Finding Fact In Fiction
Archeologists have been scouring the land where David supposedly ruled for decades, with little success. Now, they think they’ve finally found the remarkable thing they’ve been searching for.
Searching For Clues
The area in which David should have lived is one that is often at the forefront of people’s minds. With ties to the bustling city of modern-day Jerusalem, many still believe that the city was founded by the legendary king. After millennia of strife, however, much of the original foundations in the city have been buried beneath the earth, obscuring their links to the past, making archeologists ever more determined to prove David’s existence. Their latest discovery has been groundbreaking.
Sifting Through Sand
A simple fact of archeology is that there is often far more information about an empire or kingdom’s end than there is about the beginning, as conquest generally led to destruction. While the Jerusalem of today is a blend of ancient and modern, the ancient sites most often considered don’t date back far enough to give us an understanding of what a historical David’s life could have looked like. New technology, however, is finally being employed to shed new light on the uncertainty surrounding the famed king.
Tales Of The Underdog
There are many reasons the tale of King David has become so compelling and integral to so many people. According to the Bible, David was a common shepherd with a talent for music, who was chosen by God to replace the little-loved King Saul. As such, the young peasant was chosen to become the court musician, which helped him to develop a close relationship with both King Saul and his son, Jonathan. Of course, that is not all David was known for.
Going Beyond His Strength
David’s true potential wasn’t discovered until war was waged against the fledgling Israelite kingdom by the neighboring Philistines. Though some say the myth is that Goliath was a giant defeated by a mortal man, historians tend to emphasize that Goliath’s stature was more likely embellished as the story was retold through the years. It was more likely that the size of Goliath was a metaphor for the strength of the Philistine army. Still, when David was chosen as the Israelite champion, he would become a hero.
Making His Mark
The story of David’s unlikely triumph over Goliath is made even more impressive by the fact that he even refused to protect himself with the armor of the king. David wasn’t supposed to be the champion of the Israelites in the single combat challenge, but declared himself as capable when he caught wind of the battle while bringing supplies to his brothers who were serving in the Israelite army. Without even a sword in hand, David wins the fight with only his slingshot.
The Beginning Of A Dynasty
The kingdoms of the Israelites likely cannot be compared to our modern notion of kingdom and empires that we have from the modern age. The biblical story goes that Saul was chosen by the prophet Samuel to lead a united kingdom, which he was only just beginning to organize. Unlike the days of rule by descent, both Saul and his successor, David, were plucked from obscurity. Historians and archeologists have sought outside evidence to confirm these legends.
Goliath may have been defeated, but the war waged on, only now with David working as one of Saul’s generals. David’s triumph was short-lived, as the people’s love for him inspired jealousy in the king. With a warning from Jonathan, David escaped, foiling the plot to kill him. With that, Saul became obsessive about capturing David, according to the biblical accounts, even while the Philistines were plotting another invasion. The only problem with the story is that we’ve yet to discover a contemporary record.
Taking The Throne
Saul’s reign would come to an abrupt end when he was captured in battle, while three of his sons were also killed. David and the king had reconciled at some point before the battle, though exactly what event brought them together is unclear. Sources point to David showing Saul that he would not kill him, despite having the opportunity. Either way, with the end of Saul’s line, David is chosen as king and embarks on a quest to capture Jerusalem.
Glory Of The United Front
David was said to have established a glorious kingdom, which was expanded into an opulent empire when Solomon took the throne after his father’s death. In cases of other large empires that are described in a similar manner, there is usually a wealth of archeological evidence, with some historical sources describing the events, but with the glamour of David and Solomon’s kingdom hidden by time, many have begun to doubt the United Monarchy ever even existed.
Rushing To The Forefront
As the archeology hidden beneath the hills of Israel began to be explored in the 20th century, there seemed to be a rush to prove that David’s kingdom really existed. Without the advances of technology that are employed today, however, any claims about the age or origin of a site couldn’t actually be confirmed. Therefore, one claim that a 1940 discovery of a copper mine was controlled by King Solomon was later debunked when other scholars decided it had to be from a later period.
Chiseled In Stone
The most compelling evidence for the existence of a real King David comes from two stones that were discovered from other sites, one in Damascus, and one connected with the ancient kingdom of Moab. The stone from Damascus seems to have a reference to the ‘House of David,’ but some claim the stone is referring to a different Judaean David. As the years wore on, many scholars began to abandon the search, working to prove that the kingdom in question was hardly a kingdom at all.
On The Backs Of Assyria
According to modern-day archeologist Israel Finklestein, the references made to the splendor of the Kings David and Solomon were merely influenced by the Assyrian culture surrounding those who wrote the accounts of the story, several centuries after they were set to have taken place. From the chariots to the palaces, Finklestein maintains that the archeological sites that have been turned up in the search for David can only be dated to the 8th century BCE. Many others still disagree.
Complicating The Evidence
Finklestein is perhaps the loudest naysayer of them all when it comes to the search for buildings that could be accredited to David or Solomon. Any time an archeologist goes to the press with a new finding, Finklestein is waiting in the wings to debunk his claims. However, as radiocarbon dating becomes more advanced, Finklestein may find that much of his work has become invalidated, while other scholars press on, hoping to find the glory of the lost kingdom.
A Palace In Question
Sitting in the Old City of Jerusalem with a view of the surrounding hills, it seems like the perfect place to put a palace, given the scope of the area that can be surveyed from up high. The old stone walls have been placed under scrutiny by yet another archeologist, named Eilat Mazer, who claims that the walls are the remains of David’s palace. While her announcement garnered much fanfare, those who are more scrupulous haven’t managed to confirm her claim.
Technology Makes A Break Through
With that in mind, new research teams have continued to set out into the hills of Central Israel in their quest to confirm the history obscuring the historical David and Solomon. One of the first sites explored to revisit the question was the copper mine said to have been worked by the Edomites. An archeological team comprised of scholars from both Jordan and Israel took a number of samples from the site to perform radiocarbon dating on them. The results that came back were surprising.
An Uncanny Find
In many of the ancient mining sites that have been combed for archeological evidence, the locations even surprisingly match up with the accounts given in the bible. One such account describes David’s triumph over the Edomites in the Aravah valley in the south of modern-day Israel, in which researchers have found a number of these strikingly large copper mines. To some, this serves as evidence that there is a much larger grain of truth behind the stories told in the bible.
Revisiting The Controversy
The radiocarbon samples from Khirbat en Nahas, the same site discovered in 1940, help add fuel to the idea that the mine was in operation during the 10th and 11th centuries BCE, which is exactly when David and Solomon would have ruled. The lead researcher on the project, Thomas Levy, explains that the sheer size of the mine points to there being a governmental organization on the scale of a kingdom in order to feed the number of workers necessary to the endeavor. That’s not all.
Digging For Timna
It wasn’t just the Khirbat en Nahas mine that was impressive. The mine at Timna, in southern Israel, was so large that archeologists knew it had to have been under the jurisdiction of a larger, centralized government. Many of the necessary materials to maintain the copper production had to be imported, which required large-scale trade. The evidence that any other major regional power was in control is mysteriously lacking. Many of the largest empires were also in the process of collapsing when the mine was most active.
Cropping Up On Hilltops
Another archeologist, Yosef Garfinkle, has published claims that he’s found a city in the valley of Elah, where David supposedly battled Goliath, that points to a Judaean city dating to David’s time. The evidence for the city’s establishment is upheld by pieces of pottery that Garfinkle’s team found at the site, in addition to his own radiocarbon samples. Even so, the city on its own doesn’t quite support the fact that a great kingdom was reigning during that time.
The Qeiyafa Question
Eilat Mazer may have claimed to find David’s Jerusalem palace, but in Khirbet Qeiyafa, Dr. Garfinkle believes he found the cornerstone to another of David’s palaces. Any good monarch would have ensured that they had multiple dwellings they could stay in throughout their realm, and the remains that Garfinkle uncovered in Qeiyafa have been postulated as a possible piece of a secondary palace. It’s even better that the palace was discovered along the same road that leads from Jerusalem to the mansion discovered in Tel Eton.
Medium Sized King
Though the researchers fervently believe that they’ve found compelling evidence that points to a historical David and Solomon, Garfinkle is careful to temper the claims that the United Monarchy was quite as big as the bible made it out to be. According to him, he believes the kingdom was far more than a simple collection of large clans, but it wasn’t quite at the point of being a significantly large regional power, rather it was a medium-sized kingdom.
Hiding In The Basement
The hopeful archeologists have maintained that the greatest problem facing those in the quest to find the remains of David and Solomon’s kingdoms is what’s known in archeology circles as ‘old house effect’, where the oldest artifacts, which would give clues as to when a structure was first established, are often buried by debris when the structure or city is destroyed by a conquering army. It seems to the kingdom believers out there that any structures built by David or Solomon suffered the same fate.
Extracting The Design
There’s another reason Garfinkle believes he’s found cities and palaces that were built during the time of David or Solomon. The naysayer Finklestein will contend that we don’t know these places weren’t built by other kingdoms, but Garfinkle explains that we can understand a lot from the design. The city walls and proximity of dwellings to the walls, for example, is a feature unique to Israelite societies. There was also a telling lack of pig bones among the animal refuse that was left behind, hinting at Kosher eating.
Pottery Tells The Tale
The evidence in the site in the Elah valley continued to crop up, supporting the claim that Garfinkle was making in favor of the city’s establishment during David’s time. One of the most important artifacts that the team stumbled upon was a shard of pottery inscribed with what they believe is a proto-Canaanite script, the writing used by the Israelites during that time period. The shard of pottery was one of the first of its kind to be found in the area, but still, more questions needed answers.
Meddling Of Moles
With years of contention behind them, and hopefully fewer before them, a new team of researchers has uncovered another building at Tel Eton, and its implications are bigger than ever. Avraham Faust and Yair Sapir were clued in to the existence of a structure based on debris that has been pushed up from the ground by the naked molerat. With pottery shards scattering a limited area, it became clear to the men that something historical was lurking below the dirt.
When their investigations began, they quickly began to uncover a structure that seemed like it might have been a dwelling. It soon became clear, however, that the dwelling was far larger than they’d ever imagined. With that in mind, the research team realized that if they could find evidence of when the dwelling was built, there was a higher likelihood of the structure being linked to a larger governmental organization, possibly that of David or Solomon.
Puzzle Pieces Align
As Sapir and Faust continued their dig, they could see that the way the dwelling had been built pointed towards Judaean, rather than Philistine origins. “[W]e discovered at the site…the construction of [what is] known to archaeologists as ‘the four-room house’ which is common in Israel but is rare to non-existent elsewhere,” Dr. Faust explained. While the Israelite link was clear, the team still needed to find proof of when the dwelling had originally been constructed.
Life Left In Shambles
As Faust and his team continued to dig, they were amazed by the sheer number of artifacts that had been left behind at the time of the house’s destruction. It was clear from the top layer of the ruins that the house had been abandoned or destroyed at some point during the 8th century BCE when the Assyrian army swept through the land, leaving nothing but ruins in its wake. Somehow though, many of the objects in the house survived.
The Story Unfolds
Faust was impressed by the depths of information contained in the upper layers of the house. There, the team uncovered pots, different types of funnels, which hinted at what each room had been used for, pieces of looms, in addition to an assortment of food remains native to the area. “The fact that the house was discovered in its entirety allowed us to reconstruct life in the house in a way that was not possible before,” Faust explained to Times of Israel
Mining To The Depths
The top layers of the excavation were fascinating in their own right, but they still left no clue as to when the structure had originally been built. Faust and Sapir continued digging until they hit 1.8 meters deep. There they found clues that made it seem as if they finally found the house’s foundation. Buried there next to the stones was a chalice, a local practice often done to bless a new building, as well as charcoal and charred olive pits, which could be radiocarbon dated.
Telling Olive The Story
It was just Faust and Sapir’s luck that the artifacts they tested using radiocarbon dating happened to all date back to about 1000 BCE, the time of David, and then Solomon. The team was careful to select a few artifacts, choosing those that were buried in the deepest layers of the structure. They tested charcoal from a bowl they found as well as olive pits long buried. The dates for all of them came back as around 3000 years old.
Renewing The Fervor
Though Faust and Sapir are careful not to make any conclusive claims, they believe the evidence they found overwhelmingly suggested that there was a complex governmental system in place during the time the ancient mansion was first constructed. While it doesn’t quite say that David or Solomon were kings, the architectural style suggests that the Israelite kingdom may have been even larger than previously thought. Hope is running high that in the next few years, the researchers will finally uncover the last piece of the puzzle.
Building Up Glory
Evidence of a legendary David has influenced all of the Abrahamic religions, as all three lay claim to a figure plucked from obscurity by a higher power. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all make extensive reference to the myth of the young upstart, but few have stopped to consider that he may never have existed in the first place. Over time, the mystery of whether or not David could have built a great kingdom has only continued to deepen, spawning intense debates that may finally be settled.