For many years a controversy has raged between those who contend that King David was a real king who governed the tribes of Israel and Judah in very ancient times, and there are others who contend that he never existed at all and that the Bible’s accounts of his life are sheer mythology. The matter has now been conclusively answered by modern, scientific archaeological methods.
Many readers are, no doubt, aware of the famous Moabite “Mesha” stone which dates to the biblical time when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were separate kingdoms which formed as a result of a costly civil war between the tribes of Israel after King Solomon’s death. That civil war occurred well after King David’s reign as King David was the father of King Solomon. The famous “Mesha” stele was found in one solid piece but was split apart by a tribe of Bedouins after its discovery. It was reassembled as best as possible, and now resides in the Louvre Museum in France.
Thankfully, before the famous stele was damaged, a “squeeze” (a paper mache impression of the letters on the stone’s surface) was made, and that preserved the original letters of the inscription. The main controversy about the inscription concerned a word at the juncture of a cracked portion of the inscription. That crack made it subject to interpretation concerning whether it was a reference to the biblical character, David, or someone or something else. Those adhering to the Bible’s inerrancy favored the argument that the damaged word referred to the biblical King David, who founded a dynasty–a viewpoint consistent with the context of the Mesha stone. Biblical “minimalists,” whose agenda is generally to try to “prove” the Bible is not the infallible word of a Creator God, have favored alternate viewpoints that the controversial word on the Mesha stele did not refer to David. Now, thanks to modern scientific methods, that controversy has been resolved.
The high-tech, modern scientific method applied to the stele’s inscription and the “squeeze” made of the undamaged original face of the stele, have proven that the disputed word, indeed, does refer to the biblical King, David, and his “house” or dynasty. That Moab, a foreign rival of Israel, referred to a dynasty of kings named after David proves the founder of the dynasty was David himself, and the Moabites were well aware that David’s life was common knowledge in their time. The first link and second link describe the process by which the name of “David” was confirmed on the Moabite stone. The new, high-tech method of recovering the content of ancient inscriptions is called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), and it was applied to both the damaged stone itself and the undamaged paper mache impression made of the inscription before it was damaged. The first link refers to an article entitled “Mesha’s Stele and the House of David,” by Andre Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme, which appeared in the Winter, 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR). The first link is a complete article on this important subject and the second is only a reference to the cited article (one has to be a subscriber to access the original article). Thankfully, I am a paid subscriber to BAR, so I will add a citation from that article in this post. [I suggest readers of this post check with their local library to see if it has paper copies of the cited article in BAR].
Confirming that the Mesha stele belonged to the biblical period of the Bible’s narratives is the fact that this stele also refers to YHWH, Israel, King Omri of Israel and the “men of Gad.” King Mesha of Moab boasts of a victory, but favorable exaggeration in official inscriptions is a common trait of ancient kings. The inscription mentions a tribute of “100,000 lambs” to be paid by Moab to the Israelite kingdom. This is an immense number and it indicates how prosperous Moab was to pay such a tribute and how powerful Israel was to demand such a high tribute. Based on the biblical narrative and the Moabite Stele’s content, the inscription was evidently made soon after the death of King Ahab, the son of King Omri. Omri is not mentioned much in the Bible but he made a huge impression on the Assyrians who mention him rather respectfully in Assyrian records.
In the time of the prophet Elijah, the wicked King Ahab and his even more-wicked Queen, Jezebel, were searching everywhere for Elijah (I Kings 17-18), but he was hidden in the town of Zarephath, a suburb of the Phoenician city, Zidon (or Sidon). Zidon was the hometown of Jezebel (I Kings 16:31), who was a Phoenician princess so Elijah was hiding essentially in Jezebel’s backyard. Israel and the Phoenician city-states of Tyre, Sidon, etc. had been allies ever since the time of King Hiram of Tyre and King David of Israel (II Samuel 5:11-12, I Kings 5). The kingdom of Israel and the city-states of Tyre, Sidon, etc. were collectively called the “Phoenician Empire” in its glory days when all the Israelite tribes were united under Kings David and Solomon. The subsequent kings of the northern kingdom of Israel were the titular heads of the Phoenician Empire until the Israelite tribes were scattered into exile circa 740-720 BC. In this capacity, the Israelite kings ruled over a huge merchant fleet and military naval force, controlling the maritime trade routes of the ancient world at that time. Indeed, during the search of Ahab and Jezebel for the hidden prophet, Elijah, I Kings 18:10 records a statement by one of Ahab’s governmental officials that King Ahab had sent emissaries to all kingdoms everywhere demanding they make a search for Elijah and certify that they had not found him. If Ahab was just the head of a small, obscure kingdom, he would have had no “clout” to make or enforce such a command on a widespread number of nearby and remote kingdoms. However, as the overall leader of the Phoenician Empire, Ahab had power to cut off any nation’s trade on the sea if they did not stay in favor with Ahab and his Phoenician Empire. The real extent of the Israelite kingdoms and the actual power and scope of its kings are documented in my E-book, The “Lost” Ten Tribes of Israel…Found”, and my printed books, The Origins and Empire of Ancient Israel, and Israel’s Lost Empires. These books can be ordered at my website’s homepage.
With that historical side-bar established to give this post a proper context, King Mesha of Moab was boasting of a victory over a large and powerful enemy (the kingdom of Israel or the Phoenician Empire in secular terms). The BAR article contains considerable technical language about the methodology of RTI, and how it conclusively proves the disputed word on the Moabite stele was the name of the Biblical king, David, who had established a well-known dynasty known to Moab at the time the stele was inscribed.the article also references the Tel Dan stele which was discovered in 1993 and which also mentions David’s dynasty. The BAR article includes this firm statement regarding the disputed word on the Moabite stele: “…we believe the reading btdwd [the house of David] is confirmed once and for all.”
The matter of the accuracy of the Bible’s overall narratives is addressed in the third through fifth links. The third link addresses what it believes are biblical hints of major contemporary battles/events in the known world at the time the biblical narratives were penned. We must keep in mind that the Bible is by no means a comprehensive history of either Israel or Judah or the other contemporaneous kingdoms and empires of ancient times. The Bible’s narratives can be seen as a kind of “Cliff’s Notes” version of ancient Israelite history as major events touched the main characters of the Bible in ancient times. One such example is the battle of Qarqar wherein the kingdoms of the Eastern Mediterranean region temporarily united to fight off and defeat an Assyrian invasion during the reign of King Ahab. The fourth link and fifth link cite examples of 53 known historical personalities (Israelite and non-Israelite) that have been mentioned in the Bible and confirmed through secular historical sources. It is really remarkable that so many biblical personalities (including kings of Israel and Judah) are confirmed in the secular accounts of other nations or via ancient artifacts of some kind. We tend to forget that circa 3,000 years have passed since the time of King David. Given that millennia have passed and many destructive invasions have occurred during that time in the region of the Holy Land, it is noteworthy that so many biblical persons can be confirmed as real historical figures. We need to realize that Kings David and Solomon lived in a far distant time already regarded as being “ancient history” at the time Julius Caesar was born.
The mention of the dynasty of King David on the stele of an Israelite enemy is especially strong proof that King David and his dynasty of kings were very real historical figures. This also affirms the credibility of the Bible’s historical narratives.
patternsofevidence.com/2023/ 01/27/debated-king-david- reference-on-mesha-stele- solved/
org/703-famous-ancient- battles-not-mentioned-in-the- bible-or-are-they
biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ people-cultures-in-the-bible/ people-in-the-bible/50-people- in-the-bible-confirmed- archaeologically/
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