Plus: King David Was Here

By the 1980s, superskepticism about Israel's origins had reached as far as Kings David and Solomon, whose reigns stretched from about 1000 B.C. to 920 B.C. In the early 1990s, says Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool, "Thomas Thompson wrote a big, fat book on ancient Israel that more or less denied there was ever a united monarchy of Israel, and it claimed that people like David and Solomon were fictions." It turned out to be bad timing because of several discoveries that followed soon after the book was published.

In 1993, excavators at the ancient city of Dan unearthed a stone slab dating to 841 B.C. It contained the first ancient extrabiblical reference to the "House of David"—a phrase used more than 20 times in the Old Testament. Immediately, the biblical minimalists proposed that a better rendering of the phrase would be "House of Dod," referring to a Canaanite deity. In 1994, however, a second fragment belonging to the same stone was found. The words it added to the original portion of text, says Kitchen, "limited the amount of ways you could interpret the text," making "House of David" the obvious translation. Concerning "Dod," Kitchen says, he has "demolished that false deity" in a recent scholarly article (in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament) by showing that this deity, in fact, never existed in ancient Canaan, but only in the linguistic inventions of nineteenth-century scholars.

Soon after the 1993 discovery, a second likely ninth-century B.C. reference to "House of David" came to light when Andre Lemaire reassessed a section of an inscribed stone called the Mesha Stele. And just last winter, Kitchen himself tentatively proposed the deciphering of a third mention of David in an ancient ...

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