Kingdom of David and Solomon Supported by Growing Evidence
The evidence is coming together to support the Biblical record of David and Solomon. An Israeli publication updates the latest finds.
In Haaretz, an Israeli news site, you can watch Bible stories rise from the dust. For decades, liberals critics have said that Biblical kings David and Solomon were mythical heroes invented by later Bible writers. It’s hard to say that any more. Philippe Bohstrom has done a service to those who prefer to trust the Bible over man’s changing opinions, pulling together in one place the latest findings that support the great kings of the united monarchy.
The headline is: “Did David and Solomon’s United Monarchy Exist? Vast Ancient Mining Operation May Hold Answers.” Bohstrom opens his survey of Davidic archaeology by sharing the latest findings from Timna, a copper mining site dating from Solomon’s time (1/12/17). “Archaeology has provided precious little evidence for the biblical account of a powerful Judaic kingdom 3,000 years ago, but the sheer extent of copper mining in Timna, when Egypt was in a state of collapse, is otherwise hard to explain.”
The opening paragraphs read as if written by a skeptic, complaining about the lack of evidence for “the grandeur described in the biblical accounts of David and Solomon.” But then Bohstrom starts putting the pieces together.
The Timna copper mining site was much larger than previously known. Located in the Arabah just north of the Gulf of Aqaba, archaeologists have recently found indications of a major operation going on when David and Solomon lived, including textiles, living quarters and even donkey dung that shows the animals lived well.
- Radiocarbon dates of some of the organic remains at Timna date from the 10th and 9th centuries BC, the time of Solomon.
- The Egyptians had been at Timna earlier, as seen from hieroglyphs found, but Egypt was too weak to manage the site when the Bible has Solomon running his empire.
- Additional copper mines in Edom and two other sites were also major operations. “More than 100,000 tons of slag from the Iron Age have been discovered in the area,” Bohstrom says. Think of the water, food, and equipment needed to run such an enterprise. “The sheer scale of copper production at Timna and Faynan would have required the support of a major polity, scholars studying the Aravah agree.” Moreover, a substantial bureaucracy would have been required in Jerusalem to manage the faraway operation.
- Edomites were involved in the mining operations, but the question is who was in control. All the other empires near the Levant in that period—Egypt, Edom, Greece, Anatolia and Babylonia, were in a downward spiral when the mines were active.
- A large stone building in the City of David (south of Jerusalem’s current walls) is being interpreted as King David’s palace by lead archaeologist Eilat Mazar.
The “Stepped Stone Structure” below David’s palace appears to be the “Millo” supporting the palace, as described in the Bible. It could have been started by King Saul, the article says.
- The Tell Dan inscription, found in at Biblical Dan in the north of Israel, marked with the words “house of David,” was the first extra-Biblical reference to David found. Incidentally, a new paper in Science Advances discusses the city of Dan and how its inhabitants handled water and climate.
- Solomon made extensive use of copper when building the Temple. Detailed descriptions in the Bible have the verisimilitude of truth. They would be unimportant if the narrative only had theological purposes. Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay notes, “There is no reason to specify these technical details that basically are instructions to the contractor.”
- Khirbet Qeiyafa, a spectacular find south of Jerusalem near where David killed Goliath, with its Judahic style buildings and Hebrew inscriptions, shows that the site was a significant fortress outpost of a powerful king, not a tribal chieftain as minimalists complain.
- Pottery found at Hazor, far north of Jerusalem, dates from Solomon’s golden age. The “Solomonic gates” found there, according to archaeologist Amnon ben-Tor, who has spent his career excavating the site, fit with the Bible: “Hazor is well-planned, with fortifications, gates and well-built domestic buildings that could not have been built by semi-nomads,” he says.
- An Egyptian inscription confirms that Shishak, described in the Bible, invaded Judah around the time of Rehoboam, the successor to Solomon.
Bohstrom is careful not to overstate the case. Some of the findings can be interpreted different ways. In fact, he appears willing to believe that the Biblical record was embellished by later writers. “Apparently sometimes the Bible is right, other bits have been distorted, and often we simply cannot know,” he says. By this and other statements, we know he is not writing from a conservative view of the inspiration of the Scriptures. But one take-home lesson from his pictorial review of the archaeological evidence is that the minimalists seem to be on the run. Bohstrom gives ample time to minimalist Israel Finkelstein, for instance, to give his views. At one point he lets Finkelstein speculate about Jerusalem’s origins, then responds, “It is a convenient theory, but there is not one shred of evidence to support it.”
One other argument he makes deserves attention. Why do historians have no problem with other historical figures, when the archaeological evidence is even weaker? “Today, Homeric kings such as Agamemnon, Nestor, Diomedes and Odysseus are widely accepted as historical figures,” he notes. The implication is that we should not be surprised that much of the evidence for the United Kingdom of David and Solomon has been lost, given that Israel has been repeatedly invaded and destroyed by numerous empires since those famous kings lived.
Bohstrom is clearly not a Biblical conservative or apologist. He thinks much of the story of David and Solomon could be mythological. In a way, that makes his article more valuable for Bible believers, because he cannot be said to have an “agenda” to defend the Scriptures. Bible believers need to be aware of how strong or weak the evidence is at this current time, realizing that much of what we would like to see has been lost over the past 3,000 years of this war-ravaged land. Nevertheless, what we do see is consistent with the Biblical record, and nothing repudiates it as false. Be wary of skeptics who have an agenda to disprove the Bible. Arguments from silence are risky.
Realize, too, that very little in the land of Israel has been excavated. Think of the revolutionary discoveries in recent years, at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in Jerusalem, at Timna, and at Tell Dan. And it’s only the earliest of the kings that are in dispute; no one doubts the historicity of Omri, Ahab, Jehu, Joash, Hezekiah and later kings. Those later kings, corroborated by extra-biblical evidence, did not pop into existence out of nowhere. They were already established in kingdoms that had founders: David and Solomon. Those kings of the United Monarchy are also book-ended by earlier archaeological evidence of the conquest by Joshua, and of the Exodus (see Illustra film at TheJohn1010Project.com).
You can’t read the Old Testament without being impressed by the tremendous amount of detail about David (his movements, numerous officials named, the Psalms, etc) and of Solomon (ditto on historical details, plus Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon). You come away feeling that these writings have the ring of truth. There is no guile in the accounts, no gratuitous embellishment. No writer trying to glorify these great kings would include their dark sides, describing shocking details of their sins and personal flaws. Inscriptions by the Assyrians and Babylonians never do that, because their purpose was to exalt the glory of their rulers. The Bible is unique in the world: historically accurate, yet morally compelling, always requiring truth. We should use the Bible to validate archaeology, not the other way around.
Bible believers do not put their trust in archaeology, since the word of God speaks for itself. It’s exciting, though, to watch the pieces falling into place.