n the historical narrative of the Bible one individual attains more prominence, more mention, from Samuel until the last chapter of Revelation. It is not Abraham, the father of three great monotheistic religions, or Isaac or Jacob. It is not Moses, the great deliverer of God’s people from Egypt. It is not Joshua, the leader who led Israel into the Promised Land. These were certainly pivotal figures in the history of Israel. In fact, not even Jesus is mentioned as frequently by His name as this individual. His name appears more than 1,100 times in Scripture.
Warrior, Poet, and Nation-builder
He was a great musician, having composed much of the liturgy for Israelite worship that is still sung in synagogues and churches today. He was a poet, a warrior, a great king and leader for his people.
David as a figure has captured the imagination of millions throughout the centuries and millennia. Artists, such as Michelangelo, have been inspired by his life and personality.
But David’s centrality in the Bible is exemplified not only in his abilities as musician, poet, warrior, statesman, and hero. His significance is all the more apparent as the pro-?genitor of the Messiah. It is through the seed of David—the root of his father, Jesse—that the Messiah was to be born.
David himself pointed forward in the Psalms to the Messiah that was to come. Both Matthew and Luke include David in their genealogies of Jesus. It was “Joseph, the son of David” who became the father of Jesus (Matt. 1:20, 21).
Later as Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem in His triumphal entry, the people shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 21:9, NASB).*
David is indeed a most central figure in Scripture.
•Without David, there is no founder of Jerusalem.
•Without David, there is no author for Israel’s worship liturgy.
•Without David, there is no United Monarchy of Israel.
•Without David, there is no Messiah.
The Battle Over David—And Biblical History
It may come as a surprise to many that more furious than the battle of David and Goliath itself, there rages today an intellectual battle over the history of the early monarchy in Israel. In recent years there have been an increasing number of postmodern scholars who are questioning the historicity of the figure of David himself. They question whether he ever existed.
In 1992 Philip Davies of the University of Sheffield wrote in his book In Search of “Ancient Israel” that “biblical Hebrew” was a language invented in the Hellenistic period—700 years after the biblical David lived. He writes: “The ‘Israel’ ?of the biblical literature is at least for the most part not an historical entity at all.”1 He states further: “The biblical ‘empire’ of David and Solomon has not the faintest echo in the archaeological record—as yet.”2
The Bible in Davies’ thinking is guilty until proven innocent. In other words, the text is written late and is largely fiction unless it is corroborated by outside sources, i.e., archaeology or extrabiblical historical texts. Because the names of some of the characters of the Bible have not yet been found—David and Solomon—he simply assumes that these people and places never existed and by extension that their Israel did not exist. Obviously, this is strictly an argument from silence.
Arguments from silence are dangerous in any scientific discipline. In the field of archaeology they can be devastating. A year after Philip Davies published his book arguing that David and Solomon were not historical figures, excavations at Dan, a biblical site in northern Israel, produced new evidence. In 1993, outside the city gate, a student, while excavating a wall, turned over a stone and noticed an inscription. Written on basalt stone it stated that the House of David and the House of Israel had been defeated in battle by the king of Aram. For the first time in history the name of David was found written in stone. Scholars hailed this as clear evidence not only for the existence of David but also for the biblical division of Israel and Judah.3
Nevertheless, in the sweeping agenda of postmodernism to rewrite the past, other scholars have joined the fray, not only in questioning David, but also in questioning the entire early history of Israel. For these biblical scholars—not physicists, biologists, or philosophers, but biblical scholars—David was simply a mythical figure. John Van Seters, a well-known Canadian biblical scholar, argues in his 2009 book, The Biblical Saga of King David, that the story of David was not written until the Persian period, hundreds of years after the event.4 But how can he establish this? Does the origin of David’s story, even his very existence, depend on opinions, even by such leading secular thinkers? Do we create reality by eloquent theories and hypotheses? Or is reality something that is inherent in the past that we can somehow get at through the material remains of that past—namely archaeology?
The Battle Over the United Monarchy
The debate has also engulfed archaeologists working in Israel over the past two decades. In 2006 a new book was published by Israel Finkelstein and Neal Asher Silberman entitled David and Solomon. Finkelstein, a distinguished professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, concludes that for the period of David and Solomon there is:
•No evidence for extensive literacy
•No evidence for extensive wars
•No evidence for major building
•No evidence for dynastic intrigues between Saul and David
•Jerusalem was a small village
•Jerusalem controlled only a sparsely populated hinterland5
Finkelstein and Silberman base their findings on what they call “the absence of evidence.” But is the absence of evidence evidence for absence? Or like the David inscription found at Dan, might that evidence still remain to be discovered? Excavations in Jerusalem have not revealed much to date because it is a densely populated city.
Yet Dr. Eilat Mazar has recently excavated a monumental building ?in Jerusalem that she claims may be the palace of David,6 and this past September excavators from Haifa University and the Israel Antiquities Authority announced a massive wall built of monumental 4- to 5-ton stones preserved to a height of more than five meters in Jerusalem. Dated to 1,700 B.C., 700 years before David, it testifies to a major fortified city in the Middle Bronze Age. Director of excavations Ronny Reich said: “Despite the fact that so many have excavated on this hill, there is a very good chance that extremely large and well-preserved architectural elements are still hidden in it and waiting to be uncovered.”7
These very recent developments demonstrate that the “absence of evidence” argument for Jerusalem is ultimately inadequate. Who knows what new discoveries will be made this year?
David and Goliath in Archaeology
Then there is the story of David and Goliath, one of the most well-known tales of all times. The setting is 1 Samuel 17, where the Bible gives an elaborate description in the first verses of the exact geography of the Valley of Elah. The Philistines encamped on one side of the valley between Azekah and Socoh and the Israelites on the opposite side, with the valley between them. This means that Philistia camped to the south of the valley and Israel’s army camped to the north.
For the past three years new excavations have been conducted at a promising new site known today as Khirbet Qeiyafa. The site is situated on the hills north of the Elah Valley where the Israelites might have camped around 3,000 years ago. The Institute of Archaeology, Southern Adventist University, is a partner with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem excavating this city on the border between Judah and Philistia and on the main road to Jerusalem in ancient times.
Surrounding the site are massive casemate, or double walls, containing rooms. In 2009 Southern Adventist University excavated two of those rooms and found entire crushed vessels, including a lamp, goblet, and a number of storage jars with finger impressions.8 All the vessels from this level date to the Iron Age IIa, or the beginning of the tenth century B.C., around the time of David. It is estimated that the double wall and gates, which are contemporary to this period, may have required 200,000 tons of stone to construct. This would have required enormous resources, manpower, and central organization to accomplish. Khirbet Qeiyafa is not simply a farmstead or sheep pen; this is a planned garrison city, arguing for centralized governance and organization.
Two large gates were uncovered along the city walls. The first faces west toward the land of the Philistines. The second faces southeast toward the road leading to Jerusalem. They are constructed of identical dimensions ?in the opening, and the architecture is the same. The walls of these gates are massive, built with stones weighing 2 to 4 tons each, the largest stones used in buildings as compared to any contemporary site in Israel or Judah. Each gate has four rooms or chambers. The west gate has an enormous threshold stone, which would have anchored the heavy wooden doors. Drains set into the roads leading out of the gate were excavated and contained only Iron Age pottery, which helps establish the construction of the gate to the early monarchy.
These two gates are significant, because no other city of Israel in this period was built with two gates. Excavations at Lachish, Megiddo, Gezer, and other sites show only one gate. Could this help with identifying the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa?
The final verses of the story of David and Goliath describe the defeat of the Philistines: “When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The men of Israel and Judah arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines as far as the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the slain Philistines lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron” (1 Sam. 17:51, 52, NASB). The Hebrew word shaarayim means “two gates.” Could Khirbet Qeiyafa finally be this ancient city associated with the famous story of David and Goliath? Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor, joint directors of the excavation, believe it is.9
The Khirbet Qeiyafa Ostracon
In 2008 an amazing discovery took place here. A broken storage jar was found with five lines of writing on it. It was sitting on the floor dating to the Iron Age. Newspapers all over the world reported the oldest Hebrew inscription ever found—800 years older than the Dead Sea scrolls!
The inscription has several words that could be read, including “king,” “land,” and “judge.” The official translation was presented in November of 2009 at the American Schools of Oriental Research professional meetings in New Orleans, where it was affirmed that the vocabulary was definitely Hebrew. This indicates that literacy was more widespread than some scholars believed, already during the period of the early monarchy. Why else would you have a major inscription far away from Jerusalem on the borders of Judah and Philistia?
The early Iron Age city was occupied for only a short time, probably less than 50 years, before it was destroyed or abandoned. After 700 years a new garrison was established by Alexander the Great or Ptolemy I. This summer on one of the floors a silver tetradrachm coin of Alexander was found and several additional coins minted during the reign of Ptolemy.
But many questions remain for future excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa. What relationship does this garrison city have with the bordering Philistine cities of Gath and Ekron? Why was it occupied for only such a short time during the early monarchy and then destroyed or abandoned? Will there be any more inscriptions found in the other houses during continuing excavation? What led to the innovation of two gates and why did this architectural element disappear in future city planning? These are the kinds of questions that drive our curiosity and research. Future excavations by the joint efforts of the Hebrew University and Southern Adventist University will undoubtedly reveal more about the border garrison of Sha’arayim.
The Battle Continues
As the postmodern battle over David and Goliath and the historicity of the Bible continues, we are faced today with a larger conflict—one of cosmic proportions that impacts the family and the church. Many times these forces converge to discourage us from engaging our world in a fight for truth, moral principle, and the everlasting gospel. Some of us may be struggling with a job loss, with an overwhelming health issue, with something that simply appears so enormous that it seems we may be overwhelmed. We may feel small and even insignificant. We may not have the most popular message for the world today, but as we arm ourselves with the promises of God’s Word, we have the assurance that He will see us through to the end.
As David, holding his simple sling, stood over Goliath that day, he knew God’s promise had been fulfilled. His victory confirmed his prediction to King Saul: “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37, NASB). It is here that the message of David and Goliath still speaks to us. It is not our battle, but it is the Lord’s.
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
1P. Davies, In Search of “Ancient Israel” (Sheffield, U.K.: JSOT Press, 1992), p. 26; see the review by M. G. Hasel, Andrews University Seminary Studies 32 (1994): 260-262.
2Davies, p. 67.
3A. Biran and J. Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele Fragment From Tel Dan,” Israel Exploration Journal 43 (1993): 81-98; M. G. Hasel, “The House of David,” Adventist Review, July 14, 1994, p. 10.
4J. Van Seters, The Biblical Saga of King David (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2009), p. 3.
5I. Finkelstein and N. A. Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition (New York: Free Press, 2006), pp. 92-98; for more on this debate, see I. Finkelstein and A. Mazar, The Quest for the Historical Israel (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007).
6E. Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review 32/1 (Jan./Feb. 2006): 16-27, 70.
7“‘Massive’ Ancient Wall Uncovered in Jerusalem,” CNN (Sept. 4, 2009).
8Y. Garfinkel, S. Ganor, M. Hasel, and G. Stiebel, “Khirbet Qeiyafa, 2009,” Israel Exploration Journal 59 (2009): 14-20.
9Y. Garfinkel and S. Ganor, “Khirbet Qeiyafa: Sha’arayim,” The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 8, art. 22 (2008): 3, 4; idem, Khirbet Qeiyafa, The 2007-2008 Seasons (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, forthcoming).
Michael G. Hasel, Ph.D., is the director of the Institute of Archaeology, curator of the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum, and professor of Near Eastern Studies and Archaeology at Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tennessee. This article was published February 25, 2010.