Old-style Biblical archaeologists used to excavate in the Holy Land with a spade in one hand and a Bible in the other. In fact, many of places – and even some of the events – mentioned in the Bible have been verified on the ground. Excavations in Jerusalem’s City of David have revealed seals with the names of several Biblical characters, while hundreds of visitors every year walk through the tunnel – mentioned both in the books of Kings and Isaiah – built by King Hezekiah to divert the waters of the Siloam stream inside the city. But there are many finds that have no Biblical correpondence, and equally many Biblical accounts which seem to be contradicted by archaeological evidence.
The fact is that the Bible was not written either as a history book or as a field guide for archaeologists. And while it is nice to find confirmation of Biblical accounts, the validity of the bible does not depend on archaeology, nor does archaeology have to take its inspiration from the Bible. Archaeology now claims to be a more objective and “scientific” discipline – and generally that seems to be the case – but there is a school of Biblical “minimalists” who have gone to the other extreme; their far from objective purpose is to “prove” that the places and events in the Bible are mainly myths, and correspond minimally with reality on (or under) the ground in Israel.
One of the favorite targets of the minimalists is the kingdom of David and Solomon: “ If the monarchy established by David was so big and powerful, why do we find no mention of it in the records of the surrounding nations – or anywhere except the Bible ? “ From this apparent lack of evidence, they construct the alternative hypothesis, that the first real monarchy in the Land of Israel was the Northern kingdom of Israel, whose kings Omri and his notorious son Ahab are well attested in the archaeological record. According to this theory, the kingdom of Judah in the south only came into being after the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria in 722 BCE. The Judahites subsequently invented the figures of David and Solomon – a so-called “founding myth” – in order to give their state greater legitimacy.
Apart from the well-known archaeological dictum – that absence of evidence does not equate with evidence of absence – this particular minimalist theory was dealth a death blow in 1993, with the discovery at Tel Dan of the so-called “David Stela”. This was an Aramaic inscription (now on view in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem), reliably dated to the 9th century BCE, which makes a reference to a king of “the house of David”. It is ironic that, in the ruins of a city set up as a competitor to David’s capital Jerusalem, and as an alternate religious center to the temple built by his son Solomon, that proof of the historicity of the kingdom of David was finally found.