David And Solomon

Oct 16, 2017 | Bible Archeology | 0 comments

November 12, 2001, saw the 40th anniversary meeting of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, held in the British Museum. The guest lecturer was Professor Israel Finkelstein and his theme was that the traditional picture of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah, ruled over by David and Solomon, was “a house of cards”.

Of course, Professor Finkelstein’s views are well known, so the furore that erupted was rather surprising; perhaps it is a measure of the place held in Jewish hearts by King David – a larger than life but intensely human character – and Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived. There is also the fact that Finkelstein has set himself up against one of Israeli archaeology’s charismatic figures – Yigael Yadin.

Yadin held that a particular type of three-chambered gate which he uncovered first at Hazor, was a relic of Solomon’s building activities. He based this partly on the fact that the measurements of the gate came close to the measurements of the gates into the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Scripture, and partly on the fact that such gates appear in the three cities which Solomon is recorded as building – Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer.

In order to correlate the three gates, however, Yadin had to do some re-dating. The three chambered gate at Gezer was dated to the Maccabean period by its excavator, R.A.S. MacAlister, but Yadin was able to re-excavate the site and demonstrate that this was incorrect and that it should be dated to the Solomonic period. The Megiddo gate was dated to the period of Solomon, but it was associated with a solid wall, whereas the other two gates were built into casemate walls. Once more Yadin re-excavated, and showed that the solid wall was built on a casemate wall. Not only did this allow him to confirm the similarity between the three gates, but it meant that the so-called “Solomon’s Stables” which had been impressing visitors ever since the American excavators left the site, now had to be dated to the reign of Ahab.

Finkelstein, however, has been doing some re-excavating of his own and he claims that the three-chambered gates and their associated casemate wall should be dated to the reign of Ahab – I am not sure what conclusion he reaches about the famous stables. He backs up his claim with some radio-carbon dates (more are in the pipeline) on seeds and other organic material found at Megiddo and Tel Rehov.

As these are the most impressive remains from that particular period, it follows that if the three-chambered gateways are not Solomon’s, then there is very little that can be attributed to that mighty monarch. In fact, it begins to look as if the Jerusalem over which he ruled, far from being a city where silver was as common as dust as the Bible depicts it, was little more than a minor provincial city and the area it ruled a tiny state in the heart of Palestine. The elevation of this insignificant kingdom into the dominating empire of David and Solomon was, says Professor Finkelstein, a bit of propaganda perpetrated by King Josiah shortly before the Babylonian invasion destroyed the kingdom of Judea.

The reader may have been a little perturbed by the ease with which these learned gentlemen shuttle dates back and forth. Surely, he (or she) will say, a particular building is either from the time of Solomon or it is not. How can there be any uncertainty in the matter?

Unfortunately the number of buildings inscribed with the name of their builder is very small – and none have been found in Palestine. Archaeologists trying to make sense of the stumps of walls that remain do a marvellous job of disentangling the various strata and assigning dates to the pottery they find, but it is all too easy to misread the evidence and come up with a wrong conclusion.

This is no place to go into the details of how the best archaeologist in the world can be misled by a potsherd in the wrong place or an intruding wall that really belongs somewhere else. Suffice it to say that Professor Finkelstein’s findings – if confirmed – will not unduly worry us here at Diggings, nor will they lead us to lose our confidence in the historical reliability of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Minor adjustments, such as those which Professor Finkelstein are proposing, entirely overlook the fact that David and Solomon did not live in the Iron Age! If the re-dating that we propose is correct, then the United Kingdom happened during the Middle Bronze period – and from that period there is ample evidence of the sort of wealth and sophistication that goes with the Sunday School picture of King Solomon’s wealth.

I am particularly indebted to David Rohl for pointing out a curious fact: the Bible describes Solomon as building his palace with “three courses of stone and one of timber” (1 Kings 7:12), a minor detail that I have read a dozen times without seeing anything significant in it. Rohl, however, noted that at Megiddo there was found a huge palace complex constructed in precisely this manner – three courses of stone and one of timber. Although most of the palace was swept away as the archaeologists dug deeper into the tel, some of the walls built in this way still survive and can be seen by those who visit Megiddo.

No doubt there are those whose instinctive reaction is to reject all thought of revised chronologies and redating remains, but the story of how both Yadin and Finkelstein have been able to do just that shows that it can be done. All it needs is for someone with an open mind to look in the right place: after all, just as the gates at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer do not have Solomon’s name emblazoned on them, neither does the Bronze Age palace referred to above, but as we have seen, archaeologists feel free to assign the gates to this king or that ruler, based upon their understanding of chronology. We have no doubt that soon there will be a reaction to the extreme views of Dr Finkelstein and someone with a more positive attitude towards the value of the written records will once more re-examine the stones of Megiddo.

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