Archeology Challenges Bible’s Accuracy/Authenticity
- Adeeba Folami -
Do secular historical records and archaeological evidence confirm the existence of legendary Biblical kings David and Solomon? If they do not, how did the stories of these two figures gain the status, renown and spiritual significance they hold today? These were a few of the questions tackled in “David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition,” (2006), by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.
The authors make the case that archeology and history lead to the conclusion that the two men would have lived and reigned, based on biblical genealogy, around the 10th century BCE. At that time, however, there was no grand, united kingdom of Israel and such did not exist until the reign of kings who appeared decades later.
“From both archaeological and historical perspectives, we can recognize the emergence of the first true kingdom of Israel in the early 9th century BCE,” the authors wrote of King Omri and his dynasty mentioned in 1 Kings 16:15-24. “Contemporary inscriptions” verify the rule of a king by that name and are the earliest documents to substantiate the existence of persons mentioned in the Bible.
Finkelstein and Silberman (F&S), despite long-held traditional beliefs about David and Solomon, show that – historically – the Bible’s narrative is, for the most part, unreliable, having been transferred from oral to written transmission 300 years after the two famed kings were said to have lived. Archeology is said to dispel a number of “myths of antiquity” including many famous Biblical episodes involving David and Solomon which are called “fictitious, historically questionable, or highly exaggerated.”
Specifically dealt with is the story of David slaying Goliath, which may be the most widely recognized and oft-repeated story of David in the world. Yet, the Bible itself appears contradictory about who actually slew the giant as David is given the honor in 1 Samuel 17:49 while someone named Elhanan is given the credit in 2 Samuel 21:19. Whichever way the story goes is irrelevant, according to F&S, because the Bible description of Goliath’s armor places the setting in the late 7th century BCE some centuries after David’s death. This raises the question of whether the “composition” was added to the overall text hundreds of years after the 10th century BCE, or whether the tale is a mixture of truth and falsehood.
The morphing of fact into fiction
The historical David figure, the authors say, was never a king but was more a “bandit-chief” who rose to become clan leader of a local “highland polity” in the southern highlands near Jerusalem. This being the case, it is unlikely that such a leader would be faced with many of the scenarios in the Bible narrative, such as having a son defecting from the royal court as pictured in the Old Testament; having a commander taking a detailed census of the kingdom, or having a “diplomatic” marriage with the daughter of another nation’s ruler. Not to mention, there would, of course, have been no kingdom for David to pass to his son Solomon who, not being the eldest living son, was not the throne’s rightful heir anyway. The authors go on to explain that the biblical stories are little more than “dynamic propaganda” crafted with specific aims in mind.
“In their legendary transformation of the rugged founder of the dynasty into a great monarch …. the bards of 9th century BCE Jerusalem provided later western kings and princes with a vivid, poetic justification for their own human weaknesses and unshakable right to rule.”
The evolution of the propaganda did not stop in 9th century BCE as the present Bible was not put into writing until the late 7th century BCE when literacy first appeared in Judah. Prior to that, histories were transmitted orally and became more elaborate and less accurate over time.
Which details to include in the written story increasingly became a battle between 8th century BCE defenders of David and supporters of Saul – whose existence is not confirmed in any secular records. By this time, say F&S, the southern kingdom of Judah had become a vassal state of Assyria, a powerful empire which also defeated the northern kingdom of Israel causing Judah to become the “only autonomous state in the highlands.” Many from the northern kingdom were forced into exile and were replaced in their land by Assyrian deportees. This chain of events is not only in secular records but also in the Bible, 1 Kings 17:22-24. Historical records additionally show a population explosion in Jerusalem toward the end of the 8th century BCE and Israeli archaeologist Magen Broski is referenced in “David and Solomon” along with her suggestion that the rapid growth stemmed from a massive return to Judah of many of the exiles who fled Assyria to “avoid conscription.” With the influx, Judah’s population became mixed with members of both the southern and northern houses of Israel, the southerners retaining their legends and tales of David and Solomon, while the northerners held to what had been passed down for years about Saul.
Historical records altered to increase national unity
The Bible shows that Saul and David had a turbulent relationship with Saul sometimes filled with praise for David and other times seeking to kill him. David was always portrayed as the chosen king of God’s favor despite the many unwise and even scandalous choices the narrative has him making. The same friction that existed between the two men in the centuries-passed-down tales also existed between members of the two houses of Israel in the state of Judah in early 7th century BCE.
In order to promote unity amongst the area’s mixed population, bits and pieces from the legends of both men were combined, F&S explain, to create a new version of history that both houses of Israel could relate to. “The earliest version of the Biblical story of Saul, David and the accession of Solomon … was created not solely or even primarily for religious purposes, but for a now-forgotten political necessity – of establishing Temple and Dynasty as the twin foundation stones for the new idea of a united Israel.” It is unclear exactly what individuals were responsible for changing and adding more fiction to the ancient histories, but the emphasis placed on Jerusalem’s temple and its sanctity indicate that Judah’s priests played key roles in the process.
As time marched on, the fall of Judah as a localized government occurred when it was conquered – as was the Assyrian empire – by a Babylonian ruler who carried the residents of Judah away to exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE. Even there, however, the tales of David and Solomon continued to evolve and expand to include “passages foretelling the exile.” After the capture of Judah, the Babylonian territory they occupied became known as “Yehud” and the people were called “Yehudim” or “Jews.” F&S say that scholars suggest Jewish priests continued to revise the histories to “secure their position within Yehud.”
The religious leaders continued taking liberties by placing new interpretations on the story of David and Solomon into the 1st century BCE, just prior to the birth of Jesus and the subsequent start of what became organized Christianity. After that time it was Christians who adopted the histories of the two famed kings for their own use and as the basis of the prophetical doctrine of a future king to come and save his spiritually chosen people.
“Just as the significance of David had been shifted to the Temple and its rituals in the era after the Babylonian exile and to Hellenistic [Greek] kingship in succeeding centuries, early Christians shifted the focus of Davidic expectations to become the foundation of their own faith,” F&S wrote.
Hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, Christian leaders had concluded – and taught their faithful followers – that many of the Psalms said to have been authored by David were prophetical and foretold the life of Jesus, the prophesied king and savior of Israel. The roles of David and Solomon went through more changes which came as the church increasingly viewed them as “inspired metaphors” from God for the followers of Christ.
So now, even in the 21st century, the fictitious legends and fables about David and Solomon – mixed with some truths of their histories – survive and, F&S say, continue to hold modern generations of Christians and Jews in their grasp because of their “need for historical identity and continuing quest to believe that noble leadership is possible.”
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