The Tel Dan Inscription

DAVID WAS THE greatest king of Israel, the man who consolidated the divided nation and united it under his wise and godly rule. His rise to power and his long illustrious reign are described in detail in the Bible’s books of Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. He lived around 1000 bc. Surprisingly, there is very little evidence of him outside the Bible.

For a long time critics of the Bible held that the reason for this lack of evidence was that he didn’t actually exist. He was probably just an elaborate invention of Jewish patriots during the humiliating years of the Babylonian exile, around the 6th Century bc.

Then in 1993 a fragment of a stone bearing an Aramaic inscription was found in Tel Dan in northern Israel. It was dated to the time of Hazael king of Syria. Hazael lived around 850 bc, and the Bible documents his hostility against Israel. At this time the Israelite kingdom was split into two: Judah in the south, and Israel in the north. In the inscription King Hazael boasts of his victories against Israel and Judah, and it includes the words: ‘… the king of Israel and I killed him and the king of the House of David…’ He is probably referring to Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah.

2 Kings 8–9 records how they formed an alliance to fight against Hazael. They were actually both assassinated on their return from the military campaign by Jehu, one of Joram’s military commanders, but it seems Hazael was keen to take the credit.

On the strength of this inscription and other evidence, scholars are now satisfied that David was a real man who founded the dynasty of the kings of Judah. The question remains, why is there so little archaeological evidence of him? Perhaps the simple explanation is this: during his reign his enemies were subdued and the region was relatively quiet and peaceful (under God’s hand, see 2 Samuel 7:1). Archaeological records are often in the form of kings boasting about their exploits, and David gave no one cause to do this.

David’s long reign left a light footprint on the land. But we await the re-establishment of his throne by his descendant Jesus Christ (2 Samuel 7:12–16). At that time the land of Israel and the world will be transformed, and the Kingdom will last for ever.

Doug Potts

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