By Vexen Crabtree 2015
King David and Solomon presided over a great empire in the Old Testament. And although Christian tradition fought long and hard to retain that myth, archaeological and historical investigation have comprehensively shown that there was no such great empire1,2. Researchers have found small settlements dating from both before and after the dates of the empire3, and neighbouring countries do not mention anything greater in their own records - except for a few minor mentions of the House of David1,2. During a time of strife, this House of David was turned into an epic story of Hebrew faithfulness to their priestly caste's religion, in order to unite the people. But the fiction is now undone. Almost everything about King David and Solomon and their empire is exaggerated to such as extent that it is best to consider the entire edifice to be legend and myth, except that for a while, King David did rule over a sparsely populated and disparate Judah.
David and Solomon are two of the towering figures of the Hebrew texts. During a time of strife, such inspiring symbols of Hebrew unity were written about in order to bring together Israel and Judea under a single new rulership, based in Jerusalem. The central characters in these nationalistic stories had to be both commanders of armies and builders of great nations, so that the present generation could follow their example, and work for the good of the fledging state. With this aim in mind, the stories written about David and Solomon did not disappoint - well, not until archaeologists went in search of the evidence of their great empires.
“Yet there is no mention of either king in Egyptian or Mesopotamian texts. No physical evidence has been found for David's conquests or his empire. Archaeological support for Solomon's great temple in Jerusalem or other building projects there and in other locales is nonexistent. At a recent meeting in Rome, archaeologist Niels Peter Lemche declared, "Archaeological data have now definitely confirmed that the empire of David and Solomon never existed. [...] Almost certainly, the Jewish kingdom was far more modest than described in the Bible, and the events surrounding David are probably as mythological as those of the lives of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. [...]
Some [of those who state that most stories in the Bible are true] have argued that the remains of Solomon's temple and other signs of a Golden Age in Jerusalem have been wiped out by later building projects. However, the extensive excavations carried on in Jerusalem in modern times have yielded impressive finds from much earlier periods such as the Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age."”
These revelations have broken the mould, after a long time during which all argumentation and evidence-seeking was done by conscientious Christians in search of evidence to back up their own beliefs.
“Then came the post-1967 archaeologists and Bible scholars, who began to cast doubt on the very existence of this mighty kingdom, which, according to the Bible, grew rapidly after the period of the Judges. Excavations in Jerusalem [...] undermined the fantasies about the glorious past [and] failed to find any traces of an important tenth-century kingdom, the presumed time of David and Solomon. No vestige was ever found of monumental structures, walls or grand palaces, and the pottery found there was scanty and quite simple. At first it was argued that the unbroken occupation of the city and the massive construction in the reign of Herod had destroyed the remains, but this reasoning fell flat when impressive traces were uncovered from earlier periods in Jerusalem's history.
Other supposed remains from the united kingdom also came to be questioned. The Bible describes Solomon's rebuilding of the northern cities of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. [...] Unfortunately, the building style of these gates was found to be later than the tenth century BCE. [... and] the carbon-14 test confirmed that the colossal structures in the area dated not from Solomon's reign but from the time of the northern kingdom of Israel. Indeed, no trace has been found of the existence of that legendary king, whose wealth is described in the Bible as almost matching that of the imperial rulers of Babylonia or Persia. [...]
The conclusion accepted by a majority of the new archaeologists and Bible scholars was that there never was a great united monarchy and that King Solomon never had grand palaces in which he housed his 700 wives and 300 concubines.”
“Many of the archaeological props that once bolstered the historical basis of the David and Solomon narratives have recently been called into question. The actual extent of the Davidic empire is hotly debated. Digging in Jerusalem has failed to produce evidence that it was a great city in David or Solomon's time. And the monuments ascribed to Solomon are now most plausibly connected with other kings. [...] Neither David nor Solomon is mentioned in a single known Egyptian or Mesopotamian text. And the archaeological evidence in Jerusalem for the famous building projects of Solomon is nonexistent. [...]
David and Solomon are such central religious icons to both Judaism and Christianity that the recent assertions of radical biblical critics that King David is no more a historical figure than King Arthur, have been greeted in many religious and scholarly circles with outrage and disdain. Biblical historians such as Thomas Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche of the University of Copenhagen and Philip Davies of the University of Sheffield, dubbed biblical minimalists by their detractors, have argued that David and Solomon, the united monarchy of Israel, and indeed the entire biblical description of the history of Israel are no more than elaborate, skillful ideological constructs produced by priestly circles in Jerusalem in post-exilic or even Hellenistic times.”
The evidence points to the definite existence of a dynasty known as the House of David in 825BCE in Judah, whose defeat was recorded by an Aramean king from Syria1, "but this kingdom of Judah was greatly inferior to the kingdom of Israel to its north, and apparently far less developed"2.
Apart from the grandiose images of stately buildings, many minor stories also fail to pass muster. The first chapter of the book of Ruth ends...
“... with an account of Solomon's judgment between two mothers, each of whom claimed a living child as her own and the dead child as that of her rival. This judgment has often been referred to as showing the wisdom of Solomon. He understood a mother's boundless love, that the true mother would infinitely prefer that her rival should retain her infant than that the child should be divided between them. However, this tale, like many an other Biblical story, is found imbedded in the folk-lore-myths of other peoples and religions. Prof. White's 'Warfare of Science and Theology' quotes Fansboll as finding it in 'Buddhist Birth Stories.'”
If Solomon was such a great and wise man, why did people find the need to write already existing stories about inspiring people, and pretend that Solomon was the key character? Were there not an array of stories about Solomon himself that could be told? It appears not. "The able Biblical critic, Henry Macdonald, regards [...] Solomon as unreal as Mug Nuadat or Partholan"4 (two Irish mythological heroes).
Current edition: 2015 Sep 06
Parent page: Abrahamic Religions Versus History: The Shared Myths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam
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Finkelstein & Silberman
(2002) The Bible Unearthed. Subtitled: "Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and The Origin of Its Sacred Texts". Amazon Kindle digital edition. Published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY, USA. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. An e-book.
(2009) The Invention of the Jewish People. English edition. Originally published 2008 as Matai ve'ekh humtza ha'am hayehudi?. Current version published by Verso, London, UK. A hardback book.
Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
(2007) God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Published by Prometheus Books, NY, USA. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.