The “House of David”: Historical or Embellished History?

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 160 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Some 3,000 years ago, there lived a young shepherd boy, David, who possessed the heart of a poet and the talent of a great musician, who would grow into a great warrior, a prophet and a king of a newly founded empire. This boy, who was specially chosen by God, whose house* would lead to none other than Jesus Christ himself, is mentioned 1,138 times in the Bible and stands out as one of the most prominent persons in the Bible. The term “House of David” is found 25 times. (1 Ki 12:19) Were King David and his house historical or simply embellished history? If it is embellished and he is purely fictional, this would mean that Jesus Christ’s lineage is fabricated and he was a false prophet. Therefore, much is uncertain as we look to archaeology, in order to see what it has uncovered.

*A family line, including ancestors and descendants, especially a royal family

   Amazingly, many scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries doubted the existence of King David. Their objections centered on two things. First, the stories attributed to him are fantastic—maintaining that he was a young shepherd boy who killed a giant with his slingshot and later established a royal dynasty. Second, there had never been historical confirmation outside the Bible of a king named David.[1]

Tel of Dan
The Tel Dan Stele is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993–94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over the king of Israel and his apparent ally[1] the king of the “House of David” (bytdwd). It is considered the earliest widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible,[2] though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance. Athas, George (2006). The Tel Dan Inscription: A Reappraisal and a New Introduction. A&C Black. p. 217. Finkelstein 2007, p. 14. Retrieved May 11, 2019.

   At an archaeological excavation site at Tel* Dan in northern Galilee, a discovery was made that establishes Kind David and his family as historical. In the not too distant past of 1993, Professor Avraham Biran’s archaeological team, working in the late afternoon sun, was clearing a space outside the gate of ancient Dan. There, sticking out of the ground, a flattened black basalt stone, protruding just enough to make out what seemed to be Old Hebrew Script, Gila Cook, the team’s surveyor, called for Biran to come to have a look. As they rolled the stone to face the afternoon sun, the letters leaped off the stone, as Professor Biran called out, “Oh, my God, we have an inscription!”

*A tel is a mound that has come about by the continuous destruction and rebuilding of cities on the same location.

   Professor Biran and his coworker, Professor Joseph Naveh of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, quickly penned a report on the writing. Up unto this point, David had not been found in any inscription outside of the Bible. This inscription from the 9th century B.C.E. found by Biran’s team refers to both to the ‘House of David’ and to the ‘King of Israel.’ The find would have not made such an impact had it been a simple reference to a David, but that it refers to the House of David, therefore, it eliminates all doubt that we are dealing with the dynasty of the King of Israel.

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 However, more is gained by this find when we consider the term King of Israel. As was pointed out by Archaeology Review magazine, March/April 1994, this “is a term frequently found in the Bible, especially in the Book of Kings. This, however, may be the oldest extra-Biblical reference to Israel in Semitic script. If this inscription proves anything, it shows that both Israel and Judah, contrary to the claims of some scholarly Biblical minimizers, were important kingdoms at this time.”

   There are three lines of evidence that establish the date of the 9th century for this inscription, (1) the shape of the letters, (2) the pottery found nearby, and (3) the inscription content itself. This would be more than one hundred years after the life of King David. Some scholars hold the position that this inscription was a conquest monument set up in Dan, by an enemy of the current king of Israel and of course, by extension the “[King of the] House of David.” The Aramaean plunderer Rezon moved into a position of influence at Damascus, and this city soon became the most powerful Aramaean city (1Ki 11:23-25) and “the head of Syria.” (Isa 7:8) As such, it demonstrated active aggression toward Israel during the course of the whole history of the northern kingdom. The Aramaeans worshiped a popular storm-god, Hadad.

   Shortly thereafter in 1994, two more fragments of this stela were discovered. Professor Biran informs us that “in these two fragments are the name of the Aramean god Hadad, as well as a reference to a battle between the Israelites and the Arameans.”

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 The 1993 fragment portion contains 13 lines, with some text missing due to erosion, written in Old Hebrew Script. Unlike today, Hebrew at that time had no vowels, as we know them and was written with dots between the words, serving as dividers.* However, this was not the case with “House of David.” Using English letters, it would look something like this “bytdvd” (byt = “house of” and dvd = “David”). Under normal circumstances, two words would have been byt.dvd, being separated by a dot. Thus, there is a great division among scholars, as to how this is to be understood.

*(e.g., th.fstvl.tht.ws.n.Jdh; “the festival that was in Judah”)

   Professor Anson Rainey explains: “Joseph Naveh and Avraham Biran did not explain the inscription in detail, perhaps because they took for granted that readers would know that a word divider between two components in such a construction is often omitted, especially if the combination is a well-established proper name. ‘The House of David’ was certainly such a proper political and geographic name in the mid-ninth century B.C.E.”[2]

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Archaeological Evidence Revisited

   Professor André Lemaire, an expert on the Mesha Stela (better known as the Moabite Stone), stated that it also refers to the “House of David.” The Moabite Stone had been discovered in 1868 and shares many common features with the Tel Dan Inscription. First, they both have been dated to the 9th century, are of black basalt, are similar in size, and are written in almost the same Semitic writing.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

As to a fresh restoration of a damaged line on the Mesha stela, Professor Lemaire wrote:

   The recent discovery at Tel Dan of a fragment of a stela containing a reference to the “House of David” (that is, the dynasty of David) is indeed sensational. The inscription easily establishes the importance of Israel and Judah on the international scene at this time—no doubt to the chagrin of those modern scholars who maintain that nothing in the Bible before the Babylonian exile can lay claim to any historical accuracy. This fragment from the Tel Dan stela has been hailed because it contains the name “David,” supposedly for the first time in ancient Semitic epigraphy. But this claim is not true—or at least not quite true; I believe these same words—the “House of David”—appear on the famous Moabite inscription known as the Mesha stela, also from the 9th century (B.C.). While for most scholars the reference to the “House of David” on the Tel Dan fragment was quite unexpected, I must confess I was not surprised at all. I have been working on the Mesha stela for the past seven years, and I am now preparing a detailed edition of the text. Nearly two years before the discovery of the Tel Dan fragment, I concluded that the Mesha stela contains a reference to the “house of David.” Now the Tel Dan fragment tends to support this conclusion.[3]

   To eliminate King David from the Bible as not being historical would eliminate the Bible itself. ‘How is that’, one may ask? You have a seed of Genesis 3:15 that is prophesied to vindicate the great name of our Creator that was besmirched, as man rebelled against God, and chose to walk on their own. This seed was secret for thousands of years, Scripture narrowing the path to his arrival only progressively. The seed was to come through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who had 12 sons). More specifically, he was to come through the Tribe of Judah, of which David was a member. Narrowing even further, as this seed was prophesied to be through the “House of David.” In addition, it is an angel, Jesus himself the seed and the disciples testified to the historicity of David. (Matthew 1:1; 12:3; 21:9; Luke 1:32; Acts 2:29) Archaeological discoveries clearly settle that he and his dynasty, the “House of David,” are historical, not embellished history.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

[1] Robert J. Morgan, Evidence and Truth: Foundations for Christian Truth, Biblical essentials series (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 91.

[2] “The House of David and the House of the Reconstructionists.” Biblical Archaological Review, 20:06 Nov/Dec 1994.

[3] Andre Lemaire, “ ‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1994, 31–32.

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