Skeptical scholars have long argued that David’s existence is doubtful because there was no archaeological evidence of his rule or his alleged dynasty. From roughly 850 BC onward, there have been many discoveries confirming the kings of Israel and Judah listed in the Bible, but pre-850 BC evidence has been almost nonexistent.
However, in 1993 and 1994, fragments of an Aramaic monument were discovered in Tel Dan, Israel that changed everything. Walt Kaiser and Duane Garrett provide details of this finding in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture:
Although only a fraction of the original inscription was recovered, the preserved portion alludes to eight Biblical kings. Based on the names recorded in the document, it can be dated to around 841 B.C. Even though his name is missing, it appears that Hazael, king of Aram from approximately 842– 800 B.C., commissioned the stela (or stele) to commemorate his defeat of Joram and Ahaziah at Ramoth Gilead (2Ki 8: 28– 29). . . . Hazael is mentioned in the records of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria from approximately 858– 824 B.C., and his name is inscribed on objects taken as booty by the Assyrians.
The initial lines of the inscription mention ‘my father,’ possibly a reference to Ben-Hadad II, Hazael’s predecessor. The names of Joram and Ahab can be restored in the phrase ‘[I killed Jo] ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel,’ where the brackets indicate [gaps] in the original text. Joram was king of Israel from approximately 852 to 841 B.C., while Ahab ruled from approximately 874 to 853 B.C. This is followed by the statement ‘and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the House of David.’
Why is this so important? Kaiser and Garrett continue:
The most remarkable aspect of the Tel Dan Stele is the phrase ‘House of David,’ providing extrabiblical evidence for the existence of David. This is important because some recent scholars have denied the existence of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, treating David as a character more of legend than of reality. This inscription demonstrates that ancient kings recognized the Davidic dynasty over Jerusalem and by implication validates the historicity of David himself. Some scholars have tried to avoid this implication by arguing for an alternative translation for ‘House of David,’ claiming that the words refer to some place or to a god rather than to King David. Few are persuaded by these protests, and the inscription is widely recognized to be an extrabiblical witness to the dynasty of David.
K. A. Kitchen, in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament, mentions two other pieces of evidence. Once the Tel Dan stela was discovered,
As often happens, one discovery can lead to others. Equally convincingly, Lemaire was subsequently able to show that bt-[d]wd is to be read in line 31 of the famous stela of Mesha king of Moab, dating to about the same period. This links the “House of David” (= Judah) with an occupation of part of southern Moab (around Horonen), corresponding to Israel’s penetration in the north under Omri and his dynasty. So we have David mentioned twice in retrospect, some six generations after his death.
Nor is this all, it seems. After his victory over Rehoboam and Jeroboam in 926/925, Shoshenq I of Egypt had engraved at Karnak a long list of Palestinian place-names. Some of these are now destroyed, and thus lost to us; many can be readily identified with known places in Israel, Judah, the Negev, and a few in western Transjordan. But quite a few have remained obscure. Among these, in a group of names clearly located by association in the Negev/south Judah area, is ‘the heights of Dwt.‘
Kitchen argues that Dwt should be translated as “David,” which means that “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.”