Archaeologists have discovered an ancient Roman cave that has led many people to believe that the cave is the shrine of the Lupercale, the sacred place where according to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were suckled by a wolf.
The discovery has generated heated debate among archaeologists. According to the news report published in USA Today,
Archaeologist Andrea Carandini of Rome’s La Sapienza University calls the finding “one of the greatest discoveries ever made” and says the chances are “minimal” that the cave is not the site revered by the Romans as the Lupercale. Carandini and others point to discoveries such as the cave and earlier findings of ancient structures as evidence that myths about the city’s founding reflect history, and say that the founder of Rome may actually have been named Romulus.
On the other hand, T.P. Wiseman, of the University of Exeter in England, said that “Archaeology by its nature can’t provide such evidence.” In addition, Christopher Smith, a historian at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland said that “even if artifacts clearly reference the Romulus and Remus story, all they will show is that the cavern is a place where first-century Romans celebrated the legend — not that the story is real.”
So, the question is: can archaeology prove mythology? The answer is “no.” However, if the myth is based on history, then archaeology can demonstrate the historical foundation for the myth. Take for instance, a book edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain, The David Myth in Western Literature (West Lafayette: Purdue Research Foundation, 1980), a book in which David is presented as a mythical figure in Jewish literature. For many scholars, the biblical David was a figure of legend because his name did not appear anywhere outside the Bible.
Then, in 1993 archaeologists excavating at Tel Dan discovered “The House of David Stela,” A monument erected by an Aramean king which contains the reading “house of David.” In addition, some epigraphers have proposed that the phrase “house of David” also appears in the Mesha Stele.
Archaeology cannot prove mythology and it cannot prove the theological claims of the Bible. Although archaeology cannot yet demonstrate that David and Solomon ruled over a large empire, archaeology has shown that “the mythical David” was not a myth. To the contrary, the Tel Dan Stela reveals that David existed and that his descendants were known as “The House of David.”
NOTE: For other articles on archaeology, archaeological discoveries, and how they relate to the Bible, read my post Can Archaeology Prove the Bible?.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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>I find myself again in agreement. An article I wrote ages ago now, that i would change in some ways, but does deal with this is still up at CT: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/septemberweb-only/9-22-33.0.html
>Cb,Thank you for visiting my blog. I read your article and agree with you that archaeology can shed light on biblical events and personalities. We do not need the “proof” of archaeology to know that behind the biblical narratives there are historical facts. But many people continue to affirm that the biblical narratives are just invented history.I hope readers will click on the link above and read your article.Claude Mariottini
>Further discussion of this cave indicated months ago that it was simply a grotto attached to one of the nearby palaces, possibly Nero’s. The shells and other maritime decoration support this usage rather than the Lupercale, which would have been somewhere further away. See here. This, I suppose, is an instance in Classics of the silly Jesus Tomb thing: leaping to conclusions, ignoring evidence, and getting lots of press, which ignores all qualifications and corrections.
>I think it’s Ronald Hutton who talks about the tremendous ‘will to believe’ amongst those who study ancient cultures – the will to believe the myths over facts. The ancient British historians have their Ralegh Redford and Geoffrey Ashe, Troy has its Schliemann, Rome has Carandini, and the Old Testament has … well, there are just too many to list.Even if there was a ‘historical David’, something that is hardly proved by Tel Dan, it remains the case that the David of Sam-Kings is a mythical personnage. Was there a historic figure named ‘David’ who ruled somewhere in the Levant? Maybe. But do we know anything about his life from the Bible? No – those are legends.
>I think it’s Ronald Hutton who talks about the tremendous ‘will to believe’ amongst those who study ancient cultures – the will to believe the myths over facts. The ancient British historians have their Ralegh Redford and Geoffrey Ashe, Troy has its Schliemann, Rome has Carandini, and the Old Testament has … well, there are just too many to list.Even if there was a ‘historical David’, something that is hardly proved by Tel Dan, it remains the case that the David of Sam-Kings is a mythical personnage. Was there a historic figure named ‘David’ who ruled somewhere in the Levant? Maybe. But do we know anything about his life from the Bible? No – those are legends.———————————-Yawn….
>Reformed Baptist opined inarticulately:Yawn….Deane:I know just how you feel. I was reading Barth yesterday.
>Kevin,Thank you for the link. I was not aware of the article in the link you provided. I have written a post in which I make reference to your comment and the story you mentioned in your link.Thank you for your help.Claude Mariottini
>Deane, In your comment you wrote:“Was there a historic figure named ‘David’ who ruled somewhere in the Levant? Maybe. But do we know anything about his life from the Bible? No – those are legends.”I am glad that you are willing to acknowledge that someone named David probably ruled somewhere in the Levant. However, how can you know for sure that what the Bible says about David is legend? Nobody can know that for sure. It is as valid for some people to say that the stories are legend as for others to say that they are based on history.Claude Mariottini
>To my Reformed Baptist Friend,I understand.Claude Mariottini
>To Deane,I also understand.Claude Mariottini
>Dr Claude Mariottini wrote:However, how can you know for sure that what the Bible says about David is legend? Nobody can know that for sure. It is as valid for some people to say that the stories are legend as for others to say that they are based on history.Deane:It’s good to see you share my underwhelmed response to Barth!As for David, I think we might differ in opinions. I know that the David stories are legends (factually untrue stories about heroes which purport to be true) from a comparison of the stories with similar stories in the legendary genre in many cultures – all of which are factually untrue, except in the banal sense of naming a placename or once-existent person. That’s one way I know. The genre of the stories collected together in Sam-Kings is that of handed-down legend: David is chosen when only a child by a seer; David meets the King because he can drive out evil spirits with his music; David kills a ‘giant’; David has a special bond with the King’s son; the King attempts to kill David, but is overcome by a frenzy; David gathers a band of fighters around him and has adventures, while his most famous warriors gain renown and themselves kill ‘giants’ … etc, etc. ‘Historical’, huh?However, your question shifted the ground somewhat. You actually asked me how I know “for sure”. The fact is, I don’t know anything empirical or a posteriori ‘for sure’. And, as ol’ Hume pointed out, nobody does. My knowledge is fallible. I don’t suppose you would claim anything more for your own scholarly acquired knowledge, I guess.You also said it was “as valid” to say the stories are based on history as it is to say they are based on legend. If by ‘valid’, you mean ‘as defensible’, I strongly disagree. I don’t know of any scholarly discipline dealing with stories about the past from antiquity – or any culture where oral tradition dominated – which were written down more than 100 years after the events to which they purportedly relate (let alone centuries later) that would consider it “as valid” to treat them as factual as it is to treat them as legendary. In classics, the time before eyewitness historical recording is discarded as legendary, so too in folkloristics, ancient and medieval historiography, etc. The defensibility of treating the stories as fact or legend is not at all ‘equal’. Rather, it is highly probable that the legendary stories handed down and gathered into a primordial history are substantially or entirely unfactual. The treatment of the David stories as fact can only be done by special pleading for the biblical books. That is, I don’t know of any good empirical reason to do so.