Let's begin our look at Israel archaeology with the "Merneptah Stele" (also known as the Israel Stele), which is an upright stone slab measuring over seven feet tall that contains carved hieroglyphic text dating to approximately 1230 BC. This Egyptian monument describes the military victories of Pharaoh Merneptah and includes the earliest mention of "Israel" outside the Bible. Although the specific battles covered by the stele are not included in the Bible, the stele establishes outside evidence that the Israelites were already living as a people in ancient Canaan by 1230 BC. 1 In addition to the Stele, a large wall picture was discovered in the great Karnak Temple of Luxor (ancient Thebes), which shows battle scenes between the Egyptians and Israelites. These scenes have also been attributed to Pharaoh Merneptah and date to approximately 1209 BC. 2 The Karnak Temple also contains records of Pharaoh Shishak's military victories about 280 years later. Specifically, the "Shishak Relief" depicts Egypt's victory over King Rehoboam in about 925 BC, when Solomon's Temple in Judah was plundered. 3 This is the exact event mentioned in two books of the Old Testament. 4
Outside Egypt, we also discover a wealth of evidence for the early Israelites. The "Moabite Stone" (Mesha Stele) is a three-foot stone slab discovered near Dibon, east of the Dead Sea that describes the reign of Mesha, King of Moab, around 850 BC. 5 According to the Book of Genesis, the Moabites were neighbors of the Israelites. 6 This stele covers victories by King Omri and King Ahab of Israel against Moab, and Mesha's later victories on behalf of Moab against King Ahab's descendants. 7 The "Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser" is a seven-foot, four-sided pillar of basalt that describes the victories of King Shalmaneser III of Assyria, including defeats of Tyre, Sidon and "Jehu, Son of Omri." Dated to about 841 BC, the Obelisk (now in the British Museum) was discovered in the Northwest Palace at Nimrud and shows Israel's King Jehu kneeling before the Assyrian king in humble tribute. 8
OK, everything I found establishes that the ancient Israelites did in fact exist. However, there's a big difference between historic generalities and the specific people and events mentioned in the Bible. For instance, King David and his son, Solomon, are huge parts of Jewish history in the Old Testament. Shouldn't we find archaeology in Israel to support for their reigns and activities as well?
In one of the books I picked up, I was surprised to read that the historical David never existed. Another article I read referred to the well-established "David Myth" -- a literary invention drawn from heroic tradition to establish the Jewish monarchy...
Kathleen Kenyon, a very credible archaeologist I came to trust and enjoy, declared:
- To many people it seems remarkable that David and Solomon still remain unknown outside the Old Testament or literary sources derived directly from it. No extra-biblical inscription, either from Palestine or from a neighboring country, has yet been found to contain a reference to them. 9
Guess what? Since Kenyon made the above statement, the validity of the ancient biblical record regarding King David received a huge lift!
In 1993, archaeologists discovered a stone inscription at the ancient city of Dan, which refers to the "House of David." The "House of David Inscription" (Tel Dan Inscription) is the first ancient reference to King David outside the Bible. 10 Specifically, the stone is a victory pillar of a King in Damascus dated a couple hundred years after David's reign, which mentions a "king of Israel of the House of David." Over the next year, more inscription pieces were discovered at the site, which allowed archaeologists to reconstruct the entirety of the declaration: "I killed Jehoram son of Ahab king of Israel and I killed Ahaziahu son of Jehoram king of the House of David." Remarkably, these are Jewish leaders linked to the lineage of David as recorded in the Bible. 11
The archaeology of Israel was proving powerful!
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1 Price, The Stones Cry Out, 145-146. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 228-229.
2 Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 230.
3 Ibid., 301-302.
4 1 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12.
5 Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 308-310.
6 Genesis 19.
7 2 Kings 3.
8 Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 321-22. See also, 2 Kings 9-10.
9 Kathleen Kenyon, The Bible and Recent Archaeology, rev. ed., John Knox Press, 1987, 85.
10 Price, The Stones Cry Out, 166-67.
11 Ibid. 167-72.
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