After the death of Saul, the followers of David, the son of Jesse, proclaimed him king of the clans of Judah. David established Hebron as the capital of his kingdom and ruled Judah for seven and a half years. David’s kingship was very limited and his jurisdiction did not go beyond the borders of Judah.
The Northern tribes proclaimed Ish-Bosheth their king (2 Samuel 2:8-10 NIV). Ish-Bosheth, also called Esh Baal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39 NIV), was the only son of Saul to survive the slaughter at Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-6). His kingship, however, was very short. Ish-Bosheth was killed by two of his officials after only two years’ reign as king of Israel. Without a leader, the elders of the Northern Tribes came to Hebron, made a covenant with David, and proclaimed him king over all Israel.
In his desire to unify the tribes of Judah and Israel, David set out to establish a capital for the new, united kingdom. With the help of his army, David conquered the fortress of Zion (the slope located south of the ancient city of Jerusalem) from the Jebusites, and established Jerusalem as his new capital. The Jebusites were one of the seven nations that occupied the land of Canaan, together with the tribes of Judah and Israel.
The events related to the establishment of David’s reign are found in 2 Samuel. The text says that after he became king of all Israel, David captured the fortress of Zion, made it the capital of his kingdom, and called it “The City of David.” After conquering Jerusalem, David built additional fortifications around the city, starting at the Millo and working inward (2 Samuel 5:7-11). It was at this time that David made a covenant with Hiram, King of Tyre, who sent messengers to David, along with carpenters, stonemasons, and cedar logs to build him a palace.
It is important to understand the significance of Jerusalem at the beginning of the monarchy. Jerusalem was an old Bronze Age city that had remained independent from the tribes of Israel. Since the city belonged to the Jebusites, Jerusalem was a neutral territory that had no connections with Judah or Israel, thus, it became the ideal place for the capital of the new kingdom because of its central location between Judah and Israel.
For decades, the exact location of David’s palace had eluded the work of archaeologists. However, according to an article written by Steven Erlanger, “King David’s Palace Is Found, Archaeologist Says,” published in The New York Times on August 5, 2005, an Israeli archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, claims she has found the remains of David’s palace in East Jerusalem. The remains found by Professor Mazar are that of a major public building which can be dated with confidence to the 10th century B.C. The structure that has been identified as David’s palace was found in the village of Silwan, just outside the old walls of the city of Jerusalem.
During the excavations at the site, Professor Mazar found broken pieces of pottery (shards) that are dated to the time of David and Solomon. In addition, she also discovered a bulla, an official government seal, belonging to Jehucal, the son of Shelemiah, whose name appears twice in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:3; 38:1). These additional findings are important because they establish the site as a governmental building that can be dated to the time of David.
The claim by Professor Mazar that she discovered the remains of David’s palace has provoked much discussion inside and outside of academic circles. Some archaeologists are skeptical about the findings and dismiss the claim that the foundation walls are the remains of David’s palace. These archaeologists contend the remains cannot be linked with David and his kingdom.
The discovery also has been rejected by Palestinians who say that a Jewish presence in Jerusalem is a religious myth created by Israelis in order to justify Jewish historical claims to the city. Palestinians claim that Israelis are trying to fit archaeological discoveries into a biblical context in order to justify Israel’s occupation of an Islamic holy place. To many Palestinians, Mazar’s claim is a further evidence of Jewish colonialism.
The focus of the controversy is whether David and Solomon were historical figures and whether the monarchy established by David truly existed in the 10th century B.C. Those who accept the historicity of the Bible believe the books of Samuel and Kings give detailed and accurate information about the reign of the two most famous kings of Israel.
Those who reject the historicity of the biblical texts, the so-called “minimalists,” believe that David never existed and that he was not a historical person. One writer, J. Albert Soggin, in his book An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993) concludes that since David and Solomon are never mentioned outside the Bible, that they never existed. Soggin wrote, “So it is possible that the reference to David and Solomon and to their empire is simply a later, artificial construction, tending to glorify a past which never existed to compensate for a present which is dull and gray” (p. 32).
In two future essays, I will continue to discuss whether archaeology affirms the existence of David and whether the biblical record reflects the actions of a historical person named David. My next essay will be a discussion of the Mesha Stela and the House of David monument discovered at Tel Dan. The second essay will deal with the historicity of David.
The reliability of Israel’s history and the reliability of the historical narratives of the Old Testament are under attack. For those who believe that the Old Testament is an integral part of Christian Scriptures, the reliability of the biblical narratives is of outmost importance.
The Old Testament is a reliable document because it is the history of a people whose memory has preserved an accurate record of the past. As remains of the past are discovered by archaeologists, these new findings provide the proper context for the understanding of the history of Israel. The discovery of the remains of David’s palace will become an item of debate for years to come. The mere possibility that this finding is authentic is very significant. This finding is another piece of that great puzzle that helps us affirm that David really existed.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary