January 9, 2010

King David Slays His Critics

Near the traditional spot where David slew Goliath, a piece of pottery was found with writing on it. It dates from the time of David and Solomon, making it one of the earliest inscriptions in Israel ever found in situ.

News media caught wind of this in late October 2008 (see BBC News and National Geographic) and wondered if it will provide proof that King David really existed. David has been under attack – not by Goliath or Philistines, but by minimalists who have claimed the Bible stories about him are mere legends. The site where the pottery shard was discovered was apparently a fortress overlooking the Valley of Elah. Called by the modern name Khirbet Qeiyafa, it might have been the Ephis Dammim mentioned in II Samuel 17:1. See Arutz Sheva for picture of the ostracon and the discovery site.

Finally, some news from the ancient Hebrew pottery inscription that was found in 2008. The inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa, dating from the time of David and Solomon, has been deciphered and announced on Yahoo News, PhysOrg, and EurekAlert, which has a copy of the script and the translation. Science Daily posted a more extensive report on Jan 8.

Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, who deciphered the inscription, explained its significance: “It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.” This evidence appears to debunk the minimalist interpretation of Biblical history that asserts there was no kingdom of David and Solomon. EurekAlert said, “This stands opposed to the dating of the composition of the Bible in current research, which would not have recognized the possibility that the Bible or parts of it could have been written during this ancient period.” Even more significant inferences can be drawn, according to the EurekAlert article:

"Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea. He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers. 'It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.' He adds that the complexity of the text discovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute the claims denying the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time."

The text of the inscription relates to the care for the disadvantaged in society. The inscription is not drawn verbatim from any Biblical passage, but sounds similar to those that express concern for widows, orphans, and the poor. The English translation is, “you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord]. Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow]. Judge the orph[an] [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant; plead for the po[or and] the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king. Protect the po[or and] the slave; [supp]ort the stranger.” This expresses a moral tone right out of the Bible. And could “the king” be King David?