Thursday, February 01, 2007

David and Solomon: Hicks from the Sticks?

The headline might be something of an exaggeration, but according to new archaeological research reviewed in Science Magazine, not as much as you might think.

Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein has published controversial studies suggesting that the storied realm of the mighty kings of united Israel of which we read might have been more story than actuality:
The Bible tells of the golden age of the united kingdom of Israel ruled over by a Judean monarch, first David and then his son Solomon. It describes a renowned empire spreading from the Red Sea to the border of Syria, the splendor of Jerusalem and the first Temple built by Solomon, as well as other magnificent building projects. This united kingdom then split into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Does archeology confirm this picture? Despite legendary exaggerations and elaborations, the authors believe that David and Solomon did exist -- but as minor highland chieftains ruling a population of perhaps 5,000 people.

In The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman document the state of the evidence for the glories of the United Kingdom, and find more fable than fact:
There is no trace of written documents or inscriptions, nor of the Temple or palace of Solomon, and buildings once identified with Solomon have been shown to date from other periods. Current evidence refutes the existence of a unified kingdom: "The glorious epic of united monarchy was -- like the stories of the patriarchs and the sagas of the Exodus and conquest -- a brilliant composition that wove together ancient heroic tales and legends into a coherent and persuasive prophecy for the people of Israel in the seventh century BCE." Larger map and more here.

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