5th August 2006
I saw this a couple days ago, but didn’t have time to post: Associated Press (via PE.com) has a brief report on and (somewhat) new book, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (Free Press, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). The news article, “Was King David legend or fiction?” raises a number of questions surrounding Finkelstein and Silberman’s views.
Here are some excerpts:
Some scholars are busily debunking the Bible’s account of the great King David, asking: Was he really all that great? Was he largely legendary, Judaism’s version of Britain’s legendary King Arthur, or totally fictional?
These matters are crucial not only for Jews but for Christians, since Jesus’ biblical identity as the messiah stems from David’s family line.
Though some scholars claimed David never existed, in 1993 archaeologists discovered a stone inscription from 835 B.C. that mentions “the house of David.” The authors say that established the existence of a dynastic founder named David and that shortly after his 10th-century era a line of kings “traced their legitimacy back to David.”
However, Finkelstein considers the Bible seriously distorted propaganda. He treats David as a minor bandit chieftain and Jerusalem as a hamlet, not an imperial capital. Supposedly, biblical authors concocted the grander David centuries afterward.
Finkelstein notes that archaeologists haven’t found monumental buildings from David’s era in Jerusalem. He dismisses links of David and Solomon with buildings unearthed at biblical Megiddo and Hazor. Ordinary readers might not grasp that this depends upon a disputed “low chronology” which would shift dates a century, just after these kings.
In the July-August issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael Coogan of Stonehill College, editor of The New Oxford Annotated Bible, contends that Finkelstein and Silberman “move from the hypothetical to the improbable to the absurd.”
Finkelstein’s revised chronology is “not accepted by the majority of archaeologists and biblical scholars,” Coogan asserts, citing four scholarly anthologies from the past three years.
Coogan also thinks “David and Solomon” downplays the significance of the Amarna tablets, which include correspondence to Egypt’s pharaoh from a 14th-century Jerusalem king. Even if archaeological remains at Jerusalem are lacking, he writes, the tablets indicate that long before David, Jerusalem was the region’s chief city-state, with a court and sophisticated scribes.
Discovery of ancient remains in Jerusalem is problematic, due to the repeated reconstruction throughout the centuries and the modern inaccessibility of many sites.
Nonetheless, perhaps David’s palace has been found. So claims Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Finkelstein denies this, claiming Mazar inaccurately dated pottery from the site.
“Here, for the time being, matters rest,” summarizes Hillel Halkin in the July-August Commentary magazine.
I tend to agree more with Coogan than with Finkelstein and Silberman, though I wouldn’t go as far to say the biblical account has no embellishments since I also think that all historiography has fictive elements. One of the more significant points the article raises, IMHO, is the fact that archaeological excavation of Jerusalem is problematic for so many reasons. That is why digs such as Mazar‘s are so important.