Archaeology on the United Monarchy of David

The most common thing you’ll hear with someone only briefly acquainted with topics on biblical history is that Israel Finkelstein’s The Bible Unearthed is the end all and be all of the academic literature on the subject of the nature of David’s kingdom. Probably a small chiefdom, sparsely inhabited, no united monarchy, etc. Really, this is a bit of hocus pocus and these individuals should familiarize themselves with the academic literature a lot more, a whole set of it offering verifiable archaeological data that indicates that in the time of David, the north and south of Israel was united into a single kingdom. That is to say, there’s a probable chance that the United Monarchy is historical.

Can you add some commentary to your link? A brief intro to why you think it’s relevant, a few salient points or quotes you’d like to discuss?

Gotcha, got it done.

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On the Reliability of the Old Testament by K. A. Kitchen is a very good resource for compiling actual evidence that, as it turns out, is entirely favorable towards the biblical account, when taken in proper context.

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It’s a good book - but there’s been a lot of research done since it came out, especially for the topic I wrote about in the above article, i.e. the United Monarchy. It’s amazing just how much can change in under 20 years.

Would you say that there are other parts of the Old Testament that are unanimously ahistorical? It’s interesting to discuss the extent of David’s kingdom, but it seems as if the ship of the historical entire Old Testament has sailed.

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Probably Gen. 1-11 is completely ahistorical afaik. I would also say that the Song of the Sea is ahistorical. Possibly the birth story of Moses (very similar to Sargon). Some other things as well. But I don’t think that’s very relevant for the truth of Christianity or Judaism, per this great paper by Berman:

Now, while it wont be the case that 100% of it is historical (which, as the above paper shows, is not very relevant), it is the case that much more of it is historical than a lot of people have thought. I consider the scholarship on the person of David, from the discovery of the Tel Dan Inscription in 1993 to how far its developed now, to be revolutionary in that sense. There’s also numerous other areas in which it did turn out to be historical. Perhaps one thing that atheists always try to use to slap Christians in the face with is Jericho. But, nicely enough, the ongoing excavations at Jericho have uncovered a Late Bronze layer that came to an end (into ruins) in the LB IIB (= 13th century BC), which is about around when an exodus under Ramesses II would take place.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339134309_The_Italian-Palestinian_Expedition_to_Tell_es-Sultan_Ancient_Jericho_1997-2015_Archaeology_and_Valorisation_of_Material_and_Immaterial_Heritage

So that turned out to very well be historical. These Jericho findings are pretty big but, afaik, still have barely gone around beyond academic circles. I think all of this is quite important and also useful for Christians who don’t yet have a deep sense of how the genre of historiography has developed and so immediately get dog-slapped when they hear about something that challenges this or that detail of historicity in the Bible.

That’s fair, and about what I would expect. It’s impressive the number of bad critiques that are more like 150 years out-of-date.

Yep. And good to say, an increasing number of “critiques” become out of date as the years pass by.

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I definitely agree, thanks for sharing Berman’s perspective.

What are some that you can think of? It looks like you sort of affirm the challenge to the historicity of Jericho, but then say not really.

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think it’s good to take an approach more similar to yours than say a Ron Wyatt approach or a Finkelstein approach.

What are some that you can think of? It looks like you sort of affirm the challenge to the historicity of Jericho, but then say not really.

I’m not sure what you mean by this. I listed areas where I don’t think the OT is historical. I also would have agreed that Jericho is ahistorical, until Nigro’s excavation report was published last year. As for some of the things I’m thinking of, these include

  • Of course, Jericho itself
  • The existence of David (Tel Dan Inscription)
  • Per the article listed above, significant archaeology now surrounding the United Monarchy and extent of the kingdom
  • Per the excavations of Steven Collins, the identification of Tall el-Hammam with Sodom
  • The discovery of numerous synagogues pre-70 AD (per the Gospel reports of Jesus preaching in synagogues)
  • Comparative archaeology seems to have now verified that were was a Solomonic Temple on the Temple Mount (see here)
  • The burial of Jesus. I’m not going to go over it here, but plenty of good archaeology and historical progress has been done that shows it to be very likely that Jesus was buried
  • Jesus was considered God among the very earliest Christians. That is a big turn-around from pre-1990s scholarship, which largely saw it as a later development towards the end of the 1st century

There’s a lot more I havent’t described, but you can find a big giant list of a lot of what has happened here recently.

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think it’s good to take an approach more similar to yours than say a Ron Wyatt approach or a Finkelstein approach.

Oh brother, Ron Wyatt.

Thanks for the reference. I didn’t get past the first paragraph of what appears to be a cover page introduction to the book, when I realized that the concern with Biblical “reliability” can be two-fold, two wit:

  • For more than two hundred years controversy has raged over the reliability of the Old Testament, Questions about the factuality of its colorful stories of heroes, villains, and kings, for example, have led many critics to see the entire Hebrew Bible as little more than pious fiction. In this fascinating new book, noted ancient historian K. A. Kitchen takes strong issue with today’s "revisionist” critics and offers a firm foundation for the historicity of the biblical texts.
    • Reliability #1, "The factuality of the Bible’s content is the issue.
  • From Daniel B. Wallace’s 2014 review, Can We Still Believe the Bible?, of Craig Blomberg’s 2014 book, Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement With Contemporary Questions: “This first chapter addresses the number one apologetic issue of our time—Did the scribes get it right when they copied the scriptures? No longer is the main attack on the Christian faith framed in the question, Is the Bible true? It is now the preliminary question, How do you even know that the Bible you have in your hands accurately represents the original documents? History, as many ancients conceived of it, is circular rather than linear. In this case, that’s true: “Hath God said?” is the original attack on God’s word, way back in the Garden. We’ve come full circle once again.”
    • Reliability #2: “Hath God said?” is the issue.

As obvious as the difference in the two issues may seem to others, I didn’t appreciate the significance of the difference until your reference led me to see it.

Bad claims of the second type are often horrendously special pleading, e.g. trusting Pliny or Herodotus, but dismissing II Kings, or the gospels as much too distant to preserve any of the original information.

As a note on an example of just how far out oral traditions can preserve accurate information, there are Australian traditions of giant lizards and kangaroos being around a long time ago: as it turns out, Varanus priscus (a 20-25-foot-long Moniter lizard) and Procoptodon (a 10-foot-tall kangaroo) were found in Australia 40,000 years ago, which kind of suggests that oral traditions over 1000 years can be quite accurate.

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Bad claims of the second type are often horrendously special pleading, e.g. trusting Pliny or Herodotus, but dismissing II Kings, or the gospels as much too distant to preserve any of the original information.

This is a good point. The same issue with these ‘critics’ that you mention is also described by Hans Barstad in a chapter titled “The Strange Fear of the Bible:
Some Reflections on the ‘Bibliophobia’ in Recent Ancient Israelite Historiography” in (ed. Lester Grabbe) The Hebrew Bible and History: Critical Readings, Bloomsbury, 2019, pp. 24-30.

As a note on an example of just how far out oral traditions can preserve accurate information, there are Australian traditions of giant lizards and kangaroos being around a long time ago: as it turns out, Varanus priscus (a 20-25-foot-long Moniter lizard) and Procoptodon (a 10-foot-tall kangaroo) were found in Australia 40,000 years ago , which kind of suggests that oral traditions over 1000 years can be quite accurate.

That’s a very interesting point. Can you give me the source for these oral traditions?

I’ve just seen mention of them in connection with the animals concerned.

I’m still not seeing your list as you seem to keep arguing well actually this is historical, but I am going to follow Berman’s article and see some of the things he mentions.

  1. The story of Rahab has an exchange where she speaks with the Israelite spies and she weaves five of the ten commandments into her five-verse soliloquy and Beeman notes that it is “unlikely that this is actually a verbatim transcript of what transpired”
  2. The armies of Judah in the book of Chronicles are “difficult to read these figures as reflective of quantitative realities” but “to convey meaning”
  3. 70 descendants of Jacob went down to Egypt as Beeman notes “when we compare the listing of descendants of Benjamin in Genesi 46:21 with the data recorded in the census of Numbers 26:38-40, we discover dscrepancies of every imaginable type: the number of descendants is different; the names differ; the birth positions differ; etc…” Beeman goes on to note that geneaologies “are dynamic records of status and hierarchy within the tribe” and in one period, the order can be one way and in another period a different way “all depending on the merits and demerits of that individual’s descendants”
  4. 480 years in 1 Kings 6:1 where Beeman notes “the figure of 480 years indeed measures time, but in a non-literal way”

But of course his point is that this is how history worked by and large before the 1800s. It is interesting that some people approach history the same way today as “exhortational” instead of “history.”

I’m not sure where you see the conflict in my points. Some things I consider historical, some things I consider ahistorical (and literary). Some things are, per the genre, potentially ambiguous as to whether they are meant as historical or ahistorical. And if those turn out to be historical to whatever degree we can tell, I’m happy about it. But I think Berman’s exhortational history even applies to the historical events of the Bible. For example, it does seem that the Israelite’s may have had a hand, historically, in taking out Jericho, and obviously someone had to lead the attack - perhaps someone even named “Joshua”. But the specific means by which it is described in the Book of Joshua, most likely, is exhortational. The speaking, the narrative description of the event, etc. It is the difference between hagiography and mythology, because hagiography is a literary text that surrounds an originally historical event. And that’s how I think we should approach figures such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, etc. I think Berman makes a significant point in relation to this - the literary nature of these texts are not errors, or mistakes, or whatnot. They are very intentionally literary and that’s how this sort of stuff worked back then.

As to the army sizes, the main issue is that the Hebrew words for 1,000 and a group are homonyms, and the word for “army commander” has the same consonants (l-p), thus the figures in II Chron. 13 should probably be interpreted as “400 (family?) groups” and “800 groups”, with reasonable family-group sizes, that would come out to something like 3000 vs. 6000, very roughly. The II Chron. 14:9 “million man army” should probably be taken as “huge army”-for Egypt that might be something like 50,000 at most (keep in mind that anything over 10,000 was immense for anyone other than the largest empires). I Kings 20 should probably be interpreted as 100 and 27 army commanders.

I very much doubt the 1000 = 1 unit theory.

It’s a well-known homonymy, but how you best translate the words is definitely open to question.

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