NOTE: Here is the video version of this blog, from Episode 142 of the TV show, Digging for Truth, by the Associates for Biblical Research.
At one time, some Bible minimalists (those who believe the Bible is of minimal value historically) questioned the very existence of King David. In recent years, numerous archaeological discoveries have confirmed the existence of Israel’s greatest king, and affirmed numerous details in the biblical text regarding his life and the times in which he lived. Here are the top ten discoveries related to King David.
10. Ancient Slingshots
David is perhaps best-known for his epic mano-a-mano battle against Goliath. The boy with a sling defeated a gigantic, seasoned warrior. While many are familiar with the Y-shaped slingshots with the rubber bands that are used today, slings in the Old Testament were quite different. Biblical weapons expert, Dr. Boyd Seevers describes them: “A sling can be a simple as a strap some three feet in length and one inch in width, though it is often made with two narrow chords attached to a wider pouch in the center. Often, the sling is woven from wool or some other type of flexible material from an animal or plant. One end is looped or knotted to attach to one of the fingers of the thrower’s hand, and the other end is knotted for the thumb and forefinger to grip until the moment of release.”1 Several ancient slingshots from Egypt have survived until today, including King Tut’s sling, which was discovered in his tomb. Slingshots were formidable long-range weapons in antiquity. Ancient texts suggest that slingers were accurate with their projectiles up to 400 yards.2 Scripture records that there were 700 men from the tribe of Benjamin who could “sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” (Judges 20:16). This gives us a better understanding of the advantage David had in his battle with Goliath. Of course, we ought not forget that the Battle belonged to the Lord (1 Sam. 17:47).
9. The Gath Ostracon
In 2005, an inscribed ostracon (inscribed pottery sherd) was unearthed at Tell es-Safi (the site of the biblical Philistine city of Gath) that was dated to the Iron Age 2A period (when David and Goliath lived). The inscription, written in Semitic “Proto-Canaanite” script contained two names: ALWT and WLT.3 Both of these names (ALWT – Heb. אלות and WLT – Heb. ולת) are very similar etymologically to the name Goliath (Heb. גלית). Aren Maeir, the director of the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath summaries the importance of this inscription: “1) the inscription demonstrates that ca. the 10th/9th cent. BCE, names very similar to Goliath were in use at Philistine Gath. This does provide some cultural background for the David/Goliath story; 2) that already early in Iron IIA, the Philistines adopted the Semitic writing systems.”4
8. Hebron (Tell Hebron/Tell Rumeide)
David initially reigned as king of Judah at Hebron, while Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth, reigned as king of Israel from Mahanaim. (2 Sam. 2:8-11). Hebron has identified as Jebel er-Rumeide, also called Tell Rumeide or Tell Hebron. Five LMLK (to the king) jar handles bearing the city name Hebron have been discovered at the site.5 Excavations have uncovered sections of the Middle Bronze II city wall, which continued to be used in the Iron I and II periods,6 as well as the remains of four-roomed houses and fragments of collared-rim jars, both of which are typically associated with Israelites.7 The remains of David’s royal residence likely lie on the summit of the tell, which is covered by a medieval structure (called Deir Arbain by the locals) which was originally a Byzantine monastery, and is off-limits to excavation.8 While David is more commonly associated with Jerusalem, the first capital of the Kingdom of Judah was at Hebron.
7. Geshur (et-Tell)
While David was reigning in Hebron, he had numerous sons by various wives. His thirdborn was Absalom the son of Maacah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (2 Sam. 3:3). Later, after Absalom had murdered his brother Amnon, he fled to his grandfather, Talmai, son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur, and lived with him for three years (2 Sam. 13:37-38). Scholars have suggested that David married Maacah, the daughter of the king of Geshur to solidify relations between their two kingdoms, and to strengthen his own position. In antiquity, the usual practice was for the daughter of the more powerful ruler to be given to the weaker ruler, which would indicate that Geshur was the stronger kingdom.9
Et-Tell, a site 3km (1.5 miles) from the north-east shore of the Sea of Galilee has been identified as the capital of the Kingdom of Geshur. It satisfies the geographic criteria in Scripture (Deut 3:14; Josh 12:4–5; 13: 11–13), where it often paired with Abel Beth Maacah. Abel Beth Maacah is identified as Tell Abil al-Qamh, and et-Tell is identified as the capital of the kingdom of Geshur; both sites are the most prominent Iron Age mounds in the region.10 Et-Tell (one of the contending sites for New Testament Bethsaida), was a significant fortified city in David’s day; the massive four–chamber Iron-Age Gate can still be seen today. A carved basalt stone stela was discovered near the city gates and depicts a bull-headed figure, which likely represents either the storm god or the moon god the people of Geshur worshiped.11 If the identification of et-Tell as the capital of the kingdom of Geshur is correct, then this is likely where David’s wife Macaah was from, and the place his son Absalom lived for three years.
6. Large Stone Structure (King David’s Palace in Jerusalem)
David was eventually made king over all Israel (2 Sam. 5:3), and he immediately captured Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:7), and set to budling a palace, which Hiram, king of Tyre, assisted in the construction of by providing cedar logs, carpenters, and stonemasons (2 Sam. 5:11). From 2005-2007, Israeli archaeologist, Dr. Eilat Mazar, unearthed what is now known as the Large Stone Structure, a monumental building complex with walls that were 6-8 feet wide, constructed of impressive stones, and to which a beautiful 5-foot-long proto-Aeolic capital likely once belonged. It is located above the famous Iron-Age Stepped-Stone Structure, which probably supported the Fortress of Zion and the Large Stone Structure above. The pottery found beneath the Large Stone Structure, dated the first phase of its construction to the beginning of the Iron Age IIa (10th century BC), the time of King David. Based on the palatial nature of the structure and the fact that its location matched biblical data (such as 2 Sam. 5:17 – David descending from his residence to the fortress), Mazar identified the structure as David’s Palace.12 While this identification has not been without controversy, numerous scholars accept her conclusion. Archaeologist, Dr. Scott Stripling, states, “Eilat Mazar’s excavation of the Large Stone Structure likely revealed David’s actual palace, just above the well-known Stepped Stone Structure or milo.”13 Nadav Na’aman, former professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University notes, “The Large Stone Structure, which Eilat Mazar unearthed and identified as the residence of King David, is indeed a suitable candidate for this building, or more accurately, for its northeastern wing.”14
5. Judahite Cities (Khirbet Qieyafa and Tel Eton)
Scripture records David’s kingdom expanding (2 Sam. 8:1-4), and controlling the kingdom from his capital city of Jerusalem. Two fortified sites dating to the 10th century have been unearthed which scholars believe are evidence of such a centralized authority controlling the region.
Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority) oversaw excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa from 2007-2013. The site is located 30km southwest of Jerusalem, within the kingdom of Judah, and surrounded by a massive casement fortification wall with two gates. Its 10th century date was confirmed by radiocarbon dating of pits in a destruction layer of a large royal storeroom.15 The excavators identified it as a Judahite outpost based on inscriptional evidence (an ostracon with one of the earliest Hebrew texts yet found), a lack of pig bones, and the presence of cultic shrines that did not have any graven images of people or animals. Garfinkel and Ganor state, “The massive construction of the Khirbet Qeiyafa city wall, which required 200,000 tons of stone, and the massive eastern gate of the city with two stones of ca. 10 tons each, proclaim the power and authority of a centralize political organization, namely a state.”16
Archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University recently excavated El Eton, another site that dates to the time of David and displays evidence of a strong, central political administration during its construction. A monumental structure, dubbed the “governor’s residency” was built using quality ashlar stones in the typical Israelite four-room design. Radiocarbon dating of samples taken from the foundation deposit indicate that the earliest phase of the structure was built in the late 11th-10th century BC. In an article in the journal Radiocarbon, Avraham Faust and Yair Sapir wrote: “The building of the ‘governor’s residency,’…suggests that the settlement at Tel ‘Eton was transformed in the 10th century BCE, lending important support to the historicity of the United Monarchy…[it] exhibits the earliest evidence for the use of ashlar stones in the region of Judah, and the mere erection of this edifice challenges one of the arguments against the historical plausibility of the United Monarchy (i.e., that ashlar construction appeared hundreds of years later).”17
4. Davidic Kings
After King David’s death, 20 of his descendants ruled in succession after him, from Solomon to the kings who reigned over the southern Kingdom of Judah. Archaeology has furnished numerous finds attesting to many of these Davidic kings.18 The nearly identical gates at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer are evidence of Solomon’s building activity as described in 1 Kings 9:15.19 Ahaziah is the king of the “house of David” referred to on the Tel Dan Stele (see below). Two seals which once belonged to officials in King Uzziah’s court mention him by name. A bulla (clay seal impressions) that reads, “Belonging to Ahaz (son of) Yehotam [Jotham], King of Judah” is held in the private collection of Shlomo Moussaieff in London. Numerous seal impressions from King Hezekiah have been discovered, and he is named in the annals of Sennacherib. Manasseh is named in the annals of both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, while Jehoiachin is mentioned in ration tablets from Babylon. Each of these discoveries independently corroborates the biblical description of a Davidic line of kings who reigned in Israel and Judah for generations.
3. “Heights of David” Inscription
King David’s name has been found in numerous ancient Inscriptions, including one possible reference from Egypt. When the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak (Shoshenq I), returned from his campaign in Palestine in 926/25 BC, he commanded that his victories be recorded on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Karnak. More than 150 hieroglyphic name-rings, each represented as a bound prisoner, are recorded on Bubastite Portal detailing the places he conquered during his northern campaign. Names rings 105 and 106 together read h(y)dbt dwt – the “Heights or Highlands of Dawit.” Egyptologist, Kenneth Kitchen, has proposed that this should read, “Heights of David.” He writes, “In Egyptian transcriptions of foreign names (both places and personal), a t could and sometimes did transcribe a Semitic d. This happens in the New Kingdom in such familiar place-names as Megiddo (Egyp. Mkt).”20 He further points to a sixth century Ethiopic inscription citing Psalm 65:19 from the “Psalms of Dawit,” the exact consonants on the Shishak Inscription. Kitchen summarizes: “This would give us a place name that commemorated David in the Negev barely fifty years after his death, within living memory of the man.”21 His conclusion is not without its critics, however, as some have suggested that ring 106 is difficult to decipher and may not read Dawit at all, let alone reference David.
2. Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone)
The famous Meshe Stele (Moabite Stone) consists of 57 fragments which were purchased from bedouin in the 19th century, and assembled, along with a squeeze of the inscription which had been taken before the monument was broken. The stele, a black basalt monument measuring 1.5m (45.28”) high by 60-80cm (23.6-31.5”) wide, is a victory stele of Mesha, king of Moab. Written in Moabite, it describes the same events in 2 Kings 3, Moab’s rebellion against Israelite subjection. In 1994, epigrapher, André Lemaire announced that he had detected a previously-overlooked letter, resulting in the phrase, “House of David.” He wrote: My own examination of the stone and the squeeze, which is now being restored and cleaned of accumulated dust, confirms that t follows the b. I would now, for the first time, reconstruct the missing letter as a d (d). The result: bt[d]wd (dw[d]tb), the “House of [D]avid!”22 The relavent part of the inscription reads, “And the house[of Da]vid dwelt in Horanaim […] and Chemosh said to me: ‘Go down! Fight against Horanaim.’ And I went down, and [I fought against the town, and I took it and] Chemosh [resto]red it in my days” (lines 31-33).23 In 2019, the Mesha Stele hit the news again when Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na’aman, and Thomas Römer published a paper in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University analyzeing Line 31 on the Moabite Stone arguing the words in question refer to Balak, not the “House of David.”24 Scholar, Michael Langlois, responded with an analysis published in the Journal Semitica, which high resolution images and Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) of the stele to create a 3-D image. The new technology revealed a previously overlooked dot, indicating a break between words, which comes exactly after the area interpreted “House of David,” confirming Lemaire’s initial reading.25
1. Tel Dan Stele
The most significant artifact related to King David is most certainly the Tel Dan Stela. In 1993, archaeologists at Tel Dan unearthed a fragment of a monument (Fragment A), found in secondary use in the remains of a wall on the eastern section of a large pavement at the entrance to the city gate.26 The next year two more fragments from the same monument were discovered (Fragment B). The fragments belong to a victory stele recording the expoits of the King of Aram (likely Hazael, although his name is not given) over the King of Israel, and his ally, the king of the “House of David.” It dates to the ninth century B.C., about 200 years after David’s rule. Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh, who published the Aramaic inscription, translated the relevant lines as: “[I killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]g of the House of David.”27 Archaeologist, Dr. Bryant Wood explains the historical context of the Tel Dan Stele: “It was most likely erected following Hazael’s defeat of Joram and Ahaziah at Ramoth Gilead in ca. 841 BC (2 Kgs 8:28–29). The occasion for the breaking of the stela was probably when Jehoash, king of Israel from 798 to 782, recaptured Israelite territory previously taken by Hazael (2 Kgs 13:24–25). It appears that the monument stood in Dan near the city gate for over four decades. It was a constant reminder to the Israelites that they were subject to the Arameans.”28 The Tel Dan Stele establishes the historicity of King David, affirms the biblical description of his dynasty, and is a stunning rebuke to minimalists who once thought Israel’s greatest king was no more than a mythical figure created by much later writers to give Israel a glorious backstory.
Thanks to the ongoing work of archaeologists and scholars, the existence of King David is no longer in doubt, and we are learning more with each passing year about the times in which he lived. David, the warrior-poet wrote many Psalms, some of which prophesied the coming Messiah, who would save their people from their sins. If Scripture can be trusted in what it says about the historical details of David’s life, then I would suggest we can trust that it accurately records the words of David, including those that pointed to Jesus.
Cover Photo: The statue of King David in front of the Church of our Lady in Copenhagen. Credit: Christian Bickel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
1 Boyd Seevers, Warefare in the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2013), 61.
2 Boyd Seevers in “Taking Down Goliath: Slinging in the Ancient World.” Digging For Truth. https://youtu.be/7p0jtMy4iwY, 14:43. (Accessed June 2, 2021).
3 Aren M. Maeir et al., “A Late Iron Age I/Early Iron Age II Old Canaanite Inscription from Tell Es-Safi/Gath, Israel: Palaeography, Dating, and Historical-Cultural Significance,” BASOR, no. 351 (August 1, 2008): 57. Online: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25609285 (Accessed June 2, 2021).
4 Aren M. Maeir, “Comment on the news item in BAR on the “Goliath Inscription.” The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project Official (and Unofficial) Weblog. Feb. 16, 2006. https://gath.wordpress.com/2006/02/16/comment-on-the-news-item-in-bar-on-the-goliath-inscription/ (Accessed June 2, 2021).
5 “King Seal Artifacts Attest to Hebron’s Jewish History” http://en.hebron.org.il/history/693 (Accessed June 5, 2021.
6 Emanuel Eisenberg and David Ben-Shlomo, “Tel Hevron: Preliminary Report.” Hadashot Arkheologiyot: Excavations and Surveys in Israel 128 (2016). https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/26679271.pdf (Accessed June 5, 2021).
7 Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Discovering Hebron.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 31.5, (September/October 2005), 33.
8 Ibid, 33.
9 Rami Arav, Richard A. Freund, and John F. Shroder Jr., “Bethsaida Rediscovered.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 26:1, (January/February 2000), 46.
10 Na’aman, Nadav. “The Kingdom of Geshur in History and Memory.” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament. 26.1 (2012), 95. Online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09018328.2012.704198 (Accessed June 5, 2021).
11 “Cultic stele, Bethsaida, Iron Age II, 9th-8th century BCE.” From The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005. https://www.imj.org.il/en/collections/371435 (Accessed June 5, 2021).
12 Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006. Online: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/did-i-find-king-davids-palace/ (Accessed June 5, 2021).
13 Scott Stripling, The Trowel and the Truth (Ramona: Vision Publishing, 2017), 104.
14 Nadav Na’aman, “The Interchange Between Bible and Archaeology: The case of David’s Palace and the Millo.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 40:1, (January/February 2014), 61.
15 Randall Price and H. Wayne House, Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 121.
16 Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor, “Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha’Arayim.” The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. Vol. 8, Article 22, p. 5.
17 Avraham Faust and Yair Sapir, “United Monarchy, and the Impact of the Old-House Effect on Large-Scale Archaeological Reconstructions.” Radiocarbon, 60(3), 801-820. Online: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/radiocarbon/article/governors-residency-at-tel-eton-the-united-monarchy-and-the-impact-of-the-oldhouse-effect-on-largescale-archaeological-reconstructions/5CE54AE6CEE838CC0D076186A2FBACE5 (Accessed June 5, 2021).
18 Lawrence Mykytiuk, “53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically.” Biblical Archaeology Society. April 12, 2017. https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/50-people-in-the-bible-confirmed-archaeologically/ (Accessed June 6, 2021).
19 Scott Stripling, The Trowel and the Truth (Ramona: Vision Publishing, 2017), 106.
20 K. A. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 93.
21 Ibid, 93.
22 André Lemaire, “’House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 20:3, (May/June 1994), 36.
23 Bryant G. Wood, “Mesha, King of Moab” Associates for Biblical Research. September27, 2006. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/chronological-categories/divided-monarchy/3437-mesha-king-of-moab (Accessed June 7, 2021).
24 Amanda Borschel-Dan, “High-tech study of ancient stone suggests new proof of King David’s dynasty.” Times of Israel, May 3, 2019. https://www.timesofisrael.com/high-tech-study-of-ancient-stone-keeps-davidic-dynasty-in-disputed-inscription/ (Accessed June 7, 2021).
25 Michael Langois, “The Kings, the City and the House of David on the Mesha Stele in Light of New Imaging Techniques.” Semitica 61, 2019, p. 23-47. Online: https://michaellanglois.org/medias/langlois-2019-the-kings-the-city-and-the-house-of-david-on-the-mesha-stele-semitica-61-p–23-47.pdf (Accessed June 7, 2021).
26 Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 43 (1993): 81.
27 Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh, “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment.” Israel Exploration Journal 45 (1995): 13.
28 Bryant G. Wood, “The Tel Dan Stela and the Kings of Aram and Israel.” Associates for Biblical Research. May 4, 2011. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/topics/amazing-discoveries-in-biblical-archaeology/2233-the-tel-dan-stela-and-the-kings-of-aram-and-israel (accessed June 7, 2021).