The first thing that becomes clear from this follow-up to the same authors’ The Bible Unearthed is that they believe that ideology informs most human endeavors, including science and literature. However, they would probably argue that this does not hold true for their own efforts. They would be wrong.
David and Solomon is the latest salvo in the war of competing narratives regarding the Bible’s claim to historical truth. On the one side we find the Maximalists who, while they may differ on the details, largely agree that the Bible’s account of the dynasty of David is useful history and that archaeology has confirmed it. On the other side, we have the Minimalists, some of whom even question the existence of any Israelite kingdom, suggesting that it, as well as the Bible itself, is a late Hellenistic invention. Finkelstein and Silberman have stridden into the middle of this debate as the intellectually impeccable equivalent of a UN Peacekeeping Mission. Finkelstein’s credentials as one of Israel’s leading field archaeologists, as well as the boldness of the pairs’ hypotheses, give the air of inevitability to their arguments. However, at this point, the debate is still a hot one, and to no one belongs the final word.
The crux of their theory is that the biblical account of David and Solomon represents a particular arrangement by eighth century BCE writers of orally transmitted tales from the 10th Century, the goal of which was to fortify later kings from the house of David in their long political struggle with the stronger kingdom of Israel. Later books in the Bible were also crafted for specific political purposes. While they may preserve archaeologicallyprovable elements of the past they describe, they are royal, though Judahite, propaganda.
The book’s tour of history is fascinating, and much of the argument has the wonderful quality of truth being revealed. Furthermore, the salutary effect of confirming the existence of real Israelite kingdoms exposes the strange, and probably politically motivated, insistence of the Minimalists to the contrary. However, archaeology has the surprising quality of bringing facts to the surface that may play havoc with a whole range of favorite notions. For example, the authors have pinned much of their theory on the fact that Israel in the 10th century BCE was essentially a land of few people, struggling to feed their flocks, and certainly not capable of supporting a king, army or priestly class. However, today there are ongoing excavations in the City of David (the biblical era city of Jerusalem), which appear to have uncovered a royal palace, quite possibly from the 10th Century. If that is confirmed, David and Solomon will become a charming wrong turn on the road of biblical interpretation. Stay tuned. Biblio., index.