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King David: History or Myth?

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.
Amy Dockser Marcus, Rewriting the Bible
(US, The View from Nebo)

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 Shoshenq I, who biblical scholars believe is the Pharaoh Shishak of the Bible (1 Kgs 14:25 and elsewhere). Shoshenq 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 Shoshenq’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 Shoshenq 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. Gmirkin even had to have permission to photograph it.

Solomon Stele: Forged!

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 Shoshenq’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 Shoshenq 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 Shoshenq list.

Kitchen explains that the mention of the “Heights of David” makes sense in the Shoshenq 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 where Ziklag was, but it must be near the Negev if not in it.

The eleven rows of Shoshenq’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.

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.

Thoth and the Word
Humans recognized that they differed from dumb animals in that they could talk, and it was talking that put them as kin to God. It had, said J R Firth (The Tongues of Men, 1937) “gone to their heads”. This delusion left its mark in religion and philosophy in the importance to them of the Logos or the Word. “The Word” was something metaphysical—in philosophy a sort of overall law of Nature, and in religion an aspect of God, becoming the Son in John’s Christian gospel, the last of the canonical ones. Humans were made in the image of God because they shared the Word with God. God created people with the gift of the Word, and it was in respect of this gift that people were the image of God.
Thoth, the Word of Ra
In Egypt, the Word was identified with Thoth (Djehuti), the tongue and scribe of Ra, and therefore the means whereby the will of Ra was expressed, and thus his creative power. In ancient religions, the Word was especially important when the word was actually a name. Nothing could exist without a name, and so things only could come into existence when they had been named. This is the creative power of the Word that the scriptures speak of. The Egyptian god, Thoth, was the power of the name. As the scribe of Ra, Thoth was also the Master of Papyrus and the Ink Pot. He was the God of Scribes and the Lord of Books, and scribes then were not merely amenuenses, simply secretaries who took down shorthand for their masters. They were secretaries in the sense of ministers of state being secretaries, like the US Secretary of state, and UK Home and Foreign Secretaries. They were an important rank in society — ministers, administrators, civil servants and company secretaries — a senior and responsible class of people. Then they were recorders of transactions, reckoners of tariffs, like accountants, measurers like surveyors, timekeepers, and judges who had to know and make case law. Thoth showed his relationship to time in his title of Measurer of Months, and to justice as the Scribe of truth for the Lord of Eternity, and in his image wore on his head the moon, both crescent and full.
Thoth was so important, that the Greeks, who identified him with Hermes, their messanger of the Gods, called him Hermes Trismegistus, the Thrice Magnified Hermes. His equal in Babylon, the bringer of writing and other skills to the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians, was named by the Greeks Oannes (John), and he was none other than Ea (Hea), or rather a combination of Ea and Anu, two gods who, in one view, were paired as the male testicles, whence the combined Greek name, but who were mighty gods in their own individual ways. Note the sound of the name Ea. It is the same as Iah (Yah), the Jewish God! In India, the Word was a goddess, Vak, but she was nonetheless an emanation of the ultimate Hindu god, Brahma, and therefore was coeval with him, just as the Christian’s Word is with their supreme God.

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 god in Phœnicia was called Taautos, in a Greek rendering, according to Philo of Byblos, and was associated with a Goddess called Parthenos, The Virgin. 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 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:

  • Moses and the events of Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments;
  • for the flight from Egypt by the Israelites;
  • for a battle of Jericho where the walls came tumbling down because any town there at the time had no walls;
  • for the military conquest of Canaan.

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. Saul has forgotten him when he suddenly appears as a shepherd with a sling to take on the mighty Philistine champion, Goliath. The humble shepherd becomes a hero, then a cruel bandit—Robin Hood was a nicer bandit—then eventually a vigorous empire building king, before settling into senile decrepitude. 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”.

In 1 Sam 30:26, David acts like a Robin Hood, sharing out his booty to local chiefs, his chums. This list of towns that follows was “apparently added much later”, unless it was just that the whole tale was written “much later”, contrary to the hopes and dishonest machinations of biblicist “scholars”.

Finkelstein and Silberman (David and Solomon, 2006) accept that the stories about David could not have been contemporary because Judah was too economically backwards in reality to have supported anything like such a fine court and administration. The earliest possible time the tales could have been written was in the eighth century when the supposed forebears of the Jews suddenly became literate. Even then, nothing much in the way of inscriptions have been found to confirm it, and even if it is true that these people had discovered how to write, no one leaps from illiteracy to writing extended romances or histories in a couple of generations. First, a whole legacy of literacy has to be built, and it takes centuries, unless, that is, you are among the sheep who think it was a miracle!

In any case, it seems the settlement patterns in eighth century BC Judah did not fit the stories—the population had grown too big so that many wild places David was said to have operated in were actually settled quite densely. Finkelstein and others have extensively surveyed modern Israel, collecting data on settlement patterns, dating them by pottery types. So the pottery typology had better be correct, but hitherto, from the baneful influence of W F Albright, pottery dating has been entirely circular. Pottery was dated from biblical events and descriptions, then was used as an allegedly independent way to date the bible!

The method, as it is, shows that the fringes of Judah began to be settled in the ninth century, and from then on, the situation on the ground did not fit the stories. The prominence of the Philistine city of Gath, for example, was anachronistic after 830 BC when it was defeated and much reduced by Hazael, king of Damascus. It all seems little different from the usual biblicist special pleading, meant always to put the date of the bible as high as possible. In the hypothesis offered by Finkelstein and Silberman, the earlier prominence of Gath had to be immediately forgotten by everyone as soon as the city was reduced to insignificance. It was never, note, destroyed. It continued to exist as a small town long afterwards. Local people could hardly have not preserved a memory of its former greatness until it became legendary, probably centuries later.

Nor would the settlement of the former fringe areas in the story have been the problem suggested. People are not zombies, and the inhabitants of the most recent settlements knew theirs were new even generations later, just as already existing villages will have been known to be old! Besides their own memories and traditions, there were obvious clues, such as the age of the buildings in the villages. They would not have been frequently rebuilt, especially in the case of buildings with a cultural or economic function, such as a shrine, a mill or a press. Gath, for example, means “Wine Press”. Such memories and traditions can be preserved for centuries, and look plainly obvious for centuries when a place was a bamah, a fortress, a stone circle, a threshing floor, or some other such edifice.

Any author writing a tale about a local hero, especially intended as propaganda, would have ensured that the tale tallied with local folklore and geography. The propaganda purpose of these stories meant the authors were not just someone hoping for fame as a historian. The authors were educated men, scribes, priests, and possibly ministers, senior officials with resources behind them. They had every reason to consult locally, survey the landscape, and check records and histories, such as they existed, to make sure their research was thorough. Such diligence is unlikely before the Persian period, and is more likely in the Hellenistic period when populations were getting more generally literate, and writing skills were approaching those of modern times. To imagine that carefully honed and detailed accounts involving the social and emotional depth of these biblical pieces could have been written within one or two generations of the Israelites becoming literate is as ludicrous as thinking they were written in the actual court of David and Solomon.

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 Baal’s father. 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, and, from the description of his armour and weaponry, Goliath is a Greek hoplite!

Moreover, the idea of champions being nominated to settle a war is Greek, appearing in The Iliad, viz the fights between Paris and Menelaus, Hector and Ajax, and Nestor of Pylos who, like David, fought a giant. Finkelstein and Silberman invite us to think that Greek mercenaries or traders brought Homer to the court of Manasseh, whose scribes took on board a few choice incidents from it. It is a juvenile proposition. If Homer influenced the Jewish scriptures, it must have been when Greeks were in a position to exert an influence on them. It must have been after Alexander began the Hellenization of the east, and the occasion then is obvious—when the Ptolemies published the Septuagint.

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.

Stanley Isser considers tales of David like this contain heroic themes and banditry from different countries and from different times. The story of Goliath is a good example. Goliath’s armour and weapons are those of the typical Greek hoplite, a heavily armoured foot soldier, of 600 years later. Philistines drawn on Egyptian reliefs were only lightly armoured, having no helmets or greaves, and carrying only a spear. Philistine cities were to the south west of Jerusalem, but Saul killed himself in a fight with them in the north, at mount Gilboa near Bethshan. Nothing found in archaeology suggests the Philistines ever had a field army that could operate much beyond their own boundaries. Yet archeology does show Bethshan to have been an important Egyptian center—well fortified in the LBA—and though it declined, it was still an Egyptian stronghold at this time. The nations which attacked Judah from the north were Babylon and Assyria. Then, the story looks like an allegory of the attack on Judah by the Assyrians. Philistines are an allegorical, architypal enemy of the Jews and their brothers, the Israelites. They stand for enemies. Those who have oppressed them.

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.

The Accessions of 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. 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.

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.

Whose House?

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.

David’s Empire?

The court historian of David was accepted by all because the biblical narrative was so detailed that only an official scribe, it was imagined, could have made such a record. It had not just the trappings and procedures of an eastern potentate’s court, but it also recorded the personal lives and feelings of the people involved. All of this 500 years before Herodotus, yet no one thought it at all curious. One can see that someone contemporary might have had access to such detail but contemporary sources from much greater empires in Assyria and Egypt had not perfected writing to such a high level, and nor did any until the empire of the Greeks, supposedly 700 years later.

These stories could not have been written until the Hellenistic period. Writing had not evolved to giving such detail at the time of David, no one bought novels or biographies yet, and the affairs of courts were not for public consumption, even, or especially, for exhortation in the sermons of priests in public temples. Kings did not want their faults and foibles recorded let alone discussed by their subjects. Kings wanted their subjects to think of them as gods, or, at least, the privileged agents of a god. They were super human beings, yet David is portrayed as a callous mass murderer, an adulterer who arranges for his rival to die on the battlefield, who falls out with his son, and decays into self reproach and senile dementia.

That all this appears here proves it was not contemporary, but much later, and the literary skill shows it was Hellenistic. It plainly could not have been written before Herodotus in the mid first millennium, and, in fact, the Jewish scriptures were started by the Persians, just about the time of the first historian, but were refined in the later Greek period. Finkelstein and Silberman do not think such literary ability was possible in Judah before 700 BC, yet they think it was possible in seventh century BC Judah, still 200 years before Herodotus, and in a backwater.

Nothing in the ground supports a Davidic empire that might have explained such a level of literacy. Monumental structures have been found in Jerusalem from 2000 to 1550 BC, and again from about 750 BC until its destruction, but none have been found in between, in the very time when David and Solomon were emperors of the Levant, according to the bible. Like the stories in Joshua, of the conquest of Israel around 1200 BC, when many cities were allegedly destroyed, excavators find suitable destruction layers, attributed the destruction to Joshua, and thereby dated the layer—from the bible! When David, according to the bible, conquered an empire from Egypt to the Euphrates around 100 BC, likely destructions were attributed to David and strata dated by it. Characteristic pottery in those layers was typed and dated accordingly, then the pottery typology was used to date other excavated strata, even in distant countries when that type was found there as a result of trade. Local dating schemes were even overridden by the supposedly sounder biblical schemes, making nonsense of local archeology elsewhere.

Using the biblical narrative as the basis for archeological interpretation, and then using the interpretation as proof of the bible’s accuracy.

Such circular reasoning has been the bane of biblical archaeology, though not for the biblicists. Finkelstein and Silberman assure us in one place in David and Solomon that the pottery types have been reanalyzed, but to judge by the tendentiousness of these authors the reanalysis might not be a lot better. Then elsewhere in the book they tell us only a broad typology is possible, one able to distinguish Late Iron Age II pottery from pottery of the Persian era. It is not assuring.

More assuring is that Finkelstein and his co-workers are much more ready to use C14 dating, unlike most biblicist archaeologiests who disdain it, accusing its resulting dates of being consistently too low. That means they do not suit their belief in the bible. The C14 results showed the supposed conquests of David were at least a century after David supposedly lived. The bible says David had 600 men, enough for a bandit to operate at that time, but hardly enough to build an empire. The population of Judah then was so sparse that even 600 non-productive men would have stretched the region’s human resources.

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.

Most of the Psalms belong to a later age than David.
T R Glover

Who says there are no anachronisms in the Jewish scriptures? There are many but the scholars are too embarrassed to point them out. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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.

Artical reproduced from
© Dr M D Magee
Contents Updated: Monday, October 11, 1999
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