ammonites, Aramaeans and Philistines, and “wherever he turned, he put them to the worse”. Saul fights and is victorious but ends up a failure, whereas David has the same victories and ends up an emperor! For the believer, it is God’s providence, no doubt, but for the historian it looks for all the world as if Saul’s exploits have been used to magnify and justify a newer myth of David.
Semantics of “David”
Hershel Shanks in Biblical Archaeology Review tells us that few scholars take seriously the suggestion by Philip Davies that “dwd” in the Dan stele should be read “Dood”, referring to a hitherto unknown deity. Kenneth Kitchen, the discoverer of the putative Egyptian reference to the Heights of David treats the suggestion in the bent scholar’s typically puerile manner:
Surely the time has now come to celebrate Dod’s funeral—permanently! There is not one scintilla of respectable, explicit evidence for his/her/its existence anywhere in the biblical and ancient Near Eastern world. No ancient king ever calls himself “beloved of Dod”; no temple of Dod has ever been found, and clearly identified as such by first-hand inscriptions. We have no hymns to Dod, no offering-lists for Dod, no published rituals in any ancient language for Dod, no statues of Dod, no altars, vessels, nor any other ritual piece or votive object dedicated to Dod as a clear deity. Why? Because he/she/it never existed in antiquity… Dod is a dud deity, as dead as the Dodo—so let’s dump him/her/it in well-deserved oblivion, now and henceforth!
Doubtless this is the attempt of a clever man to be funny, but in truth it shows him up as a fool. Davies’s proposal is not stupid and is probably the true explanation of the legend of David, and everything that Kitchen says to disparage Dod can be applied to David if the scriptures are taken to be romance not history.
Kitchen takes advantage of the silly sound of “Dod”, which we will inevitably pronounce with a short vowel, like the surname of another puerile comedian from Liverpool called Ken. The vowel represented by “w” is long, an “oo” sound, doubtless the reason we call it “double-u” which is “uu” pronounced “oo”. We find it in English in words like “who” which is pronounced “hoo”, or in “woman” which is really the same word as “human” or ““oo-uman”” (cf Italian “Uomo”). So, the word “dwd” is not “dod” but “dood”.
Kitchen is a great Egyptologist and knows of no temple to the god, Dood, anywhere in the ancient near east, evidently giving no thought to the possibility that the Israelites or Canaanites who wrote about their hero or god, Dood, might have been pronouncing in their own fashion the name of a god known by a different pronunciation elsewhere. Since the scene is not far from Egypt and the area, as Kitchen points out, was often under Egyptian occupation, perhaps the god, Dood, was originally Egyptian.
The Egyptian god who immediately springs to mind with a similar name is, in Greek form, Thoth or originally Djehuty. The “th” is close in pronunciation to “d” and the Egyptian tells us it is hard rather than soft as the Greek suggests. We pronounce the vowel short but the Egyption tells us it was long—“hu”. The final consonant, from the Egyptian, is less lisped than the Greek suggests. Censorinus (c 238 AD) writes in confirmation (De Die Natali 18), “quem vocant Aegyptii Thouthi ”, being “which the Egyptians call Thouth”. The word “dwd” might then have been pronounced as “jude” or “dude”. Doubtless this is how “Dwd” was pronounced, and the country of “Dwd” would have been Judah. In Egypt, Thoth is often depicted as a scribe, perhaps leading to the idea that David was a cultured man who wrote psalms.
Thoth is also associated with the moon. Perhaps Dood was also, so that Solomon and Dood represent the sun and the moon. And, yes, there is very little concrete evidence of a magnificent Hebrew king called Solomon, either. Both David and Solomon reigned for 40 years, but no one will deny that 40 is a magic number in the Hebrew mythology, indeed, in the mythology of the ancient near east. This alone shows that both these monarchs were being magnified in their legends, just as Arthur and Robin Hood were.
Kitchen identifies Dood with “dwt” on his Amun temple wall and elsewhere. Is it significant or merely a coincidence that the Egyptian for Divine was “dwat”. The identification of these two words with David, virtually cries out that David was originally a god.
It will be no accident that David and Divine look to have the same root. We are talking about a time in history when the Indo-Europeans had rampaged all around effecting everyone from Ireland to India. One of the marks they made everywhere was in language—they originally spoke Sanskrit, and this is the root language of many of the languages of this area until today.
Divine comes from the Sanskrit “daiva”, in Persian “daeva” or “deva”, originally meaning a shining one and therefore a god. Zoroaster made the “devas” into “devils” in the interests of monotheism, raising Ormuzd to the position of the Almighty God. The Hindus have “devatas” which also are gods or lesser gods—spirits and “divyas” which are supernatural powers.
“Deva” is related to the Sanskrit word “dyaus” which the Greeks propnounced as “zeus” and the Italians as “deus” or Jupiter because “Dyaus Pitar” was the Sanskrit “God the Father”.
No doubt our scholarly friends will tell us that the Hebrews were not Aryans but Semites, speaking quite a different language. Of course, the Semitic languages are different from the Indo-European group but many words were exchanged between the two groups at this time, especially in the ancient near east where the two sets of peoples had come into contact and rivalry.
The similarity between David and divine is reflected elsewhere in Hebrew. “Davak” means “devoted to God” and, in the related Semitic language, Arabic, “Du’a” or “da’wa” is to pray. Indeed, in Yiddish, “davven” is also to pray.
Kitchen makes a joke about the “beloved of Dod” presumably because it sounds daft and he knows that, in Hebrew, Dood (David) means “beloved” or “lover”. Who would be more beloved than your god or national hero? Or perhaps David began as a fertility god and was therefore literally a lover.
It is our habit to call our god by the name God. If “dood” originally was a Canaanite word for a god, perhaps the Canaanites of the time gave the name to their own national god. There were many gods in the world then and in Palestine too, as the scriptures repeatedly tell us, although the mindless monotheists cannot understand it. The god who came to be the god of the Jews and eventually the Christians was probably not the god of the Exodus, who was represented by the image of a bull, or a serpent or a smoking pillar.
Perhaps one of the gods they took from the period of Egyptian colonization, they called Thoth, but pronounced “dood” and later gave heroic deeds. The Canaanities had a god they called Hadad, possibly meaning “The Loved One”. Wherever, he came from “Dood” was, to judge by semantics, a god, and the fact that he was reduced to the hero of a national saga, does not prove otherwise. Kitchen should stop joking and do his job properly, looking for the identity of Dood in other nations. When he finds him, he will have the answer to his fatuous questions about temples, shrines and so on devoted to “Dood”. The very word “devoted” might be proof that “Dood” was a widespread name for God in ancient times. Many such words precede their supposed derivation.
That his deeds were magnified in typical epic fashion is proved even in the scriptures themselves. David’s greatest heroic deed was killing the Philistine champion, Goliath. Or was it? the Holy Book itself does not know. 2 Samuel tells us it was Elhanan who killed the giant. Common sense, but not absurd belief, should convince us that someone has attributed Elhanan’s deed to David, the hero. That is how legends grow. Legendary deeds are never transferred to lesser men!
Incidentally, while Kitchen is joking about Dod being as dead as a dud dodo or whatever it was, does he realize that One of David’s 30 champions was called Dodo, doubtless a variant or diminutive of Dood? I suppose we must assume that a scholar like him must know, but he sounds as though he did not. That is a hazard for clever people trying to be funny.
David and Solomon
The Persians were intent on setting up a theocracy but there had been a period of monarchy in Israel and the administrator-priests had to explain it within their theocratic historical framework. If God’s people wanted a king then they should have a king to teach them a lesson. Saul’s history was written as a warning that a theocracy should not want kings. The institution of the monarchy in 1 Samuel chapters 7-13 was shown as a blasphemy against God leading to innumerable punishments, the overthrow of the monarchy and “Exile” (if there ever was one). Only the saviour of the Jews, Cyrus, allowed righteous Jews to “return” to their homeland!
Saul is depicted as a bad king, incompetent and disobedient to God. He reigned only two years according to 1 Samuel 13:1, and then God replaced him with his own choice. God designates David as king and the Merlin of the time, Samuel, anointed him.
Caetano Minette de Tillesse thought that the stories of the accession of David and Solomon served the purpose of unifying the disparate tribes of Israel. The author thinks the histories are genuinely tenth century BC because no later editor could have had the aim of uniting an already united kingdom. That is plainly false. The kingdom was not united after the “return” as the Bible makes clear and the Persian administrators had a purpose in using a historical romance to give a basis to unity. The later Hellenistic editors had even more reason at the time of the setting up of the independent Judah by the Hasmonaeans. The core of the romance might be a tenth century romance but the style alone is sufficient to show that it has been edited by a refined editor at a much later date. The obvious times were during the priesthood of the “second” temple and more especially during Hasmonaean times.
The stories of Solomon’s and David’s accessions, from 1 Samuel 4:1b to 1 Kings 8, are strictly parallel to one another. The story of the Ark is the framework of both histories. These romances are reminiscent of the Arthurian legends in which the heroes are replaced by David and Solomon, Samuel is Merlin and the Ark is the Holy Grail.
The accession of David starts with the disaster of the Ark of Israel being taken by the Philistines. The Ark of the God of War, “the Lord of hosts”, cannot save Israel from its enemies. The symbolism is that the foreign aggressors have usurped the god of Israel. The tide of history was to nationhood (1 Sam 8:5) but God was the proper king of Israel and he instructs Samuel to make it clear what hardships having a king will mean to them (1 Sam 8;7-8). Kingship is here tied to apostasy and that is what the Maccabees claimed to be fighting. All of this is expressed in terms of some early story of tribal nomads determining to be a people.
While the tenth century core might have had some substance, the later editors had their own purpose. The country had to be unified but the priests wanted a theocracy so that they were the real rulers, and the kings were disparaged. The fate of Israel was bracketed between the loss of the Ark to the Philistines for lack of a king, and the fall of the City to the Babylonians through the faults of the kings. “Exile” was blamed on the wrongs of the kings so that the priests could rule from the temple. It suited the Persians, of course, who preferred priests to princes, and the later Maccabees assumed the priesthood anyway. The Deuteronomic editor plainly mixed the bitter experience of the historic kingship into chapters 8 and 12 of 1 Samuel, and the Maccabaean editor slotted in the rebellious family in this story, over 1000 years earlier in history, calling him Phinehas instead of Mattathias.
Saul’s reign was a failed attempt at kingship that ended in disaster for Israel (1 Sam 31). But the Merlin-like kingmaker, Samuel, had already anointed David, in the name of God, to replace Saul as king to deliver Israel from its enemies. David was crowned, conquered Jerusalem and brought the Ark to Zion. The successful king had to be the choice of the priestly god, Yehouah, although the barely united people of the time worshipped their own different gods, in fact.
The priests inadvertantly made a rod for their own backs. They wrote that David brought the Ark of God into the temple to give the legitimacy of God to priestly endeavours in the second temple. The Ark was the safeguard of Israel but David became the protector and saviour of the Ark. The first king approved by God, and supposedly the head of the dynasty, became a god himself—if he was not already—expected to return as the Messiah and save Israel anew.
The return of the Ark to Jerusalem justified David’s accession as king and the basis of the temple priesthood. Where the story of David’s accession ends, the story of Solomon’s accession begins. David left the Ark in a tent in Jerusalem, presumably because God lived with his people in a tent while the Israelites were in the wilderness. But the priests wanted to justify their temple and so a tent was not suitable for the Ark of God. Just as David had been divinely chosen through the prophet Samuel, so Solomon was chosen through the prophet Nathan to complete David’s work by housing the Ark in a solid and immoveable building. 1 Kings 8:15-20 notes explicitly that all is now completed as “prophesied” .
The accession of David is disturbed by the struggles of Saul and David and the accession of Solomon is disturbed by the revolt of Absalom, which forced David to flee, just as he had fled from Saul. Both cases end in a battle (1 Sam 31; 2 Sam 18) in which Saul and Absalom die, opening the way for the accession of David and Solomon respectively. Note the name Absalom who had to die!
Obviously, the events of David’s accession are duplicated in the accession of Solomon. This should be sufficient to prove that we are not dealing with history here but romance.
The priests were interested in creating the idea that the House of God was the temple and not the House (dynasty) of David. The “prophecy” (2 Sam 7), David’s prayer (2 Sam 8) and Solomon’s prayer (1 Kg 8) all play on the word “House” .
In 2 Samuel 7, “house” initially means temple (which David had the “intention” of building). But Nathan says that David will not build this “house” , but that the Lord would build a “house” (descendant, dynasty) for him. This descendant (Solomon) will build the house (temple) for God. David’s prayer (2 Sam 8) uses the very same word “house” seven times, now with the meaning of descendance (Solomon), and 1 Kings 8 also uses the same word with the meaning of the temple, which David could not build but which Solomon carried on to its completion.
So the word “house” is used: eight times in 2 Samuel 7; seven times in 2 Samuel 8; and eight times in 1 Kings 8, where it has the two meanings: the temple which should be built, and the descendant who would build the temple. The priests wanted to sow doubt in the minds of a people who considered themselves of the House of David (probably a memory of when David was their local god) and make them think that the new god, Yehouah, always meant the “house” to have been the temple. Even more so, they wanted to confuse the use of the name of the city which previously had been Beth Salem.
The stories of the accession of David and Solomon were composed with an overt apologetic aim—to justify the setting up of the second temple priesthood as the will of God, and later the justification for the free state of the Hasmonaeans. God who used to reside in a tent now lived in the temple. The earlier Hebrew gods or heroes, David and Solomon, became the heroes of the saga and the founders of the Jewish state and its temple. The aim was to justify the temple but it succeeded so well that it gave credence to the make-believe history and David and Solomon began to be seen as real people in an Israelite Golden Age that never existed.
The dreamer’s history of Israel, mainly a paraphrase of the bible with a commentary, was written by John Bright. This famous Christian historian thinks that Israel became a “ranking power of the contemporary world” “within a century”. Solomon had an empire from Sinai to the Euphrates (1 Kgs 4:21; Gen 15:18; Dt 1:7,11:24; Josh 1:4; 2 Sam 8:3; 1 Chr 18:3), a meaningful area, giving him immense wealth, and a reputation for wisdom. By a coincidence, it is the precise area of the Assyrian and then Persian province of “Beyond the River”, Abarnahara. The empire was built by his father, David, and crumbled suddenly, for such a power, five years after he died when the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak invaded Judah and captured it (2 Chr 12).
It had notionally lasted for about 70 years and must have made its mark, but empires do not rise and fall in less than a century, leaving no trace at all except for exaggerated fairy stories. All fairy stories are exaggerated because they are not true. Empires have administrative buildings, bills of trade, monumental inscriptions, seals, skilled craftsmen making valuable objects that inevitably sometimes get lost and are later found by archaeologists. Not this one.
With his power and wealth Solomon built the temple (1 Kgs 6), the Royal Palace (1 Kgs 7:2-12), the walls of Jerusalem, the Millo (an unknown structure) (1 Kgs 9:15,11:27), royal cities at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer (1 Kgs 9:15,17), store cities and cities for his horsemen and chariots (1 Kgs 9:19). Solomon had 1400 chariots, 12,000 horsemen and had 40,000 stables for his horses (1 Kgs 4:26;10:26). This was a substantial army and could only have been maintained by a substantial population and economy.
The numbers of warriors (2 Sam 24:9) raised by Israel (800,000) and Judah (500,000), even if these are all of the able bodied men in both countries, requires a population of 6 or seven million all together. Obviously, if these are only a proportion of the able bodied men, then the total population must be proportionately larger. The population supported by Palestine under the Turks—before agricultural development and therefore supported by the sorts of agricultural methods that were available in biblical times—was only one million. The country could not have supported much more than this number using traditional biblical farming methods.
The Israelites had a tiny population—55,000 on the West Bank in 1000 BC, according to I Finkelstein, and no more than 250,000 in the whole of Palestine, according to McEvedy and Jones—and no natural advantages. Careful site surveys and calculations By M Broshi and I Finkelstein estimate the population of Israel about the time of the fall of Samaria to have been 350,000, and Judah to have been 110,000. By the Persian period the population of Judah was less than 35,000.
The hill country of Judah simply never could have had a sufficient population to support armies to conquer the whole of the Levant. Bright seriously thinks that an impoverished, depopulated colony of Egypt could compete with Egypt (5 million) and Assyria (2 million). Biblicists like to point to the weakness of Egypt and Assyria at the time, but these were massive countries compared with Israel and even in a weakened state could hardly have tolerated, without mention, roaring mice forming incipient empires on their borders. No serious historian could contemplate it, even supposing those great powers were in temporary decline.
Had he been talking about Persia, it would have been believable. Persia could draw upon the large population (2.5 to 4 million, according to C McEvedy and R Jones in Atlas of World Population History ) of the Iranian plateau and the skills in metallurgy of its peoples. Historians not besotted by the Holy Ghost must smell a rat, but for believers the rat is in the Holy Book so has the odour of sanctity.
The kingdom of David could never have even conquered the north of Canaan which was far more populated with more sophisticated people. If the empire of David was built by alliances and treaties rather than by warfare, it still fails to convince. Alliances were built under the threat of arms or through some perceived advantage, but what was it that made the nations to the north want to form alliances under the suzerainty of the feeble Israelites?
J M Miller and J Hayes (A History of Ancient Judah and Israel ) of biblical historians only in 1986 begin to suspect something is phony about the biblical account of early Israel. They criticize the narratives of David and Solomon’s reigns, describing them as “folk legend”, “not to be read as historical record”. It is an advance even if otherwise they paraphrase the bible as much as any other “biblical historian”. Separately, Miller has admitted that there is no evidence for the monarchies of David and Solomon outside the bible, so everything that is written or speculated about these monarchs depends entirely on the bible.
Solomon is supposed to have married the daughter of a pharaoh, a privilege that was denied to the powerful kings of the Hittites. Moreover, no Egyptian record of this magnificent liaison has ever been found. It is true that later Pharaohs did marry off some of their princesses, but the biblical reference here shows, if anything, that it was written when the practice was known, not when it was unusual.
In the whole of the area supposedly covered by the kingdom of these mighty monarchs extant remains of it are “very poor”. Kathleen Kenyon says that “the archaeological evidence is meagre in the extreme”. The poverty of the Palestinian hill country is shown by the low incidence of expensive imports compared with neighbouring ANE countries. Gold objects are notably rare. The Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Hittite peoples in the ancient Near East left evidence of their empires including tablets or papyri, art and inscriptions on buildings and monuments. Yet the empire of David and Solomon is not mentioned in any Ancient Near Eastern source. Monumental reliefs and statues, palaces, ivories, jewelry and all the normal signs of the sophistication required to run an empire are lacking.
E Leach (E Leach and D A Laycock Eds, Structuralist Interpretation of Biblical Myth ) says:
There is no archaeological evidence for the existence of these heroes or for the occurrence of any of the events with which they were associated. If it were not for the sacredness of these stories, their historicity would certainly be rejected.
Leach also spots that we have in many of these biblical traditions, conflicts that reflect competing factions in the Persian period, expressed as a mythical allegorical history.
Nothing can be unequivocally attributed to Solomon, nor is there any trace of a great culture that he developed. Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer have been widely excavated and palaces, temples and fortifications have been found, but none mention Solomon and the important buildings seem to be dated before his supposed time and after. Cartouches of the Eighteenth Dynasty Pharaoh, Amenhotep III, were common in deposits where seals of Solomon might have been expected.
The Davidic empire seems to be modelled on great empires of the Ancient Near east, notably the neo-Assyrian or neo-Babylonian, showing that the whole was composed after those empires died, when they were incorporated into the empire of the Medes and Persians. In its sudden emergence from a poor hill country after the wanderings of its people, the empire of David is a bijou image of the swift emergence of the Persian empire in the sixth century BC, after the Persians had wandered for several hundred years. The Persians had migrated, like the Israelites into their ultimate homeland on an arid plateau, and then had quickly become an empire through the military skill of Cyrus the Great, whom David parallels in his similar deeds. David is shown as an Israelite Cyrus defeating neighbouring Goliaths. Furthermore, the empire’s extent is the precise extent of the Persian satrapy of Abarnahara.
The expression used to delineate the north eastern boundary of the Empire of David (1 Kgs 4:21,24) is the expression, Eber-ha-Nahar, “The Shores of the River” (Euphrates), used by the Assyrians from the seventh century onwards (perhaps earlier) and then by the Persians—as Abarnahara. Since there seems little reason why the Assyrians should have been involved in writing the Jewish scriptures, the conclusion is that the words came from Persian writers. It was therefore written from the fifth century BC. The absence of any references in ancient near eastern annals to such supposedly great kings as David and Solomon makes this fifth century work begin to look like deliberate myth-making.
The Philistines of the scriptures seem to be of the same culture as the Israelites of Canaan and seem to speak the same Semitic language as no suggestions occur of problems of understanding, interpretation or translation. They also worship Dagon, a corn god, considered by the Canaanites as a son of Baal. Since the Philistines were among the “Peoples of the Sea” who only occupied the coastal area from about the time of Rameses II when the biblical Israelites too were moving into Canaan, they can hardly have had linguistic and cultural identity or even similarities with the hordes of escaping slaves.
By the time of the Persians 700 years later, the Philistines had been culturally assimilated into the regional culture of the Semitic Canaanites. Furthermore, the original Sea People at the time of Rameses were essentially mercenary soldiers, not settlers, selling themselves to the Pharaohs for their military skills. The Egyptian texts depict relationships between Philistines and Egyptians as mainly peaceful, as would be expected if they were allies. Doubtless, it is because they were allies of the Egyptians that the Persians showed the Philistines as the enemies of the Israelites. The episode of David and Goliath (1 Sam 17) is revealed as of Persian provenance from its vocabulary.
David conquers Jerusalem and brings the Ark there having retrieved it from the Philistines who had captured it but suffered so much misfortune as a consequence that they had abandoned it. David’s kingdom however is shown as friendly with the Phœnicians, who were allies of the Persians in the fifth century and the suppliers of their sailors and navies. Finds of ostraca and the occasional formal inscription testify to Phœnician activity all over the country, and as far south as Kuntillet Ajrud in the Negev. Quite possibly, the wealthy people in the Palestinian hills were Phœnician land owners—perhaps often absent, as they were in Ireland in the nineteenth century—and merchants arranging for wine, oil and sheep to be despatched to Tyre and Sidon, or on into Egypt.
Who says there are no anachronisms in the Jewish scriptures? There are many but the scholars are too embarrassed to point them out. Maachah, David’s wife was a daughter of Talmai, a meaningless name in Hebrew because it is plainly Ptolemy, the Greek name of one of Alexander’s generals. David’s court life and succession (2 Sam 9-20; 1 Kg 1-2) was not an original composition of the time, supposedly by the court historian. It is pure fiction, a novel written for politico-religious reasons—they will revive David’s glory only by being obedient—and not completed until the Hellenistic period, 800 years after the events it pretends to describe.
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