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King David – The Boy Wonder
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King David 

The Boy Wonder

 The ancient Jewish hero David, "son of Jesse the Bethlehemite," is a "curiously elusive figure" (Oxford Companion to the Bible). In turns shepherd, giant killer, court musician, poet, warlord and king, nothing and no one outside the Bible notes his existence.

If a historical 'Dawid' inspired tales of a legendary king, the original was an inconsequential bandit chieftain in the Judaean hills, nothing more. Possibly the only element of truth in the biblical story is the episode of David as renegade and outlaw leader, living from theft.

 

David and the Kingdom of Damascus

The city of Damascus is at least 4000 years old. It is recorded as being conquered by Pharaoh Tutmosis in the 15th century BC and it became the capital of an Aramean kingdom from the 11th century BC. The Kingdom of Aram-Damascus resisted the Assyrians until late in the 9th century BC, and even came up against Pharaoh Shoshenk in the Jezreel Valley, conquering Israelite Dan along the way. Israelite refugees, displaced by the Arameans, resettled in the hill-country.

In contrast to its heroics and intrigues of "King David", the Bible avoids mentioning Aram's 9th century conquest of much of Israel. Dan, Hazor, Jezreel and Megiddo were among the cities destroyed.

"Around 835 and 800 BC the kingdom of Aram-Damascus controlled the upper Jordan valley and significant areas in northeastern Israel – and devastated major Israelite administrative centres in the fertile Jezreel valley as well."

– Finkelstein, Silberman,The Bible Unearthed, p202.


Curiously, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus (844-803) enjoyed a 40-year reign – just like that ascribed to the biblical 'David' (and, for that matter, also to his son 'Solomon'!). The existence of Hazael is not in doubt, whereas outside of the biblical texts, there is as yet NO historical proof of a Hebrew king named David ruling an 'empire'. 
Much has been made of the so-called Tel Dan Inscriptionrecovered in 1993 (see below) but the "Davidic empire" remains a pious invention, inspired by an Arab kingdom of the same place and time.

 

 

Where Did They Get Their Ideas From?

David – Based on the King of Damascus

 

 

whose_kingdom.jpg

Arab kingdom of Hazael

 

 

"Damascus reached its zenith during the reign of Hazael ... Transjordanian regions were overrun ... Hazael was able to cross Israelite territory to progress down the coastal plain to take Gath in Philistia ...

In fact, Hazael appears to have established an empire or sphere of influence not unlike that ascribed to David."

– B.S.J. Isserlin, The Israelitesp86.

 

Not David, But Hazael

The city of Methegammah (Tell es-Safi/ Gath) – hometown of Goliath! – was destroyed in the 9th century BC, not the 10th, and apparently after a siege.

According to archaeologists of Bar-Ilan University, the conqueror was none other than Hazael, King of Aram-Damascus !

gath-pot.jpg

Philistine pot from Gath

 

 

The Fabulous Empire-building of the Biblical King David

"The biblical story of David is indeed mythic in nature.. He spent most of his career as a brigand-king, and, where he ruled, he did so by employing murder and mayhem.. "

– Baruch Halpern, David's Secret Demons, p 479/80.


The fable of King David's "empire building" actually gets scant coverage in the Holy Book. In the biblical narrative, almost the sole strategy of the Israelite war bands is "surprise." Though inferior in numbers and weaponry, with "surprise attacks" they repeatedly panic vast armies into a disorderly rout.


Episode 1 – Civil War!

Having killed a giant and married into the royal family with a gift of foreskins, David falls foul of his father-in-law Saul and becomes a mercenary for the hated Philistines. They give him the town of Ziklag (from where he massacres Amalekite nomads of Sinai). But when Saul & Co get trashed by Philistines at Mount Gilboa, Saul's son Ish-Baal (inauspicious name, that!) is proclaimed king, somewhere east of the river Jordan.

David, now resident at Hebron, is also proclaimed king. Hostile co-existence, laced with a variety of arbitrary murders, ensues for over 2 years, at which point the assassination of Ish-Baal leaves the field free for David to rule "all Israel" (most of which, of course, is still in the hands of the Philistines).

 

Episode 2 – The Capture of Jerusalem!

Our hero decides he needs a new residence in the hills – the town of Jebus. Oddly enough, this 'Jebusite' (Canaanite? Philistine?) enclave, in the heart of 'Hebrew territory', had never succumbed to Israelite conquest. Yet David has no problem taking the 'citadel' (how could he, with the LORD behind his every move). The blind and lame get short shrift from our conquering hero:


"And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites ... which spake unto David, saying ... thou shalt not come in hither ... Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion ... And David said ... Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind that are hated of David's soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house. So David dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David.
 

– 1 Samuel 5.6,9.

 

Episode 3 – Conquering everywhere else – just like that!

The brevity (and brutality) with which the Holy Book records the conquest of the whole of Syrio/Palestine is breathtaking:


Defeat of the Philistines:

"And after this it came to pass that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them: and David took Methegammah out of the hand of the Philistines." – 2 Samuel 8.1.

Conquest of the North:

"David smote also Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates ... David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men. David put garrisons in Syria of Damascus: and the Syrians became servants to David." – 2 Samuel 8.3,6.

Genocide and conquest of the South:

"For it came to pass, when David was in Edom, and Joab the captain of the host was gone up to bury the slain, after he had smitten every male in Edom." – 2 Kings 11.15.

Mass Slaughter in the Transjordan:

"And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David's servants, and brought "–2 Samuel 8.2.

"And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah." – 2 Samuel 11.1.


Not exactly Julius Caesar's The Gallic Wars!

As archaeology unequivocally testifies, in the 10th century BC in the valleys of Palestine Canaanite culture continued uninterrupted. Thankfully most of the biblical carnage that is the motif of "David's Empire Building" is a fanatic's fantasy.

 

The Tel Dan Inscription of an Aramean King

 

damascus.gif

Tel Dan Inscription

"The author was not Hazael – it was his son, Bar Hadad ... The inscription has nothing to do with Jehu's coup and assassinations."

– George Athas (University of Sidney – archaeologist and Christian!)

 


Tel Dan, at the foot of Mount Hermon in northern Galilee, is Israel's longest continuous archaeological dig. Work started in 1966. Three fragments of a 13-line Aramaic inscription discovered by archaeologists of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology in 1993/4 purportedly refer to the "House of David."

One interpretation is that stele records King Hazael's 842 BC killing of "Jehoram, son of Ahab, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, king of the House of David. I set their towns to ruin, their land to desolation."

The inscription appears to confirm that a chieftain called David was not pure invention yet even so, it contradicts the biblical story that it was Jehu who assassinated the tribal leaders in Jezreel.

"And Jehu drew a bow with his full strength, and smote Jehoram between his arms, and the arrow went out at his heart, and he sunk down in his chariot ... But when Ahaziah the king of Judah saw this, he fled by the way of the garden house. And Jehu followed after him, and said, Smite him also in the chariot." – 2 Kings 9:24,27


But this interpretation of the fragments has been challenged, both by a realignment of the 3 fragments and a corrected rendering of the word "BYTDWD" – not "House of David" but a place-name meaning "House of Praise".

"The desire to read the letters bytdvd as house of david  is ... a classic example of scholars working backwards from the Bible rather than forwards from the evidence."

– M. Sturgis, It Ain't Necessarily So, p129.


One problem with the early Aramaic of the inscription (which pre-dates the adoption of the square-form developed in Babylon) is the absence of a dot separating words. "DVD" could mean many things, including, for example, uncle, beloved and kettle!

 

 

Reality Check: The Omride Kingdom of Israel

An Israelite "empire" did eventually emerge – but in Samaria not Judah, and in the 9th, not the 10th century BC. Its founder was Omri, not David, a soldier/king who built himself the impressive palace-city of Samaria on the Syrian model. His dynasty – son Ahab, grandsons Ahaziah and Jehoram – raised a powerful army, built the cities of Megiddo, Gezer and Hazor, and ruled a successful state until defeated by Hazael of Aram-Damascus in 842 BC.

But the Omrides are not biblical heroes in the mould of David and Solomon. On the contrary, they are vilified and despised for that gravest of sins – worshipping the wrong god. In particular, Ahab and his wife Jezebel attract the worst opprobrium – mouthed in the curses of the wandering 'prophets' Elijah and Elisha (Jezebel is thrown from a window and dogs eat her corpse).

The isolated, poorer, smaller and more backward Israelite chiefdom of Judah, envious of and hostile towards its northern neighbour, would eventually use the fate of Samaria ('Israel') for theological purposes ('Look what happens when you disobey Yahweh').

Samaria succumbed to territorial erosion – first to Aram-Damascus, and then to Assyria. The capital city of Samaria finally fell in 720 BC.

Fanatics of the Yahweh cult fled south and began the process of inventing Judaism and writing a sacred history. In the fantasy, the village of Jerusalem becomes an imperial city; the 'House of David' an imperial dynasty.

 

First Evidence of an Israelite War Lord

In 853 BC, at the hill top city of Qarqur in Syria, an alliance of petty Levantine kingdoms attempted to resist the advancing Assyrians. The 'Kurkh Stela' commemorates the Assyrian victory:

"I razed, destroyed and burned ... 2,000 chariots, and 10,000 troops of Ahab, the Israelite..."

– Shalmaneser III


The Assyrians continued their advance in the next campaign season, defeating 'Jehu,' commemorated on the 'Black Obelisk'.

 

Kurkh.jpg

Kurkh Stela

Black-obelisk.gif
 
 

The 'Black Obelisk'

841 BC

jehu.jpg

Written in stone: Israel's 'Jehu, son of Omri' falls to the ground before Shalmaneser III.

 
 
 

nimrud-ivory2.jpg

Delicately carved ivory from Nimrud – testimony to Assyrian artistry

 

Shalmaneser's artifacts confirm the existence of a small Israelite kingdom – but NOT of the biblical story:

2 Kings 9,10 has it that Jehu was not Omri's son but an anointed assassin who had in fact murdered the 'house of Omri' on orders from Elisha!

"Woe to those who lay on beds of ivory."

– Amos 6.4

 

 

Postscript: Biblical David's Deathbed Words to Solomon: KILL

 

 
Settling the score with Joab, faithful soldier of the Don:

"Thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me ...
Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace ...


So Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up, and fell upon him, and slew him: and he was buried in his own house in the wilderness."

– 1 Kings 2.5,34.

 

Settling the score with Shimei the Benjamite:

"I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword ...
hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; 
but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

So the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada; which went out, and fell upon him, that he died. And the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon."

– 1 Kings 2.8,46.

 

 

Sources:
Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Phoenix Grant, 1987)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus, The Jewish War (Penguin, 1959)
Baruch Halpern, David's Secret Demons (Eerdmans, 2001) 
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
John Romer, Testament (Viking, 1999)
Philip R. Davies, In Search of 'Ancient Israel' (Sheffield Academic Press, 1995) 
Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem, One City, Three Faiths (Knopf, 1996)
Israel Finkelstein, Neil Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (Simon & Schuster, 2001)
Ahmed Osman, Moses Pharaoh of Egypt (Grafton, 1990)
B.S.J. Isserlin, The Israelites (Thames & Hudson, 1998)



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