David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the West­ern Tradition

Israel Finkel­stein, Neil Ash­er Silberman
  • Review
By – October 24, 2011

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.

Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

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