Tag Archives: King Saul

#7 Post of 2015 – Why Isn’t There More Archaeological Evidence of the Kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon? Part 1

While there seems to be plenty of archaeological evidence of the existence of Israel’s and Judah’s kings after about 850 BC, there is little direct evidence of the existence of Saul, David, and Solomon’s kingdoms. Why is this?

Kenneth A. Kitchen, in his On the Reliability of the Old Testament, dedicates an entire chapter to this topic. At the end of the chapter, he writes a summary which I quote at length below.

The information from external [nonbiblical] sources in terms of explicit mentions of biblical characters such as Saul, David, or Solomon is almost zero, until Shalmaneser III had hostile contact with Ahab of Israel in 853. The reasons for this are stunningly simple and conclusive. From Mesopotamia, no Assyrian rulers had had direct contact with Palestine before 853 — and so do not mention any local kings there. This is not the fault of the kings in Canaan, whether Israelite, Canaanite, or Philistine, and does not prove their nonexistence.

From Egypt we have virtually no historical inscriptions whatsoever mentioning Palestinian powers or entities between Ramesses III (ca. 1184-1153) and Shoshenq I (ca. 945-924). We have just two literary works, Wenamun, referring only to coastal ports (Dor to Byblos), and the Moscow Literary Letter that knows of Seir. Plus the fragmentary triumphal scene of Siamun (ca. 979/978-960/959), overlapping with the early years of Solomon (970-960), when a pharaoh smote Gezer and ceded it to him (1 Kings 9:16). The vast mass of Egyptian records in the Delta and Memphis is long since lost for nearly all periods, including the tenth century. At Thebes, almost all records are local, private, and on funerary religion, not foreign wars.

From the Levant, original texts are so far lost/undiscovered before the ninth century, except at Byblos, whose kings celebrate only themselves. We have nothing from Tyre, Sidon, Damascus, etc., until much later. So, again, there is no mention of the Hebrew tenth-century monarchs — and, again, it is not their fault, and certainly not proof of nonexistence.

In Israel itself, the deplorable state of pre-Herodian remains in oldest Jerusalem (Ophel and the eastern ridge), inaccessibility of much of its terrain, and the fact that it is 95 percent undug/undiggable (100 percent on the Temple Mount, where royal stelae might have been erected) — all these factors almost entirely exclude any hope of retrieving significant inscriptions from Jerusalem at any period before Herodian times. (The Siloam tunnel text [ca. 700] survived precisely because it was in a safely buried location.) So, again, we cannot blame a David or a Solomon for all that happened to Jerusalem after their time. (emphasis in original)

In a nutshell, most of the archaeological records we have from the early first millennium BC originate from the two superpowers of the region, Assyria and Egypt. The Assyrians did not have contact with Israel until 850 BC and there is a 200-year gap in the Egyptian records which overlaps the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. Excavation in Jerusalem is difficult because of the location of the Temple Mount.

As an aside, archaeologist Eilat Mazar has more recently claimed to have found walls built by Solomon and sections of David’s palace in Jerusalem, but those findings are hotly contested, so we can’t draw any conclusions yet.

More from Kitchen in part 2 . . .

Why Isn’t There More Archaeological Evidence of the Kingdoms of Saul, David, and Solomon? Part 2

As we continue from part 1, Kitchen claims there are traces of direct evidence for David’s dynasty.

[T]he Tell Dan inscription and with virtual certainty the Moabite Stone each mention ‘the House of David,’ implying his former role as a personal dynastic founder, about 150 years after his death. Then, within barely 50 years of his death (ca. 970), we have what is in all likelihood “the heights of David” in the list of Shoshenq I (ca. 925), with a final t for final d exactly as in Ethiopia. (Alas, no clearly better and indisputable alternative can be offered, it seems!) The political situation of Hadadezer king of Aram-Zobah in circa 990 (reaching across the Euphrates) is extremely likely to find a reflex in the situation there in the time of Assur-rabi II of Assyria, as later reported by Shalmaneser III. So, explicit traces are beginning to emerge, even for the limited possibilities of the tenth century.

Kitchen then reminds his readers that explicit evidence is not the only kind of evidence.

It is equally important to measure off a document or account against what we know independently about the topics it includes. In this light much can be said: a little on Saul’s time, more on David’s, and much more on Solomon’s epoch.

Thus Saul’s regime was profitably compared with the ethos and practices of Levantine kingship. David’s ‘empire’ (inherited by Solomon) belongs to a particular type of ‘mini-empire,’ of a scope and nature only present and feasible within the interval between about 1180 and 870 and at no other time in the first millennium, being known also from Neo-Hittite and Aramean analogues.

Under Solomon, foreign relations do fit the context of his day; his temple and palace complex (and their furnishings) find ample and immediate cultural analogues, in both scale and nature. This is also true of the scale of his revenues; in fact, his 20 tons of gold in a year is poverty compared with the spending of over 380 tons of precious metal by Osorkon I soon afterward, and the 7,000 tons of gold that Alexander the Great lifted from the vanquished Persian Empire later on. Poetry (David) and instructional wisdom (Solomon) belong well in the tenth century, with earlier roots, and ample successors. . . .

The physical archaeology of tenth-century Canaan is consistent with the former existence of a unified state on its terrain then (with some monumental architecture). Jerusalem cannot deliver much on this; but on normal datings, Hazor, Gezer, and Megiddo (largely) can. And the occupation of the rest of the area is also consistent with this; it was not a land of ghosts. . . .

In short, the testing of the biblical text against external data (texts and artifactual contexts) shows precious little fantasy and much realistic agreement in practical and cultural aspects. Much more might be examined, but the subjects reviewed here give some idea of the real situation.