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David the Myth

John R. Neal, Sr. OT9316A Text 1 & 2 Samuel Spring 2014



I. Definitions .. vi

II. Abbreviations . vii-viii

III. David The Myth 1-22

A. Introduction ... 1-2

B. Liberal Views Toward King David .. 2-6

(1) Proponents of Minimalist View .. 2-6

C. Are Their Presuppositions Warranted? . 6-15

(1) Questioning the Sources .. 7-10 (2) Anti-Miraculous Biases 10-11

(3) Lack of Objectivity .. 11-12 (4) What is the Nature of Biblical Historiography? .. 12-15

(a) Selectivity .. 12-13 (b) Bibles Particular Interest . 13-15

D. Conservative Response to Minimalists Position on Bible And Archaeology .. 15-21

(1) Biblical History and Archaeology . 15-16


(2) Does Archaeology Prove the Bible is Not Historically Reliable? 16-21

IV. Conclusion . 21-22

V. Bibliography .. 23-24



Deuteronomist (-ic History): This is the designation given to the author/compiler of the OT book of Deuteronomy and/or certain other portions of the OT that reflect the literary and theological characteristics of Deuteronomy, whether found in Gen-Josh, or Deut-2 Kgs., the latter called the Deuteronomistic History by the OT scholar, MARTIN NOTH.1

Historiography (from the Greek, meaning lit. to write history): This term refers to the writing of history, with special reference to the critical used of original sources. It also refers to critical reflection on the discipline of writing history.2

Myth: In popular usage the term myth connotes something untrue, imaginative, or unbelievable In the field of biblical studies, the term is often used in a less pejorative fashion to describe an important if provisional way of perceiving and expressing truth. The first definition is the way the term myth is used in this paper.3

Biblical Minimalists: The belief that the Bible is not a reliable historical source for establishing a history of Israel or a history of the united kingdom during the time of David or Solomon (10th century B.C.).

Biblical Maximalists: Contrary to the minimalist position, maximalists do believe the Bible can be used as a historical source (along with archaeology) to establish a history of Israel. They would not necessarily agree with Evangelicals, however, that the biblical account is always historically reliable.

Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism, Fourth Edition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 53. 2 Ibid., 91. 3 Ibid., 129.


Abbreviations Abbreviations of Old Testament Books4

Book Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes Song of Solomon Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos

Abbreviation Gen. Exod. Lev. Num. Deut. Josh. Judg. Ruth 1 Sam. 2 Sam. 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chron. 2 Chron. Ezra Neh. Esth. Job Ps. Prov. Eccles. Song Isa. Jer. Lam. Ezek. Dan. Hos. Joel Amos

Don Meredith, Supplement to Turabian 8th Edition (Memphis: Harding School of Theology, 2013). Accessed March 24, 2014.


Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Obad. Jon. Mic. Nah. Hab. Zeph. Hag. Zech. Mal.

ANE Ancient Near East B.A.R. Biblical Archaeology Review B.C.E. Before Common Era (scholarly substitute for B.C.)



David The Myth

Introduction King David, along with Samuel and Saul, is one of three main characters found in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. Up until the 1990s, the biblical account of tenth century B.C. era of David and the United Monarchy is looked upon by biblical scholars as being historically accurate. Since the decade of the 90s, a new school of thought steeped in skepticism arose that rejects the belief that Israels actual history could be reconstructed based solely upon the Old Testament.5 Intense scrutiny by this group of archaeologists and historiographers (termed as biblical minimalists) come to depend greater on archaeology and epigraphy and less and less upon the literary or biblical text as a historical source.6 The purpose of this paper is to examine the common held belief today among most Old Testament scholars that the biblical David is not a historical person, but more of a myth. Now this does not mean David did not exist, but they would classify him like Robin Hood in Medieval England (less fact and more fiction). This same group would challenge the traditional view that David reigned as king over an important kingdom known as Israel. The minimalist group would view the kingdom of Israel/Judah as an insignificant country and not a dominant world power that we read of in Samuel and Kings during the time of David and Solomon. First of all, we will look at the liberal views towards David and Israel of the 10th century B.C. Second, we want to examine the minimalist presuppositions and see if their skepticism towards the Bible is warranted. Third, we want to give a reasoned response from a conservative perspective as to

Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). 6 Gary N. Knoppers, The Historical Study of the Monarchy: Developments and Detours, in The Face Of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches, Ed. David W. Baker and Bill T. Arnold (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 207.

why the biblical account in Samuel is reliable and can be used (along with archaeology and epigraphy) to write a history of Israel.

Liberal Views Toward King David Back in 1997, Hershel Shanks (editor of B.A.R.) questioned scholars among the two opposing viewpoints (the minimalists verses the maximalists) on the historical accuracy of the Bible in reference to the 10th century B.C. (the period of the United Monarchy). While this is not a scholarly, peer reviewed journal, I believe he gets to the heart of the issue. The editor of B.A.R. states: One of the most controversial issues in modern Biblical studies is the increasingly assertive contention that the Bible is essentially useless as a historical source, even for the period of the Israelite united monarchy (the 10th century). These scholars claim that David and Solomon are not historical, but rather mythological. Since they believe the historical books (the Deuteronomistic History) were written as late as the fourth century B.C. during the Persian period (some 500 plus years after the fact), then the books of Samuel and Kings cannot be viewed as being a reliable historical source since they were written so far removed from the events of the United Monarchy.7

Proponents of the Minimalist View Some of the proponents of this belief system (and they would not classify themselves as minimalists) have taught at some of the worlds leading universities. Men such as Philip Davies

Hershel Shanks, Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers, Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1997), vol 23, no 4: 26.

(University of Sheffield), Niels Peter Lemche (University of Copenhagen), Thomas Thompson (University of Copenhagen), and K.W. Whitelam do not hold a high view of the historical nature of the Old Testament. In fact, these scholars do not refer to themselves as minimalists, but they do appropriate the term since this is so often used to refer to their belief system. They often are accused of not believing that the Bible is historical. But as Philip Davies says in his own words, they do not claim the Bible is not historical at all, but just bad history.8 Thus the point needs to be made that Davies and others are not claiming the Bible is completely unhistorical, just not reliable as a historical document to write a history of Israel from. But bad history is an understatement. In an article he wrote denouncing the house of David reference in the Tel Dan inscription, he admits (and places other colleagues in the same group): I am not the only scholar who suspects that the figure of King David is about as historical as King Arthur.9 If the Old Testaments depiction of David is not historically accurate, then the logic would follow that the depiction of his kingdom (Israel) is not correct historically either. Davies and Rogerson do not doubt that David did in fact go to war with various nationalities as recorded in Samuel. Neither do they deny that these victories over other countries would make possible the claim to sovereignty over them (which would include foreign nations paying tribute to David). Yet these two scholars argue that one would be entirely wrong to argue or suppose that David thereby exercised control over anything other than the garrisoned towns, and also misleading to speak of him creating an empire.10

Philip R. Davies, Minimalism, Ancient Israel, and Anti -Semitism. Article appeared on his website: Accessed February 13, 2014. 9 Philip R. Davies, House of David Built (Thompson 2002) (Whitelam 2012) (Na'aman 1997) on Sand, Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1994) vol 20, no 4: 55. 10 John W. Rogerson and Philip R. Davies, The Old Testament World, Completely Revised and Expanded (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 69.

There is no way anyone could manufacture these claims Davies and Rogerson (along with others) are making about David being a myth. Brueggemann states, The recognition that we have in these texts artistic renderings rooted in folk memory raises important questions about the historicity of these narrated accounts. In the early days, archaeologists and scholars viewed the Bible as being historically reliable narratives, but not so any more. The skepticism of many scholars leads them to the conclusion that in these Old Testament narratives we have here no reliable historical data. What we do have is an historically rooted memory of a tribal chieftain of quiet modest proportion whose memory has been greatly enhanced through artistic imagination.11 Even if one concludes that the Tel Dan inscription does contain the phrase house of David, all this does is to authenticate the existence of a Davidic government. The question as to how Israel emerged from tribal society to monarchy or how large or small she was remains to be seen.12 Hayes and Miller (who both taught at Emory) point out that the 1 and 2 Samuel are simply a continuation of the account from Genesis-Judges. They note that no one should be surprised that all of these books reflect many of the same literary characteristics (their answer to common themes running throughout the Old Testament). Yet the narrative that now stands consists of numerous originally independent traditions which have been combined and intertwined to produce a story line as it now stands. Along with all of these sources that have been spliced together to create the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, they conclude that the book of Samuel is full of legends for the most part.13 The considered opinion of Miller, Hayes, and

Soggin is that the Bibles account of the United Monarchy is not reliable. In fact, there is little
Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 132. 12 Ibid. 13 James Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986).

that can be learned from the Hebrew Bible about the origins of Israel in history, but that they concentrate on only one of several potential sources for that history: that which derives from late Judean traditions.14 The role of the historiographer is to get back to the closest sources

available (which they believe is not the Bible, but archaeological remains and epigraphy).15 Whitelam, in his section on the festschrift in honor of Davies, writes about The Death of Biblical History. Whitelam states: In pronouncing the death of biblical history I do so not only because I do not believe that if offers us access to the ancient past as Provan, Long, and Longman unwittingly demonstrate, it has been the pursuit of a ghostly phantom but because the constant repetition of such a history as though it is self-evident has such deadly consequences in our own world. An integrated history of Palestine, in which the Iron Age and other periods associated with outside time, should be a celebration of humanity and diversity. The death of biblical history in this sense is not something to be lamented but celebrated; it is to accept that notions of identity, culture, and our understanding of the past are not objects that are reified, primordial, and unchanging, but are open to constant negotiation, are unruly, and dynamic.16

Thompson says they do not deny all historical relevance and historicity to this biblically derived historiographical body of literature, but only those elements that are useful. But whose definition do we use to determine what is or is not useful? The minimalists seem to be able to pick and choose which hidden sources in the Old Testament are useful and which ones are not. He stresses that scholars need to corroborate historical evidence, either in sources independent of the specific tradition, or minimally, from a context contemporary with the traditions
Thomas L. Thompson, Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written & Archaeological Sources (Leiden: The Netherlands; Brill, 2002), 111. 15 Ibid. 16 Keith W. Whitelam, The Death of Biblical History, in Far From Minimal: Celebrating the Work and Influence of Philip R. Davies. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, 484, T & T Clark library of biblical studies, Ed. Duncan Burns & John W. Rogerson (London/NY: T & T Clark, 2012), 18. This sounds very similar to Devers call back in the 80s for an end of Biblical Archaeology in favor of New Biblical Archaeology or Syro Palestinian Archaeology. While he is much more conservative in his estimate of the OT, he may have helped start the ball rolling in that direction for total disregard for the historical reliability of the Bible. See Hershel Shanks, Devers Sermon on the Mound, Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 1987), vol xiii, no 2: 54-57.

formation.17 No wonder then Nadav Naaman wrote an article in defense the historicity of the Old Testament historical books entitled, Cow Town or Royal Capital? Evidence for Iron Age Jerusalem. While the minimalists accuse conservatives of revisionist biblical history, they end up doing the very same thing they accuse us of committing. 18 They perceive Israel and Jerusalem to be some backwater, fourth world country and Jerusalem nothing more than a cow town with cow paths to walk on instead of streets.

Are Their Presuppositions Warranted? While any scholar with a high view of inspiration of the Bible has definite presuppositions, the minimalist group (and they do use this term to refer to themselves in their own literature) have their own defined presuppositions and appear to have an ax to grind with their conservative counterparts. There are four areas in which their belief system needs to be challenged: (1) questioning of the sources, (2) their anti-miraculous biases, (3) their lack of objectivity, and (4) the nature of biblical historiography. They are as dogmatic about their

beliefs as we are our own theology! Let us take a look at their skepticism and see if there is any basis to their wholesale rejection of the historicity of the Bible? We want to spend time surveying their positions in order to determine whether or not they have a proverbial leg to stand on or not.

Thompson, 111. Nadav Naaman, Cow Town or Royal Capital? Evidence for Iron Age Jerusalem, Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1997) vol 23, no 4: 43-47, 67.


Questioning the Sources The modern biblical scholars depend greater upon the archaeological and epigraphy remains while at the same time placing much less dependence upon the Bible as a historical source.19 Even some of the older works that attempted to write a history of Israel (such as that of Albright, Noth, Bright, and even Miller & Hayes) relied heavily on archaeological remains. Yet if the desire of these older works to turn to the field of archaeology was a means to buttress histories of Israel, which were written basically according to a biblical chronology, there is now a trend to eschew recourse to biblical texts altogether.20 What factors have led to a greater dependency upon archaeology rather than the biblical text? There has been so many archaeological digs in both Israel and Jordan during the last fifty plus years that has led to mountains of data that must be sifted through; all of this new evidence or data has led scholars to formulate a new history of the monarchy based solely on these findings. The application of these new methods or the new archaeology has given insight into ancient Palestinian life demography, ethnicity, housing, socioeconomic conditions, dietary habits, and other new areas of research. All of this information gives anthropologists a much fuller picture of the past than was previously available. This has caused most biblical scholars to reassess the biblical text as a reliable historical resource. While this newer approach has given us a better sense of the background to the Old Testament, yet in doing so they have also underscored that history writing is a form of literature. In other words, the books of Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles are viewed as secondary witnesses to historical events. They are not recording history, but writing history. Many scholars who advocate this newer literary

approach to scripture choose to refrain from discussing the historical reliability of the biblical
19 20

Knoppers, 207. Ibid., 207-08.

books they study. They stick just to the text and do not concern themselves with historical issues. In fact, many such scholars are extremely carful to distinguish their work from that of historical reconstruction.21 This in turn impacted Old Testament studies by causing a great divide between the Old Testament narratives from the biblical/historical events they reference. 22 In addition to the problems brought on by literary critics is the issue of historical critics who move the date of biblical books (either whole or in part) to the exilic and postexilic era. In other words, this places the writing of these events to a much later date than previously argued. Over thirty years ago, most scholars viewed the various historical sources behind the books of Samuel (the so-called ark narrative [1 Sam. 4:1b-7:1; 2 Sam. 6]; the ascension of David source [1 Sam. 16:14-2 Sam. 5]; and the succession narrative [2 Sam. 9-20, 1 Kings 12]) as historical documents which date to the time of the united monarchy.23 More recent (and more liberal) scholars see these sources that lay behind the text as being very late, postexilic (from the Persian Period and later), and thus unreliable.24 These biblical critics, who are really nothing more than revisionist historians, are being challenged by conservative scholars, yet the earlier consensus about the dating of materials in Samuel no longer exists.25 For those who want to reevaluate and re-date the biblical text leads to consequences for historical reconstruction. The later the date or time from which a book is written, then greater the distance that exists from the time of the author and the ear of the events they depict. 26 If this is the standard that all modern historiographers want to uphold, then we are all hopelessly lost; every modern historical critic is studying a document or culture that is thousands of years
21 22

Ibid., 208. Ibid., 208-09. 23 Ibid., 209. 24 Ibid., 209-10. 25 Ibid., 210. 26 Ibid., 210-11.

removed from the 21st century.27 Even if we accept their premise that Samuel and Kings was not written unto the Persian era (some 500 plus years after the fact), that does not mean that some author or writer who is closer to the events they are historicizing is superior to that of an aut hor writing centuries later This is a very nave assumption about the nature of writing history.28 The likelihood that the books of the Pentateuch, the Prophets (both former and latter), the Palms, the wisdom literature, and even the Writings all date to the postexilic period (Persian era) is highly improbable.29 Not only is one hard pressed to fit all of the historical books in the Persian period, but many of the events that occur in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are too detailed to be so far removed from the historical events. Even the books of Chronicles depends heavily upon Samuel and Kings for material.30 Baruch Halpern makes the observation that with respect to the names and dates that occur in extrabiblical inscriptions, the author (Deuteronomistic historian they refer to him as) accurately records the names and relative dates of a variety of Israelite, Judahite, and foreign kings. Halpern further argues that whatever time period a scholar assigns to the Kings material, the book of Kings is highly valuable for historical reconstruction.31 When searching for a time frame for the composition of Samuel, the postexilic date for these historical books just do not add up. When one examines the emergence, history, and decline of the divided monarchy in the northern kingdom, the evidences seems to fit a preexilic

27 28

Ibid., 211. Ibid. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid., 213. 31 Ibid.

date best.32 The arguments that are made suggesting that Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are polemical writings that are addressed towards the Samaritans or that they serve as an object lesson to Judah are simply not persuasive.33 Those who claim that Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are written from an anti-Samaritan point of view forget about the fact that the author blames King Solomon (a Judean king) for causing the divided kingdom, turns around and commends the rise of a northerner (Jeroboam) to the throne, and finally champions the formation of an independent Israelite state. The author of Chronicles also blames Jeroboam establishing the pagan shrines at Dan and Bethel as seditious from their inception. The Chroniclers point-of-view can also be seen in that he omits the independent history of the northern kingdom except when it affects Judah. Why would the author of Kings spend so much time focusing upon the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12-2 Kings 17) if the book was written in a postexilic era?34 Even if one accepts that the historical books were written much later (Persian period), still this does not mean that chronological distance that exists between the time of writing and the time the events took place suggests the books have no historical value. To the contrary, the historical books in the Old Testament are indispensable for historical reconstruction.35

Anti-Miraculous Biases One of the major issues that must be addressed when examining the Hebrew Bible (and historical backgrounds) is the occurrence of supernatural events.36 A talking donkey, bringing
32 33

Ibid., 313-14. Ibid., 214. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 214-15. 36 Longman and Dillard, 20.


the dead back to life, the parting of the Red Sea, and the long day in Joshua all cause problems for most scholars. If a biblical scholar approaches the Old Testament as he would any o ther book that is, if he perceives it as written from a human vantage point, about human affairs skepticism is warranted.37 On the other hand, the theologian or exegete who acknowledges the reality of God and who believes that God is the ultimate and guiding voice of the Bible will not have difficulty accepting the supernatural events of the Bible.38

Lack of Objectivity During the decade of the 1990s, there began a school of thought in Old Testament studies that was steeped in skepticism and also rejected the belief that the actual history could be reconstructed based on the Hebrew Bible. Some of the main proponents of this belief system are Philip Davies, Thomas Thompson, Niels Peter Lemche, and Kenneth W. Whitelam. While they did not all agree among each other, yet they became known as biblical minimalists or mimimalism, which means that a minimum of historical memory may be found in the text. Whitelam is the one who proclaimed that biblical history is dead.39 The biblical minimalists believe that since the biblical text is clearly not an objective work of history, it must be supported by extra-biblical evidence before its historical claims may be taken as true. Since there is almost no direct and specific historical evidence bet ween the Old Testament and history, then this severely limits the Bibles value as a historical document. The biblical minimalist will even doubt many of archaeological literary finds that relate to the Bible (such as the Tel Dan inscription the house of David and the Merneptah
37 38

Ibid. Ibid., 20-21. 39 Ibid., 21.


Stela). The minimalist position seems to be bound and determined to undermine the biblical text as reliable history. What they propose to do instead is a more objective way of reconstructing the history of Palestine, namely, archaeology, ignoring the obvious hermeneutical and ideological problems inherent in that discipline.40

What is the Nature of Biblical Historiography? The biblical historical record is not simply an objective reporting of purely human events. Rather, Longman refers to the Bible as an impassioned account of Gods acts in history as he works in the world to save his people. Thus biblical history is theological, covenantal, and even prophetic. Here are some key facts one must keep in mind when examining the Bibles narration of Gods history.41 First, Bible history is selective. No history can tell everything about its subject.42 Even the apostle John acknowledged that his gospel was not an exhaustive account of the life of Christ (Jn. 20:30-31; 21:25). To further illustrate this point, one only needs to take a glance at the synoptic historical accounts of King Davids reign as recorded in the historical books Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. The author of Samuel mentions Davids sin with Bathsheba and her late role in helping procure the kingship for Solomon (2 Sam. 11-12; 1 Kings 1-2), but there is no mention of Bathsheba in the book of Chronicles other than her listing in the genealogical record (1 Chron. 3:5).43

40 41

Ibid. Ibid. 42 Ibid. 43 Ibid., 22.


The function of selectivity is not solely for the purpose of conserving space, but is also a part of the function and intention of the historiographer. As biblical historians, we are not interested in every aspect of the past. Rather, we focus on the community of Israel. Even though Israels community interests often find expression in the political and military life of Gods people, the Old Testament historical books are not interested in politics just for the sake of politics, but rather in how politics and military actions affect Israels relationship with God.44 Another important key in understanding the historical section in the Hebrew Bible is to discover the authors intentions and how these objectives affect the principle of selectivity. The books of Samuel and Kings emphasize the sins of both Israel and Judahs kings and in particular their rejection of the law of centralization. The prophets role in the Old Testament is to point out Divine retribution for sin. If we are the people of God, surely they asked why they ended up in captivity.45 The Hebrew Bibles historical books and prophets help answer that question. The inclusion of Davids sin with Bathsheba fits the overall purpose of Kings and his emphasis on sin, but this narrative does not fit the purpose of Chronicles which asks the question of Judahs historical continuity with the past.46 Second, there is the nature of the Bibles particular interest. This second aspect of biblical history is closely related to the selectivity of the Bible. Not all acts of God, not everything that occurred to Israel, was equally important to the biblical historians. Some biblical acts are emphasized while others are not. Understanding the Bible or a particular writers emphasis helps explain the Chronicles stress of the temple is contrasted to the

44 45

Ibid. Ibid. 46 Ibid.


discussion in Samuel and Kings in part due to the fact that the temple was being rebuilt during the time of Chronicles. But the Chroniclers use of emphasis and his comparisons with Israel/Judahs past, he is able to show the continuity between the people of God at the end of the period of the Old Testament and the people of God at the time of Moses and David.47 There are times when an authors particular emphasis serves more didactic purposes.48 Out of all the cities that were conquered during the book of Joshua and the period of the conquest, only two stand out in the narrative in terms of emphasis: Jericho and Ai. They are both listed not only because they are the first two cities conquered, but they also serve as a paradigm for the proper waging of holy war. The lesson one learns from the battle at Jericho (in Joshua 6) is that obedience to the Lord results in military victory, while the lesson we learn from the battle at Ai (in Joshua 7) is that disobedience to God, even by a single individual, will grind the conquest to a halt.49 Third, there is the nature of order in the historical narrative of the Old Test ament. For the most part, biblical history follows a roughly chronological order. This order mostly

rehearses the history of Israel under the reigns of its various kings, but at times biblical narrative follows a more thematic course than a historical one. Some suggests that this helps explain why Saul does not recognize David in 1 Sam. 17 (when he slays Goliath) since he previously served as the harpist who helped soothe his tormented soul (1 Sam. 16:14-23).50 Fourth, there is the use of application in understanding biblical historiography. The authors of the Bible were not dispassionate in recording Gods history (his-story, if you will).

47 48

Ibid. Ibid., 23. 49 Ibid. 50 Ibid.


While modern historians may want simply, to quote an old TV line, to have just the facts, yet the Old Testament prophets were those who mediated Gods word to his people. The old prophets were Gods mouthpieces or vehicles to interpret his own holy acts to the people. One would not be out of line then to refer to the Old Testament historians of Israel as preachers. The Old Testament books or biblical texts are their events. These preachers then apply them with zeal to the congregation of Israel. These biblical texts are a wonderful integration of history, literature, morality, and theology.51

Conservative Response to Minimalists Position on Bible and Archaeology Biblical History and Archaeology The authors of the Bible do have a historical intention. They make claims about what happened in the past. The field of archaeology is a study that tries to investigate the material remains of a culture to reconstruct history.52 Thus there are two historical sources, the biblical text and the material remains uncovered by archaeologists, that make claims about the past.53 The interrelationship between the Bible and archaeology is a hot topic. Some view the role of archaeology as a handmaiden of biblical studies. Since the material remains cannot speak, then we must give the record a voice. In order to do so, we must turn to the biblical text. Other scholars object to this mindset of archaeology being subservient to archaeology (William Dever being an example). Dever even rejected the use of the term bi blical

archaeology in preference for the more neutral Syro-Palestinian archaeology (although later he would reverse this position. Other modern biblical scholars argue that archaeology is the
51 52

Ibid. Ibid., 24. 53 Ibid., 24.


only true guide to reconstructing ancient history since textual sources like the Old Testament are ideologically invested.54 The archaeological remains that relate to the Bible must be interpreted. Yet every interpreter comes with his or her own presuppositions to both the text and to archaeology. This involves the presuppositions of the interpreter just as the interpreter of texts begins with certain presuppositions. While an argument can be made that archaeology is a more subjective field of study due to the fact that the remains are cannot speak for themselves (with the exception of extrabiblical textual material, which is subject to the same issues as the interpretation of biblical material) as opposed to the biblical text, which provides us with interpretation of events. Longman also states: In the final analysis, it is much too simplistic to expect from archaeology either an independent verification of biblical claims or a certain scientific refutation of them.55

Does Archaeology Prove the Bible is Not Historically Reliable? Here are some key questions that archaeologists ask, according to Amihai Mazar, when they examine the United Monarchy in Samuel and Kings. Can the study of archaeology shed any light on the transition from the period of the Judges to the centralized rule of a monarchy? Does the evidence uncovered by the spade suggest the existence of a mighty kingdom as described in the Hebrew Bible? What connections, if any, does David (and Solomon) have commercially and politically with the rest of the world? Do the material remai ns reveal an internal development of the kingdom from Saul until the time of Solomon? Since the

archaeological remains from this era are sparse and often controversial, Mazar says we do
54 55

Ibid. Ibid.


not have enough information to provide unequivocal answers to these questions.56 If this claim by Mazar is true, then archaeology cannot answer all of our questions, nor can the field of study disprove the Bible. When David conquered the Jebusites, Jerusalem was located on a narrow spur demarcated to the east by Kidron brook and to the west by the Tyropean Valley. Archaeological excavations that took place on the steep eastern slope of this hill, above the Gihon spring, have revealed an imposing edifice, known as a stepped structure, which dates to around the tenth century B.C. The structure contains a huge retaining wall which is preserved to a height of 16.5 m. This wall apparently supported a monumental building of which no remains were found. This building is often identified with Davids fortress of Zion mentioned in 1 Chron. 11:5.57 The Early Iron Age I period lasts from 1200-900 B.C. This is the time period for what we know of in the Hebrew Bible as the period of United Monarchy.58 The kingdom of David and Solomon lasted for approximately no more than three-quarters of a century, from cir. 1000922 B.C. The reign of David could be called the golden age of the United Monarchy. This was a period when the nation of Israel became an important political factor in the Ancient Near Eastern world.59 The growth and importance of Israel was in part due to a weakened condition of Egypt and Mesopotamia (the two great centers or world empires of this time). When David ascended to the throne, he became a religious reformer, a builder of cities (especially in

Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of The Land of The Bible: 10,000-586 B.C.E. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. Gen Ed David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 371. 57 Ibid., 374. 58 Keith N. Schoville, Biblical Archaeology In Focus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 49. 59 Ibid., 49-51.



Jerusalem), a musician, a poet, and a great politician.60 Mazar claims that the location of these walls on the summit of the hill above the Gihon Spring is more appropriate for King David than for his son Solomon, whose acropolis was constructed farther north. At some time later during the monarchy, when Jerusalem expanded to the eastern slopes of the hill, this stoned structure became obsolete.61 Mazar says that there appears to be a transitional period during the first half of the tenth century B.C. where Israel began developing an urban culture. 62 This modest

archaeological data that comes from the time of King David, although not conforming with the image of an empire founder, is consistent with the biblical accounts, which do not attribute to him any building operations.63 Even John Bright considered the biblical accounts of the United Kingdom under David and Solomon (as found in 1 and 2 Samuel, plus 1 Kings 1-11) to be of the highest historical value.64 When dealing with the size of Davids kingdom (whether small or great), he states: Davids court, though modest in comparison with Solomons was nevertheless of considerable size. There were his various wives and their children (II Sam. 3:2-5; 5:13-16) altogether a sizeable harem, with the jealousy and intrigue that one would expect. Add to these, an increasing number of clients and pensioners at at the Kings table (e.g., chs. 9; 19:31-40). Surrounding Davids person was his guard of honor, the thirty (ch. 23:24-39), a picked body selected from the Kings own troops, patterned on a similar organization in Egypt. While Davids court was not picture of sybaritic luxury, it was hardly the rustic thing that Sauls had been.65

60 61

Ibid., 51. Ibid., 374. 62 Ibid., 374-75. 63 Ibid., 375. 64 John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1959), 163. 65 Ibid., 185-86.


The position of the biblical minimalists that the biblical account is not reliable historically is not accepted by all biblical scholars. The evidence from archaeology does not disprove the Bible. The data does help give more insight, or flesh in the skeleton, to the background information and put the books of Samuel, Kings, and even Chronicles in their proper historical context. While archaeology may not prove that biblical account of David is correct, there are some great things that archaeology can shed upon the historical books in the Hebrew Bible. First, archaeology is able to supply an everyday context about the Davidic narrative in Samuel. The extra-biblical record is able to give the reader a glimpse of what life was like during the 10th century B.C. world of David in rural Israel. We are able to have a better understanding about the clothing people wore and how they made clothing, how they traveled, the things they grew on farms and what they ate, as well as the types of tools the average farmer used and what type of weapons were used in battle.66 Secondly, the archaeological record also reveals the

broader environmental and economic context of Davids life.67 With a great population growth in Israel during the Iron Age period, this would put a great strain upon Israels natural resources and on the agriculture economy. This may explain why David, as the youngest son, wanted to strike out on his on and succeed in the kings army. He would not receive much of an inheritance (since there were seven brothers in front of him), so military life would be a way to earn a living.68 Third, archaeologists (or more precisely, anthropologists and sociologists) are able to provide biblical scholars cultural parallels. Sociology and anthropology study

cultures and look for patterns that led to the development of a monarchy. The Ancient Near Eastern society was formed around tribal leadership, for the most part, and tribal leaders would

66 67

Stephen L. McKenzie, King David: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 21-22. Ibid., 22. 68 Ibid.


become the chieftain and the chieftain would lead to becoming king. Both Saul and David were chosen by tribal leaders and ruled over a confined area that could be called a chiefdom. Yet David goes further by establishing a kingdom in Israel that would spread beyond the borders of his country.69 In order to have a good historical overview of David, one must utilize both the biblical text and the extra-biblical evidence provided by archaeology. Apart from the Hebrew Bible, we would know very little about the historical David (just as without the Gospels we would know very little about the Historical Jesus). Secular history may tell us there was a man named David who served as a king of Israel, and perhaps even speak of his military accomplishments (if you include the first century Jewish historian Josephus as a source), but apart from that we would know absolutely nothing about David. Thus writing a biography or history, according to McCarter, about David relies primarily on the Bible.70 One interesting fact about scholars who deny, on the one hand, the tenth century historicity of David and Solomon acknowledge, yet on the other hand, the historicity of the Northern Kingdom of Israel ruled by Omri and Ahab in the ninth century.71 The lack of mentioning of Israel/Judah in 10th century inscriptions is due to the fact that many of the great empires were weak at that time. By the ninth century, many of these world empires were able to flex their muscles and would write about their accomplishments.72 The shrinking of the

Philistine cities of Ekron and Gath during the 10th century is in keeping with the biblical claim of

Ibid. Ibid. 71 Amihai Mazar, The Search For David And Solomon: An Archaeological Perspective, in Part 4: The Tenth Century: The New Litmus Test For The Bibles Historical Relevance of The Quest For The Historical Israel. Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel, by Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar, Ed. Brian B. Schmidt. (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007), 118. 72 Ibid., 118, 123.



David and Solomons domination over this territory during their reigns.73 Several cities that have been excavated throughout the Judean Shephelah show a process of urbanization from the 10th century B.C. until the time of the Assyrian conquests of the 8th century B.C. This is also in agreement with the biblical account of an emerging Israelite United Monarch during the time of David and Solomon.74 Even the House of David inscription from Tel Dan that mentions the name of the Judean kingdom was possibly set up by Hazael, King of Damascus. This monument indicates that approximately a century and a half after his reign, David was still recognized throughout the region as the founder of the dynasty that ruled Judah. Davids impact upon Israel and Judah cannot be simply explained away as an invention of later authors.75

Conclusion The evidence presented in this paper points out that those scholars who discount the historical reliability of the biblical account of David are borne out by their philosophical presuppositions. The minimalists adhere to their point of view just as maximalists hold to their position of the Bible as a reliable historical source. One cannot simply rely on the historical remains apart from the Hebrew Bible because the data is limited. Much work still remains at various sites from the 10th century B.C. Perhaps one reason for the lack of massive buildings from Davids time is that David and Solomon reused many of the fortifications dating from the

73 74

Ibid., 135. Ibid., 131-32. 75 Ibid., 139.


time of the Middle Bronze Age, a practice which is not uncommon in the Ancient Near Eastern world.76 No one will ever be able to answer the questions of all of the Davidic skeptics in the scholarly world. Hopefully, this paper gives reasonable answers to our minimalist colleagues. The biblical account of the historical books is credible and reliable to base a reconstruction of the history of Israel. Along with the Hebrew Bible, the field of archaeology can come along and help shed light on the culture of 10th century Israel and Judah and can help clarify some passages that are difficult to interpret. The biblical exegete should never divorce the biblical narrative from the background information one can glean from the historical remains. Yet the

historiographer should not discount the biblical account as being historical simply because we cannot reconcile the text with the archaeological record. The absence of evidence of does not mean an event is unhistorical. We may not have all of the evidence as of yet. The turning of the spade may reveal again the historical trustworthiness of the biblical record. The biblical David is historical, not mythical!


Ibid., 127.


Bibliography Bright, John. A History of Israel. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1959. Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. Davies, Philip R. ""House of David" Built on Sand." Biblical Archaeology Review 20, no. 4 (July/August 1994): 55. __________. "Minimalism, "Ancient Israel," and Anti-Semitism.". n.d. Aaccessed February 13, 2014. Knoppers, Gary N. "The Historical Study of the Monarchy: Developments and Detours." In The Face Of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches, edited by David W. Baker and Bill T. Arnold, 207-235. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991. Longman, Tremper, III and Raymond B. Dillard. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Mazar, Amihai. "The Search For David And Solomon: An Archaeological Perspective." Chap. Part 4: The Tenth Century: The New Litmus Test For The Bible's Historical Revelance. in The Quest For The Historical Israel. Debating Archaeology and the History of Early Israel., by Israel Finkelstein and Amihai Mazar., edited by Brian B. Schmidt, 118. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007. . Archaeology of The Land of The Bible: 10,000-586 B.C.E. The Anchor Bible Reference Library. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1990. McKenzie, Stephen L. King David: A Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Meredith, Don. Supplement to Turibian 8th Edition. Memphis: Harding School of Theology, 2013. Accessed March 24, 2014. Miller, James Maxwell and John H. Hayes. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986. Na'aman, Nadav. "Cow Town or Royal Capital? Evidence for Iron Age Jerusalem." Biblical Archaeology Review 23, no. 4 (1997): 43-47, 67. Rogerson, John W. and Philip R. Davies. The Old Testament World, Completely Revised and Expanded. London: T & T Clark, 2005. Schoville, Keith N. Biblical Archaeology In Focus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978. Shanks, Hershel. ""Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers"." Biblical Archaeology Review 23, no. 4 (July/August 1997): 26-42, 66.


Soulen, Richard N. and R. Kendall Soulen. Thomas L. Handbook of Biblical Criticism. Fourth Edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Thompson, Thomas L. Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written & Archaeological Sources. Leiden: The Netherlands: Brill, 2002. Whitelam, Keith W. "The Death of Biblical History." In Far From Minimal: Celebrating the Work and Influence of Philip R. Davies, edited by Duncan Burns & John W. Rogerson, 18. London/NY: T & T Clark, 2012.