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"A brutally honest assessment of what archaeology can and cannot tell us about the historical accuracy of the Bible, presented with both authority and panache." — Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times
" . . . an intellectual high-wire act. Their audacity and skill is admirable . . . The book's most stunning accomplishment is its skillful reconciliation of competing perspectives within the biblical text." — Archaeology Magazine
David, Solomon, and the Western Tradition
Ancient Legends, the Bible, and Archaeology
From the soaring cathedrals and elegant palaces of medieval Europe, to the hushed galleries of world famous art museums, to America's backwoods pulpits and Hollywood epics, the story of ancient Israel's sacred kings, David and Solomon, is one of western civilization's most enduring legacies. The figures of David -- shepherd, warrior, and divinely protected king -- and of his son Solomon -- great builder, wise judge, and serene ruler of a vast empire -- have become timeless models of righteous leadership under God's sanction. They have shaped western images of kingship and served as models of royal piety, messianic expectation, and national destiny.
Thanks to archaeology, we now -- for the first time -- can dissect the main elements of the biblical story to see when and how each one emerged. The results of our search may be surprising, for the archaeological discoveries of recent decades have clearly shown how far from the glamorous scriptural portraits the actual world of David and Solomon was. Yet the legend was not merely a romantic fiction of imaginary personalities and events. It evolved over centuries from a core of authentic memories into a complex and timeless literary creation. In its unforgettable images and dramatic scenes -- the battle against Goliath, the rise of David from outlaw to king, the splendor of Solomon's court -- the legend of David and Solomon expresses a universal message of national independence and transcendent religious values that people all over the world have come to regard as their own. Yet as we will see, its origins are traceable in the archaeology and history of a single small Iron Age kingdom as it grew from a village society into a complex state.
THE BIBLICAL STORY IN BRIEF
The most elaborate version of the David and Solomon story, contained in a narrative that extends from 1 Samuel to 1 Kings, describes how the people of Israel achieved independence and enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity. Attacked and oppressed in their highland villages by the brutal Philistine conquerors from the lowlands, the elders of Israel cried out for a leader who could protect them against their enemies. Until then, the Israelites had been governed in their separate tribes by spirit-filled "judges." At this time of crisis, the venerable prophet Samuel, following God's instructions despite his own misgivings, anointed Saul, a handsome youth of the tribe of Benjamin, to be the first king over all Israel. Saul was a daring military leader, yet he proved to be unstable, subject to deep bouts of depression, impetuous violence, and repeated violations of religious law. God's second choice thus secretly fell to David, son of Jesse, a young shepherd from Judah, who had been summoned to soothe Saul's fits of madness with the music of his lyre.
As the narrative develops, David's grand destiny unfolds, even as Saul continues to reign. On the field of battle against the massed Philistine armies, David topples the mighty Goliath and earns the acclaim of the nation, enraging King Saul. In a desperate flight into the wilderness to escape from Saul's murderous jealousy, David further proves his leadership, bravery, and skill. As the chief of a roaming band of mighty men, he settles scores, fends off enemy attacks, exacts God's vengeance, and distributes captured booty to the oppressed and poor. When Saul dies on the battlefield, David is proclaimed king of Judah and eventually of all Israel as God's true anointed one, or "messiah." It is a classic tale of the rise of the young hero, a warrior for the true faith and a man of extraordinary charisma, who assumes the mantle of a failed leader and becomes the embodiment of his people's hopes and dreams.
David's subsequent exploits as king of Israel have served as a model for visions of territorial expansion and divine inheritance, over many centuries. In fulfillment of God's promise that Israel would be a great nation, David conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital, providing a permanent place of honor there for the Ark of the Covenant, which had accompanied Israel in its long wanderings. David and his armies then sweep all of Israel's enemies to defeat and destruction, establishing a vast kingdom that stretches from the Euphrates to the very border of Egypt. Upon his death, David is succeeded by Solomon, his son by the beautiful Bathsheba, who rules the kingdom wisely and ushers in an era of peace and prosperity. It is a stirring narrative of power and divine favor enjoyed by a nation whose rulers have been specially selected by God.
Solomon goes on to build a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and reigns with justice and intelligence, over a vast bureaucracy, a mighty army, and a great people. Through his international connections and skill in trade and diplomacy, Solomon is celebrated throughout the world as the richest and wisest of kings. He marries a pharaoh's daughter and gains renown as an insightful judge, author of proverbs, and master of knowledge about all the riches of creation -- trees, beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish. When the queen of Sheba journeys all the way to Jerusalem from her distant kingdom in Arabia to meet him, "Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king which he could not explain to her" (1 Kings 10:3). Solomon's image is the ideal convergence of wisdom, opulence, and power in the person of a king. Indeed, Solomon's rule in Jerusalem is a moment when the divine promise comes to its most tangible fulfillment; his reign is a golden age of prosperity, knowledge, and power for all the people of Israel. Forever after, Solomon's rule would be nostalgically recalled as a golden age of spiritual and material fulfillment that might, one day, be experienced again.
Yet in the Bible, both David and Solomon also have great human flaws, as profound as their God-given gifts. During his flight from Saul, David collaborates with the Philistine enemy and undermines Saul's authority by his own great popularity. Immediately after Saul's death, David unconvincingly disavows responsibility for the targeted assassination of Saul's closest supporters and heirs. Later, his marriage to the beautiful Bathsheba comes as the result of an adulterous seduction -- and a heartless maneuver to ensure the death of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, on the battlefield. As the years pass, David seems powerless to control the violent rivalry of his princely sons Amnon and Absalom. When Absalom attempts to oust David from power, the aging king is vulnerable and uncertain -- even crying out, when he receives word of Absalom's execution, "Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33). At various stages in his life, David is a ruthless leader, a greedy lover, a vacillating and sorrowful father. In a word, he is profoundly human, trapped between his destiny and his sins.
In the same way, the biblical Solomon also reveals a darker, weaker side. Solomon eventually betrays his reputation as the pious founder of the Temple, succumbing to the lure of foreign women and gods. His vast harem of Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite wives introduces pagan worship into the holy city. God becomes angry. Once-defeated peoples rise up in rebellion. After Solomon's death, the ten northern tribes of Israel break free and establish a separate kingdom. It is a vivid lesson about how the religious faithlessness of a luxury-loving leader can destroy a golden age.
Yet God had given an eternal, unconditional promise that David's "throne shall be established for ever" (2 Samuel 7:16) and that the Davidic dynasty would never fade away. Even after Solomon's moral collapse and the disintegration of his great kingdom, God assures the people of Israel that he would preserve an eternal inheritance for the descendants of David. One day their affliction would come to an end (1 Kings 11:39). What greater assurance could there be for any people that despite their rulers' human error and weakness, the nation's well-being remained secure?
The biblical portraits of David and Solomon are oversized and unforgettable, painted in bright colors. They are filled with human and theological contradictions, yet God's promise of eternal protection to David and to all his descendants offers the hope that someday a new David or Solomon will arise to usher in a new and even more breathtaking golden age.
THE WEST'S ONCE AND FUTURE KINGS
In the eyes of ancient Israel, David and Solomon were local founding fathers; in the eyes of the Judeo-Christian tradition as it evolved and expanded over centuries, David and Solomon came to represent much more. Embedded in the biblical canon and the traditions of Judaism and Christianity, they are revered as the greatest leaders of God's chosen kingdom of Israel, and as the spiritual forerunners of leaders, princes, and potentates throughout the western world. After the destruction of the Iron Age kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE, the legendary fame of David and Solomon was elaborated and uniquely cherished. Abraham, the great patriarch, slept peacefully in his tomb in Hebron. Moses, the great lawgiver, would never return. But David and Solomon had been the recipients of a divine promise that ensured the people's survival and eventual redemption. The lineage of David, son of Jesse, offered a promise for the future, no matter how grim the present might seem. As expressed in the book of Isaiah:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. (Isaiah 11:1-5)
That hope fueled Jewish expectations for centuries. But not only Jewish: when the Hebrew scriptures were embraced as the Old Testament of Christianity, the biblical prominence of David and Solomon was adopted to serve a new metaphysical scheme. For Christians, the messianic promise David accepted was inherited by Jesus and, through him, by the kings of Christendom. For Muslims, Daoud and Suleiman were afforded a place in Islamic tradition as great kings and wise judges who carried out Allah's will. Thus, the legend of David and Solomon became a central parable about kingship and divine favor from the deserts of Arabia to the rain-swept coasts of Scandinavia and the British Isles.
Over the centuries, the vivid scenes, symbols, and images of the biblical stories of David and Solomon have been expressed in nearly every artistic medium: the image of the youthful Judahite shepherd with his bag of sling stones, standing over the lifeless body of Goliath; the young man with the lyre who could still evil spirits; the lusty king who stole another man's wife and brought about the death of her husband; and the wise kingly son and successor who hosted the exotic queen of Sheba with great pomp and who ruled in unimaginable splendor and prosperity. The portraits of David and Solomon's divine anointment, majesty on the throne, and world conquering power articulate a universal vision of divine guidance and national destiny.
The biblical images of the David and Solomon story offered essential tools in the crafting of a wide range of later local and universal kingdoms. The Roman emperor Constantine pantomimed the role of a new Solomon as he assumed control of a Christianized Roman Empire. Justinian boasted how he had outdone even Solomon at the dedication of the massive Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople. Clovis, the king of the Franks, donned a more rustic Davidic persona; and Charlemagne, crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800, styled himself as a new David who would make a united monarchy of Europe not a biblical fable but a medieval reality. He was followed in his devotion to the image of King David by French, German, and English rulers in the following centuries.
By the thirteenth century, the elaborate Trees of Jesse carved on the façades of great European cathedrals reminded all worshipers of the sacred continuity of the Davidic line. Rising from the reclining figure of David's father, Jesse, the spidery tendrils of these ever ascending vines of stone, paint, or stained glass extended upward in a great organic chain of divine authority, from David with his lyre, Solomon and his crown, to the later kings of Judah, to Jesus, the saints, and then to the crowned kings of the medieval world. Likewise, the great Ottoman conqueror and lawgiver Suleiman, nicknamed "the Magnificent," consciously cultivated his public image as a second Solomon, to sanctify the historical and religious authority of his empire. In the Renaissance, the famous sculptural depictions of David by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Verrocchio universalized David's embodiment of individual action and confident awareness of personal destiny.
Later, in the paintings of Rembrandt in the golden age of Holland, in the poetry of John Dryden in Restoration England, and in the battle songs of the early American colonists, new depictions of David rose to oust mad Sauls and defeat boastful Goliaths. New Absaloms were condemned and mourned for treacherous acts of rebellion. New Solomons watched over grand empires. The stories of ancient Israel's kings David and Solomon were no longer solely biblical heroes or mystical precursors of Christ's incarnation; they were now also the role models destined to be followed by the earthly rulers of new peoples of the Book.
Even today, an age when western monarchy has passed away in all but its ceremonial trappings, the power of David and Solomon endures. Whether believed literally as history or appreciated for its mythic power, the biblical narrative of the founding kings of a united Israel has remained an important part of western culture. However little most people may know the contents of the Bible, few need to ask what a "David and Goliath" battle is about or what "the judgment of Solomon" means. Put simply, without David and Solomon our world would be different. The biblical stories of David and Solomon offer a template for western leadership and an archetype of kingly power that influences each of us, consciously or not.
ANATOMY OF A BIBLICAL EPIC
To understand the development of this archetype, we first need to examine its written source, the Bible. Before turning to archaeology, it is important to consider the painstaking work of biblical scholars who have attempted to account for when and why the Bible was written. To these scholars, the life and works of David and Solomon are contained in well-defined literary units, whose history and date of composition can be identified through stylistic, terminological, and linguistic clues.
In analyzing the contents of the various parts of the Hebrew Bible, many biblical scholars have concluded that the long David and Solomon narrative contained in the books of Samuel and 1 Kings is a part of a distinct literary work, known as the Deuteronomistic History, that spans the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. This work -- which we will have occasion to refer to again and again -- is the main biblical source for the history of Israel, describing the stormy, miraculous, and momentous events that occurred from the crossing of the Jordan River, through the conquest of Canaan, to the establishment of the Israelite kingdoms, ending with the tragic destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile.
It is called the Deuteronomistic History because scholars have recognized how much it has in common -- theologically and linguistically -- with the unique and last of the Five Books of Moses, the book of Deuteronomy. Alone of all the books of the Torah, only Deuteronomy imposes a strictly centralized worship on the people of Israel and prescribes a detailed code of legislation about everything from religious ceremonies to dietary habits, to lending practices, to the process of legal divorce. These laws are all conveyed as unambiguous divine commandments. If they are observed, the people of Israel will prosper and inherit divine blessings. If they are violated, the people of Israel will pay dearly for their sins. While Deuteronomy provides the law, the Deuteronomistic History is a long tale of how that divine principle played out in human history. It not only describes events and introduces biblical personalities, but uses them to explain why the conquest of the Promised Land was carried out with such violence, why the Israelites later suffered at the hands of their gentile neighbors, and why Kings David and Solomon, their successors, and the people of Israel either prospered or were punished according to their observance or violation of the laws of Deuteronomy.
According to many scholars, the Deuteronomistic History appeared in substantially its present form in the late seventh century BCE, during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (639-609 BCE), approximately three hundred years after the time of David and Solomon. But that is not to say that the Deuteronomistic History was an entirely new or completely imaginative composition when it reached its recognizable form. Beneath its uncompromising and uniform theological message, the Deuteronomistic History is a literary patchwork. It is clearly the result of the editing together of various earlier sources -- not a single original work written by an individual or group of authors at one time. The text contains jarring discontinuities, snatches of poetry, quotations from other works, and geographical lists interspersed with long passages of narrative.
Within the longer Deuteronomistic History, the story of David and Solomon -- extending throughout the first and second books of Samuel and the initial eleven chapters of the first book of Kings -- is itself a collection of earlier sources. Linked, and often interrupted, by poetic passages, long lists of names, summaries of heroic stories, and detailed geographical or administrative descriptions are three long compositions that narrate, in sequence, the major events of David's and Solomon's lives. These hypothesized early works are called by scholars "The History of David's Rise" (1 Samuel 16:14- 2 Samuel 5), the "Court (or Succession) History" (2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), and "The Acts of Solomon" (1 Kings 3-11).
"The History of David's Rise" tells the story of David's anointment as a young shepherd in Bethlehem, his arrival at the court of Saul, his battle with Goliath, his flight from Saul's court, his adventures as a roving warrior chief, the death of Saul, and David's succession to the throne of Israel. It concludes with David's capture of Jerusalem and final defeat of the Philistines.
The "Succession History," also known as the "Court History," has as its overriding concern the question "who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king [David] after him" (1 Kings 1:20, 27). It continues David's story with his establishment of Israel's capital in Jerusalem and the complex and morally ambiguous sequence of events, actions, and personal turmoil that took place during David's reign. It ends with his choice of Solomon to be his successor and his death as a feeble, impotent old man.
"The Acts of Solomon" is, in contrast, a straightforward record of King Solomon's great achievements, wealth, and wisdom -- ending with his moral decline and the rebellions and dissensions that brought the golden age of Israel to a close.
When were these ancient historical works written? The answer to this question is crucial to assessing their historical reliability. Until quite recently, most scholars believed that they were initially composed during or quite close to the lifetimes of David and Solomon. In a highly influential book published in 1926 and titled Die Überlieferung von der Thronnachfolge Davids (The Succession to the Throne of David) the German biblical scholar Leonhard Rost argued that "The History of David's Rise" was a work of ancient political propaganda, written to legitimize the accession of David to the throne of Saul, and to demonstrate that David was the rightful king of all Israel -- south and north alike. This narrative depicts David's rise to power as completely lawful, showing how Saul was rejected by his own human failings and religious misbehavior and that David was elected by God. It explains that the transfer of the throne from Saul to David was simply an expression of the will of God, since "the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul" (1 Samuel 16:14), while the Lord was with David (1 Samuel 16:18). Rost and many other scholars after him have theorized that this composition was written by a supporter of the Davidic dynasty late in the reign of David or during the reign of Solomon, when the Israelites of the north challenged the right of the southern Davidides to impose their rule over them.
Subsequently, the American biblical scholar Kyle McCarter described the narrative as a great apologia, intended to demonstrate David's righteousness despite the violent and bloody events that made his rise to power possible. In its skillful portrait of David, it refutes the implication that David was a disloyal deserter and Philistine mercenary who was to be blamed for the death of Saul. It places the blame on others for the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul's son and successor, and for the assassination of Abner, the commander of Saul's army. In both of these acts, David is cleared of responsibility -- though both acts were instrumental in David's consolidation of power. In short, the apologia aimed to demonstrate that David was blameless in all his dealings with Saul and his family, and that he was neither a traitor nor a usurper. He was Saul's legitimate successor, chosen by the God of Israel.
Similarly, the "Succession History" explains why and how Solomon ascended to the throne instead of the elder sons of David -- Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah. This narrative reaches its climax with the anointment of Solomon, which also is seen as a divinely sanctioned act. According to Rost and the scholars who have followed him, the "Succession History" must have been written by a contemporary eyewitness or participant in the events it describes -- most likely a scribe in the Jerusalem court, in the early days of Solomon. Both "The History of David's Rise" and the "Succession History," together with "The Acts of Solomon," were believed by these scholars to represent the fruits of a great period of enlightenment in Israel, in a royal court that included the offices of both secretary and scribe (2 Samuel 8:17; 20:25; 1 Kings 4:3). Rost characterized the "Succession History" as "the finest work in Hebrew narrative art." The great German biblical scholar Gerhard von Rad adopted Rost's ideas and described the "Succession History" as the beginning of Israelite historiography and, in fact, the beginning of history writing in western tradition.
When another German biblical scholar, Martin Noth, wrote his groundbreaking book on the Deuteronomistic History in the early 1940s, he too accepted many of Rost's observations. He argued that the Deuteronomistic historian incorporated into his work these early narratives almost verbatim. Most scholars followed suit, accepting the contention that the major narratives about David and Solomon were originally independent sources written in the early days of the Israelite monarchy. We now know, however, that this theory is mistaken. As we will see, it is clearly contradicted by archaeological evidence. The familiar stories about David and Solomon, based on a few early folk traditions, are the result of extensive reworking and editorial expansion during the four centuries that followed David and Solomon's reigns. Although they contain little reliable history, we will show how they provide an astonishing new understanding of the origins of the biblical tradition -- and why it remains so powerful even today.
WHEN DID DAVID AND SOLOMON LIVE?
The first obvious challenge in assessing the historical reliability of the David and Solomon stories is to determine the precise date of their reigns. This must be based on evidence within the Bible, for we do not possess any contemporary references to David and Solomon on well-dated inscriptions from archaeological excavations in Israel or from the neighboring civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. We must rely -- with due caution -- on the chronological clues preserved in the Deuteronomistic History.
In recounting the lives and reigns of all of the kings of Judah and of the northern kingdom of Israel, the first and second books of Kings in most cases note each king's age at assuming the throne, the length of his reign, and the correspondence in years and duration to the reigning king from the rival kingdom. If we calculate backward from the last reference to a king of the Davidic dynasty -- the mention in 2 Kings 25:27 of the release from Babylonian captivity of the last surviving Davidic king, Jehoiachin, in the first year of the Babylonian ruler Amel-Marduk (known in the Bible as Evil-merodach), we have a fairly secure starting point. Amel-Marduk is known from Babylonian sources to have ascended to the throne in 561 BCE. Counting backward from that date, with proper account taken for conflicting evidence from other ancient Near Eastern sources, obvious scribal errors, suspiciously round numbers, or possible overlaps in the rule of kings and their successors, scholars have been able to construct a chronological sequence that stretches all the way back to David and Solomon.
At certain points this list can be checked against contemporary references to the Davidic kings in the chronicles of Assyria and Babylonia. The Babylonian Chronicle, for example, mentions the siege of Jerusalem during King Jehoiachin's brief reign in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, 597 BCE. Manasseh's tribute to Assyria is noted in an inscription of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon in 674 BCE. The Assyrian attack on Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah is mentioned in the Annals of Sennacherib for the equivalent of 701 BCE. Ahaz's payment of tribute to Assyria is listed in an inscription of Tiglath-pileser III, dated to 734 BCE. Correspondences to the reigns of the northern kingdom -- which go back to the battle of Qarqar in the days of Ahab in 853 BCE -- also confirm the reliability of the general framework. (Another generally accepted synchronism is the invasion of the country by the Egyptian pharaoh Shishak in the fifth year of Solomon's son Rehoboam -- c. 926, according to the list above -- but this poses significant, and far-reaching, problems, as we will see.)
When we proceed backward from Rehoboam, the chronology gets considerably fuzzier. First, as previously noted, David and Solomon are not mentioned in any contemporary extrabiblical text, and hence do not have any reliably direct anchor to ancient Near Eastern chronology. Second, in 1 Kings 11:42 Solomon is given a suspiciously round figure of forty years of kingship, recalling the traditional biblical typological expression of forty years for "a generation," as in the length of the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness, or just for "a very long time." David's reign, begun in Hebron and then continued in Jerusalem, is likewise recorded as forty years. To make matters even more difficult, the passage containing the length of the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel, has been garbled by scribal copyists over the ages, reading: "Saul was...years old when he began to reign; and he reigned...and two years over Israel" (1 Samuel 13:1). Many biblical scholars have tried their hand at restoring the original number. On the basis of the sheer number of battles he reportedly waged and the prominence of his dynasty in Israel's historical memory, they have suggested a reign of approximately twenty years.
The truth is that we can take these symbolic biblical descriptions only as a general indication of the time period when David and Solomon would have lived rather than a precise chronological reckoning of the date and extent of each of their reigns. The problem is compounded by the fact that we cannot even presume that Saul and David reigned in a neat chronological sequence, one after the other, rather than having overlapping reigns. To make a long story short, we simply do not know the exact number of years that David and Solomon each ruled. The most we can say with some measure of security is that they probably both reigned sometime in the tenth century BCE.
THE SEARCH FOR DAVID AND SOLOMON BEGINS
The tenth century BCE must therefore be our starting point for a search for the historical David and Solomon. As we know from the archaeological remains excavated all over Israel during the last hundred years, the tenth century BCE was a time of upheaval. At city sites and villages, there is evidence of a great transformation. The disintegration of the old palace-based civilization of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550-c. 1150) had given way to the rise of new territorial entities and ethnic groups throughout the eastern Mediterranean region and much of the ancient Near East. The independent Phoenician city-states along the northern coast were growing in commercial power. The Philistines in the southern coastal cities were expanding their territory and maintaining close links with a weakened Egypt. Some of the old Canaanite cities in the valleys, like Megiddo, were experiencing a brief Indian summer of prosperity. And in the highlands long remembered as the birthplace of Israel and home of its royal traditions, a dense network of rustic hilltop farming villages in formerly sparsely inhabited regions marked the emergence of a culture and a society whose members would later identify themselves as "Israelites."
Archaeology is today the most important tool at our disposal for reconstructing the evolution of ancient Israelite society. Elsewhere in the ancient world, archaeological research has also transformed our vision of the past. The early history of Greece can now be told without resort to the mythic biographies of Minos, Theseus, or Agamemnon as primary sources. The rise of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations can be understood through inscriptions, potsherds, and settlement patterns rather than simply in tales of ancient wonders and semidivine kings. The discrepancies between art and literature, on the one hand, and documented, verifiable history and archaeological evidence, on the other, have made us see the founder myths of antiquity for what they are: shared expressions of ancient communal identity, told with great power and insight, still interesting and worthy of study, but certainly not to be taken as literal, credible records of events.
Such is the case with David and Solomon, who are depicted in the biblical narrative as founding fathers of the ancient Israelite state. Yet we can now say -- as we will argue in considerable detail throughout this book -- that many of the famous episodes in the biblical story of David and Solomon are fictions, historically questionable, or highly exaggerated. In the following chapters we will present archaeological evidence to show that there was no united monarchy of Israel in the way that the Bible describes it. Although it seems probable that David and Solomon were actual historical characters, they were very different from their scriptural portraits. We will show that it is highly unlikely that David ever conquered territories of peoples more than a day or two's march from the heartland of Judah. We will suggest that Solomon's Jerusalem was neither extensive nor impressive, but rather the rough hilltop stronghold of a local dynasty of rustic tribal chiefs. Yet the point of this book is not simply to debunk stories from the Bible. Alone among the great legends of Near Eastern and classical antiquity, the Bible retains its power to inspire hopes and dreams for living communities around the world even today. Our goal is to show how the legends of David and Solomon developed, and how they came to guide western thinking and shape western religious and political traditions in important ways.
As we proceed through the following chapters, we will analyze and attempt to date the various layers of the biblical story, describing the main issues in the now-bitter scholarly disagreements about its historical reliability, and presenting new archaeological evidence that is central to that debate. We will show, step by step, period by period, how the historical reality of ancient Judah -- as revealed by archaeological research -- gave rise both to a dynasty and to a legend that was transformed and expandedin a process of historical reinterpretation that continues even today.
For the now-familiar biblical story of David and Solomon is neither a straightforward historical record nor a wholly imaginary myth. It evolved from a variety of ancient sources, adding details, garbling contexts, and shifting its meaning as the centuries rolled on. It contains a complex stratigraphy of folktales, ballads, and dramatic narratives, which, taken as a whole, have little to do with the actual lives of the main characters and almost everything to do with the changing concept of the nation and the king. As we will see, the recognition of this complex process of literary and historical evolution, backed by archaeological evidence, is the key to understanding the true character of the biblical David and Solomon story -- and to appreciating its timeless insights about the nature of kingly power and national identity.
The discovery of the real lives and roles of David and Solomon in the tenth century BCE is therefore just the beginning. The question of how and why their legends survived the vicissitudes of antiquity to become one of the strongest images of western civilization -- and what values and dreams they reflected in every successive period -- is, as we hope to show, a story no less fascinating than the biblical narrative itself. Copyright ©2006 by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
Posted September 6, 2010
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Posted December 8, 2014
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Posted December 13, 2010
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Posted March 26, 2011
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