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This Christian Journey:

 

The Historical Reality of King David

Dr. Walter D. Huyck Jr. D.Min.

www.thischristianjourney.com

 

This essay, on part of a three part written work, was written in partial fulfillment of a doctoral level study in Old Testament History.  It addresses the topic of the historical reality of King David.  For years scholars have questioned whether King David was merely a legend or was a real historical figure.  This document helps answer that question.

One of the greatest figures in Israel’s history and national heritage was King David.  He was the shepherd boy with a heart that sought after God that was providentially selected to lead Gods people.  He was the young military leader that would bring Israel out of the cold-hearted culture initiated by the king that Israel selected in rebellion, because they would not wait for God’s timing and God’s purposes.  He was the king that failed in his humanity, at times, yet still sought God with his whole heart.  Yet, today there are those who would say David was the king of Israel’s imagination, a legendary military hero who never really existed.

The liberal-critical consensus concerning king David has long been that king David is nothing more than a legendary figure in Israel’s history.  These scholars often stress that the story’s surrounding king David are merely embellishments of a national hero that may or may not have ever really existed.  For instance, Kyle McCarter writes,

“The Bible is our only source of information about David.  No ancient inscription mentions him.  No archaeological discovery can be securely linked to him. . . .We cannot assume, therefore, that a statement about David in a given part of the Bible derives from an early source.  The David of Chronicles, for example, is the idealized David of the second Commonwealth, not the David of history.”[1]

 In expressing this position McCarter is stressing the arguments forwarded by many liberal-critical scholars.  They often argue that because there has long been no extra-biblical archaeological evidence for king David, then there is nothing to authoritatively establish that king David was an actual historical figure.

John Bright reviews a book written by R.A. Carlson that examines the biblical historical record surrounding king David.  In the process of his study, Carlson, argues away a possible reliable historical record for David’s life and reign.  Bright notes,

“It is not concerned with David as a historical figure, but with the examination of the manner in which the Deuteronomists (note the plural; the author regularly refers to them as the ‘D-group’ and denies the there was a ‘Deuteronomic historian’) shaped and articulated the narrative traditions regarding David found in II Samuel. . . . The author then studies in detail the way in which the ‘D-group’ (to use his term) has made use of the traditions about David in the interest of his own theological concern.  Against Noth and others, he denies that the Deuteronomist(s) has at his/their disposal a ready-made complex of narratives which he/they simply reproduced with a minimum of comment.  Rather, he argues that the Deuteronomists, here as elsewhere, so organized the material as to illustrate their characteristic thesis that obedience to Yahweh brings blessing while disobedience brings punishment.”[2]

 Thus, it appears that Carlson is arguing that the Deuteronomic historians rewrote the historical record to support and advance a political or religious system that he or they wanted to forward.  If the record was written late in Israel’s history, as many liberal-critical scholars argue, after the Babylonian exile, then perhaps the record was written to express to Israel their need to be obedient to Yahweh for the sake of national restoration.

Kyle McCarter, after noting the liberal-critical position, searches the biblical record concerning king David and compares it to other near eastern historical accounts.  He notes several near eastern parallels that lend credibility to the biblical accounts of David’s life and reign.  He writes,

“Among the historical parallels that might be cited to shed light on this phase of David’s life is that of Idrimi, king of the Syrian state of Mukish in the latter part of the sixteenth century B.C. Isrimi’s extraordinary career is related in an Akkadian inscription found at Alalakh, the capital of ancient Mukish.  The youngest of several sons of the royal family of Aleppo, he was forced to flee, apparently because of a coup.  His flight brought him eventually to Canaan, where he joined a band of ‘apiru’ warriors.  Several years latter, having received a favorable omen, he gathered an army and returned to Mukish, where his countrymen rallied around him.”[3]

 Hence, McCarter argues that the accounts recorded concerning the life of king David are culturally appropriate for his time.  The comparison of David’s struggle to assume Israel’s throne lends itself to a historical context in the ancient near east, rather than a legendary account.  McCarter stresses that the similarities between the biblical record of  king David and other historical figures in extra-biblical accounts lend credibility the historicity of king David.

Albert Cook deals with the fictional accusations of the liberal-critical movement in his survey of the circumstances written into the text of the books of Samuel and Kings.  He notes, “There is no doubt that the compiler of Sam.-Kings, who is commonly credited with being a remarkable historian, meant his careful observations of behavior in the persons with whom he deals to be at the service of an interpretation that had public consequences for the life of Israel.”[4]   Cook goes on to argue for the historical content of these Old Testament books while dealing directly with some of liberal-critical suggestions toward a fictional context.  He discusses the variations written into the text as evidence of historical rather than fictional content as well as pointing out that in recording the various personal elements that are recorded the author points to the public implications that they develop.  He writes, “One might, again, graph or plot these contours in all their congruence and variations, but both the congruence and the variation constitute a chief segmentation—rather than any thematic summary like ‘succession narrative’—to the historiographic presentation here.”[5]  Therefore, Cook develops support for the historical context of the united monarch from the literary content of the text itself.

However, things have changed in recent years concerning the extra-biblical archaeological evidence for a historical king David.  In ancient Laish, referred to today as Tell el-Qadi, there has been the discovery of a Stela set up by an Aramaean king that mentions byt-dwd.  Since this find there has been a land swell of interpretations concerning what this text might really mean.  Some have suggested that this is irrefutable proof of king David, since they interpret that the text could only be referring to the ‘house of David.’  Others have argued that the text is referring to the ‘house of Dod’ claiming that Dod was some kind of ancient god found in the region.  However, other scholars have noted that a god Dod has not been found recorded in any other near eastern inscription or text. 

Part of the difficulty surrounding this stela is that initially only half of the stela had been found and therefore the whole text of the inscription was not previously available.  Of course, in any text literary context makes all the difference in the interpretation.  K.A, Kitchen reveals in a recent article that two more piece of this monument have been found that join up seamlessly with the first fragment that was found.  In commenting on the joining of these fragments Kitchen notes, “On this basis, the heart of the text (omitting only the scraps of ll. 1-2, 11-13) can be set out in proper sentence-format.”[6]  Hence, the literary context within which byt-dwd resides is now authoritatively known. 

In his article Kitchen goes on to write out the whole text of the inscription found on the monument.  He briefly fills a few small gaps in the text that can easily be completed through assumptions made concerning the interpretation of the whole text.  It should be noted that these gaps are extremely small.  Kitchen then goes on to translate the text into English.  When Kitchen reaches the part of the inscription in question, he writes, “This restoration inevitably, demands the straightforward interpretation ‘Ahaziah son of Joram, king of the house of David’—and not some speculation as ‘king of the House of *Dod’, or ‘king of the House of *vessel(s)’, or what-not.”[7]  Therefore, the inscription is now completed and confirmed and for the sake of this paper there is confirmed extra biblical evidence for the existence of king David.

It should be noted here that the monument in Laish is not the only extra biblical evidence of the historical king David that has come to light in recent years.  Dr. Roger Dalman, a Trinity Seminary Professor, has noted in his course on Biblical Archaeology that there are two other archaeological finds that may mention the historical king David.  Both of these finds are discussed in articles by K.A. Kitchen and discussed by Dr. Dalman.  Dr. Dalman noted that the earliest mention was in B.C. 925 and is recorded on the wall of the Egyptian temple at Karnac.  This text records a name that is associated with Palestine and according to Kitchen should be read David.  However, there is some debate about whether this inscription really is a reference of king David.  If this name refers to David then is mentions him only 50 years after his death.  Dr. Dalman also noted a Moabite text that mentioned the house of David.  Dr. Dalman notes that on the basis of these inscriptions Kenneth Kitchen argued that is was credible to assume that King David was a real historical individual.[8] 

Conclusion

While the extra biblical archaeological evidence clearly supports the historicity of king David, there will probably continue to be a lot of debate about how accurate the historical record concerning king David might be.  For liberal-critical scholars their arguments will most likely continued to be against the reliability of the biblical record, as they view the biblical record to have been authored late in Israel’s history.  However, for evangelicals and conservatives the biblical record will continue to be authoritative and substantive in both theological and historical context.  Regardless the debate surrounding the reliability of the Bibles historical record, the reality of a historical king David appears to have been settled through the archaeological evidence.

 

Footnotes

[1] P. Kyle McCarter Jr., “The Historical David,” Interpretation 40.2 (Apr 1986), 117.

 

[2] John Bright, “David the Chosen King: A Traditional Historical Approach to the Second Book of Samuel,” Interpretaion 19.2 (Apr 1965), 246.

 

[3] McCarter, 123.

 

[4] Albert Cook, “’Fiction’ and History in Samuel and Kings,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 36.1 (Oct 1986), 27.

 

[5] Cook,36.

 

[6] K.A. Kitchen, “A Possible Mention of David in the Late Tenth Century BCE, and Deity *Dod as Dead as the Dodo,” Journal of the Study of the Old Testament 76.1 (Dec 1997), 30.

[7] Kitchen, 32-33.

 

[8] Dalman, Rodger, “Biblical Archaeology,” (Newburgh: Trinity Seminary, 11/2/2000), Tape 17.

 

 

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