The search for David
David is one of the great figures in the history of Israel. Both scholars and laymen have been searching for extra-biblical references for David. For the faithful, evidence of David would validate their belief. For scholars, it would help to correlate the textual evidence with the artifacts.
During the first half of the 20th century it seemed that there was an accumulation of archeological evidence supporting the existence of a Davidic and Solomonic golden age in the history of ancient Israel. Much of this evidence was due to William Foxwell (W.F.) Albright and his disciples who were occupying some of the most influential teaching posts in North American universities by the middle of the 20th century. Their influence even extended as far as Israel, where the legendary Yigael Yadin and his father, Eliezer Sukenik, the first head of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were disciples of Albright.
Simply put, Albright believed that the discipline of archeology could provide evidence for the biblical past. Albright began his long and distinguished career just after World War I when he first came to excavate in Israel. He would help to transform the study of archeology with his technique of dating pottery, known as pottery chronology, and correlating it to key historical events.
Obviously, one of the most important historical personages in the history of Israel was David. People such as Yadin claimed to have found evidence of David in some of the sites that they excavated. For example at Megiddo, evidence was found of a level that was attributed to David, and above it, scholars claimed to have found the stables of King Solomon, David’s famous son.
At Hazor, an important mound in northern Israel, Yadin believed that he had found a gate built by Solomon. These scholars who believed that the veracity of the Bible could be proved by archaeology have been called maximilists.
But much of what Albright and his disciples, such as Yadin, had discovered, was dismissed by many scholars – called minimilists by some – over the past 40 years. However, the last few decades has slowly seen the pendulum once more begin to swing in the direction of the maximilists, thanks to some spectacular new discoveries.
The most important of these discoveries occurred in 1993 at Tel Dan, in northern Israel, where an inscribed stone was found mentioning the House of David. It was the first time that the name of David was found in an extra-biblical inscription. The inscription is ascribed to the king of Damascus who, although he was an enemy of Israel, recognized the importance of David in founding a royal lineage. Even though it was dated to a century and a half after the reign of David, this discovery was a major blow to the minimalists and helped to resurrect David from the realm of myth to that of a verifiable historical figure.