Archaeologists, aided by burrowing mole rats, discovered a large building in the valley below the hills of Hebron attributed to the kingdom of Biblical King David. The discovery is a milestone in the ongoing debate over the veracity of Biblical King David as a historical figure with most archaeologists now looking to the Bible as having a factual basis.
“Until 25 years ago no one doubted that King David was a historical figure,” Professor Avraham Faust, director of the archaeological dig, told Breaking Israel News. “In the last 25 years or so, however, David’s historicity, and especially the size of his kingdom, are hotly debated“.
“The new discovery at Tel ‘Eton, located in the Judean Shephelah to the east of the Hebron hills, seems to suggest that the highland kingdom controlled larger areas than some scholars believe”, Faust added.
The dig, led by Professor Faust of Bar-Ilan University, is at Tel Eton, in the valley near the Hebron hills. The city that once stood at the site has been identified by scholars as Eglon, a city which, according to the Bible, fought against the Israelites as part of the five Amorite kings coalition and was later listed as part of the tribe of Judah.
The discovery has become part of an ongoing dispute among archaeologists about whether King David actually existed as a real historical figure or whether he was just a mythological figure existing only in the pages of the Bible.. The finds from Tel ‘Eton, recently published by Faust and Yair Sapir in the journal Radiocarbon, led the authors to claim that the city was once part of David’s kingdom. The structure was dated to the 10th century – the time in which King David was supposed to have ruled according to the Bible – on the basis of radiocarbon dates of samples from the floor make-up and from the foundation deposit. After describing the building and the reasons that led them to date it to the 10th century BCE, Faust and Sapir wrote:
“This has bearings on the date in which social complexity evolved in Judah, on the debate regarding the historicity of the kingdom of David and Solomon.”
Dr. Faust explained how they came to this remarkable conclusion.
“We, of course, did not find any artifacts that said ‘King David’ or King Solomon’ but we discovered at the site signs of a social transformation the region underwent, including the construction of a large edifice in a plan known to archaeologists as ‘the four-room house’ which is common in Israel but is rare to non-existent elsewhere. This seems to indicate that the inspiration or cause for the transformations are to be sought in the highland. The association with David is not based on any archaeological evidence but on circumstantial grounds only. Since the source of the change seems to be in the highlands, and since it took place at the time when David was supposed to have existed, the link is plausible,” Professor Faust told Breaking Israel News. “Moreover, the changes are consistent with larger regional changes, all connected with the highlands, and all taking place at a time the Kingdom of David was supposed to have to spread into this region”.
“The association with the highland kingdom, as well as the time of the change, are the main discovery, and if someone thinks that there was no King David, that person should come with a different name for the highland king in whose time the region was incorporated into the highland kingdom,” Professor Faust added.
“The association with the highland kingdom, as well as the time of the change, are the main discovery, and if someone thinks that there was no King David, that person should come with a different name for the highland king in whose time the region was incorporated into the highland kingdom”.
This connection between the Bible and archaeology made by Professor Faust can be problematic, as Dr. Eilat Mazar, a prominent Israeli archaeologist, explained.
“Archaeology does not begin with a belief and the Bible and then a search for proof,” Dr. Mazar told Breaking Israel News. “We first find evidence and then try to understand the truth behind the evidence.”
For the most part, evidence of Biblical events is lacking, Dr. Mazar noted.
“Even with what is written about David, one of the more prominent figures in the Bible, there are very few events that would leave evidence we could find archaeological proof of today.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Mazar uses the Bible as a resource to guide her work. This has set her at odds with many other Israeli archaeologists who reject the validity of this technique.
“We can use the Bible as a source to guide our search, but we cannot use the Bible as proof,” Dr. Mazar said. “But conclusions are drawn after a very long and thorough process of proof. After proving the connection using archaeological methods, the Biblical connection can now be brought.”
Her methods speak for themselves as Dr. Mazar is credited with many major finds.
AnaRina Heymann, director of Jerusalem Watch and the outreach coordinator for the City of David, frequently encounters skeptics who question the historical validity of King David.
“Until 1993, there was no way we could prove that King David existed,” Heymann told Breaking Israel News. “That was when archaeologists discovered the Tel Dan Stele.”
The Tel Dan Stele, currently on display in the Israel Museum, is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. The inscription boasts of victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David”. It is considered to be the earliest accepted reference to the name David as the founder of the Kingdom of Judah.
“The Tel Dan Stele absolutely one hundred percent proves that King David existed,” Heymann said. “It refutes any claim that King David was merely a story.”
If verified, Tel Eton will be the second major archaeological site attributed to King David. In 2007, Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University found a large military fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa approximately 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. He eventually dated the fortress to the early 10th century BCE when King David is thought to have ruled over Israel concurrent with the structure at Tel Eton.
Professor Faust noted that the site at Tel Eton indicates a level of social complexity, indicating the society at the time was complex politically. The archaeological site covers 15 acres, making it the third largest in the Judean region behind Jerusalem and Lachish. When Professor Faust’s group first began excavations, they discovered fortifications, suggesting the regional importance of the site. Most of the buildings at the dig were from the 8th century BCE, several hundred years later than the period of King David. But further studies suggested the site had a much more ancient history.
The archaeologists recently announced the discovery of a new structure at the top of the tel (an artificial mound formed from the accumulated remains of civilizations that existed on the same site for hundreds or thousands of years) that was notably well-constructed, suggesting its role as a regional administrative center.
“The building was nicely executed, including ashlar stones in the corners and openings,” Faust said in Popular Archaeology. “Hundreds of artifacts were unearthed within the debris, including a wide range of pottery vessels, loom weights, many metal objects, botanical remains, as well as many arrowheads, evidence of the battle which accompanied the conquest of the site by the Assyrians.”
Researchers believe the city was destroyed by King Sennacherib and the Assyrians in 701 BCE.
The ashlar stones, finely cut and squared-off masonry, were the earliest examples of such masonry found in Judah. The structure was built on a deep foundation, indicating a high level of sophistication.
While exploring the foundations of the structure, the archaeologists discovered a pottery bowl which they believed was an offering to God as a supplication for protection of the building, something archaeologists have encountered before in more ancient digs. This type of foundation offering enabled the researchers to date the building to Canaanite Bronze Age and early Iron Age, and to the 10th century at the latest.
The researchers were aided by mole rats, burrowing rodents that live in the region. Archaeologists have little idea of what lays underground when they begin digging and many hours of meticulous work may be spent in a fruitless effort. By sifting through the earth brought to the surface by the burrowing rodents, archaeologists can glean clues about what lays below.
EDITOR”S NOTE: The original article as it appeared on 4/30 contained inaccurate quotes from Dr. Faust and should not be used. The article as it appears now reflects the correct information and opinion as received directly from Dr. Faust.