If you were fortunate enough to be able to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City the last few months of 2014, you could have visited the amazing exhibition titled – “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age.” One of the extraordinary archaeological objects available to view was the House of David Stele from the 9th century BC.
The year was 1993 AD. Israeli archaeologist Avahaim Biran and his team were excavating at Tel Dan in northern Israel. They discovered the first of three stone fragments known as the Tel Dan Stele. In lines 8 and 9 of the stele, written in ancient Aramaic, the words “king of Israel” and “house of David” are written.
The stele is a commemoration of the victory of an Aramean king over two kings to the south: one a “king of Israel” and the other a “king of the House of David.” Many scholars who have studied the stele believe it recounts a campaign of Hazael of Damascus against Israel’s King Jehoram and Judah’s King Ahaziah.
What is significant about the Tel Dan Stele is that it was the first archaeological evidence of the name of the Bible’s King David. However, that was 1993. My investigation into the claims of the Bible was during the first part of 1971, more than 20 years before the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele. Did that mean no archaeological evidence was available to me that would confirm the existence of King David?
King David is mentioned more than a thousand times in the Bible. While archaeological discoveries concerning the validity of the Bible as a credible historical document were interesting to see, extra-biblical discoveries were my preference as an atheist.
One archaeological find available to me was the Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone. I referred to it more than a year ago in this series about archaeology and the Bible. Here is a quick summary about the stele from that post:
“F.A. Klein discovered the stone in 1868 and a French scholar named Charles Clermont-Ganneau made a ‘squeeze’ impression of the writing for further investigation. Arabs in possession of the stone reportedly broke it into several pieces. However, more than half of the stone’s pieces were found and eventually housed at the Louvre in Paris.
Dating of the Mesha Stele is to the middle of the 9th century BC. It commemorates the victory of King Mesha and his troops over the king of Israel and his armies. Here’s how the Moabite inscription reads. (A reminder that Chemosh was the chief god of the Moabite people.)
‘I (am) Mesha, son of Chemosh-[…], king of Moab, the Dibonite—my father (had) reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father,—(who) made this high place for Chemosh in Qarhoh […] because he saved me from all the kings and caused me to triumph over all my adversaries. As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many years (lit., days), for Chemosh was angry at his land. And his son followed him and he also said, ‘I will humble Moab.’ In my time he spoke (thus), but I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel hath perished forever’ (Pritchard, 1958a, p. 209).
The Mesha Stele names the nation Israel and two of its kings, Omri and his son. King Mesha admitted that King Omri humbled Moab for many days, but said it was because Chemosh was angry at his land. Mesha said that Omri’s son also humbled Moab, but that Mesha truimphed over him and his house … what we see is the record of an ancient enemy king of Israel confirming basic historical information about Israel’s kings, their humbling of Moab and a revolt by Moab against Israel.”
[A recent reconstructed translation of the damaged portion of line 31 of the inscription demonstrates another usage of the phrase “house of David.” The stone reads ‘b[–]wd’, but independent scholarly analysis found traces of a ‘t’ after the ‘b’, which would mean the inscription reads ‘bt[-]wd. Some scholars are confident based on that finding that the full inscription reads ‘btdwd’ – ‘House of David.’ Again, that information was not available to me in 1971, so I could not consider it during my investigation.]
What I learned about King Omri was that he was king of the northern kingdom of Israel during the early part of the 9th century BC. According to the Bible the kings of the northern kingdom were not from the lineage of King David. David’s descendants reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah. I also learned something about the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah which helped me in searching through archaeological information.
A Little History
According to the dating of the Bible, David became the king of a unified Israel at the end of the 11th century BC that included all 12 tribes of Israel. David’s son Solomon became king of a unified Israel in about 970 BC and reigned until his death in about 930 BC. Solomon’s son Rehoboam was supposed to became king of a unified Israel, but the majority of tribes revolted against Rehoboam with these words:
“What share have we in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse. To your tents, O Israel! Now, see to your own house, O David!” 1 Kings 12:16
According to the Bible, that was the beginning of the divided kingdoms. Rehoboam became king of the southern kingdom of Judah with a capital in Jerusalem. Jeroboam the son of Nebat (not of the lineage of David) became king of the northern kingdom of Israel with a capital in Shechem.
Jeroboam spent some time in Egypt before returning to Israel and developed a relationship with the Pharaoh Shishak (Hebrew spelling for the Egyptian Sheshonq I). Shishak attacked Rehoboam and the southern kingdom of Judah during the middle of the 10th century BC. Though Shishak did not defeat Rehoboam, the pharaoh did claim to have defeated 150 cities in the area.
Archaeologist Clarence Fisher made a discovery at Tel Megiddo in 1925 that gave researchers new insight into Pharaoh Shishak’s attack. The ‘Sheshonq I Megiddo Stele’ (dated to about 925 BC) lists the victories the pharaoh claimed in Canaan.
Another archaeological discovery is the Bubastite Portal, also known as the Shishak Relief. It is located in Karnak, Egypt and records the military campaigns of Sheshonq I in Israel and other areas of Canaan.
The Bible claims that Pharaoh Shishak attacked Jerusalem and stole treasures from Solomon’s Temple in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. According to the Bible’s timeline, that would be about 925 BC.
“It happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. And he took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took away everything. He also took away all the gold shields which Solomon had made.” 1 Kings 14:25-26
Kings, Kingdoms and Archaeology
Archaeologists have made many discoveries that support information in the Bible about the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah and their enemies. Here are some examples:
Though I did not have archaeological evidence in 1971 to the name of King David, I did have ample evidence to many of the kings who followed David. The evidence was strong enough for me to continue my investigation.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”