Another Nail in the Coffin of David, Solomon and the United Monarchy?

Remember the tons of earth carted away from the Temple Mount by the Moslem Waqf during their illegal renovations? Well, the earth has finally been sifted. Here’s what archeologists found:

The project of sifting layers of Temple Mount dirt has yielded thousands of new artifacts dating from the First Temple period to today. The dirt was removed in 1999 by the Islamic Religious Trust (Waqf) from the Solomon’s Stables area to the Kidron Stream Valley. The sifting itself is taking place at Tzurim Valley National Park, at the foot of Mount Scopus, and being funded by the Ir David Foundation. Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Tzachi Zweig, the archaeologists directing the sifting project with the help of hundreds of volunteers, are publishing photographs and information about the new discoveries in the upcoming issue of Ariel, which comes out in a few days. …

Most of the finds predate the Middle Ages. The finds include 10,000-year-old flint tools; numerous potsherds; some 1,000 ancient coins; lots of jewelry (pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings and beads in a variety of colors and materials); clothing accessories and decorative pieces; talismans; dice and game pieces made of bone and ivory; ivory and mother of pearl inlay for furniture; figurines and statuettes; stone and metal weights; arrowheads and rifle bullets; stone and glass shards; remains of stone mosaic and glass wall mosaics; decorated tiles and parts of structures; stamps, seals and a host of other items.

The sifting project is precedent-setting: This is the first time dirt from any antiquities site is being sifted in full. Among the many volunteers are soldiers, tourists, high-school students and yeshiva boys. Visitors over the past few months have included ultra-Orthodox MKs and rabbis, who usually steer clear of archaeological digs.…

The oldest artifacts found are remnants of tools like a blade and scraper dating back 10,000 years. Some potsherds and shards of alabaster tools date from the Bronze Age – the 3rd and 2nd millennia B.C.E. (the Canaanite and Jebusite eras). Only a handful of potsherds were found from the 10th century B.C.E. (the reigns of King David and King Solomon), but numerous artifacts date from the reigns of the later Judean kings (the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.), such as stone weights for weighing silver.

The article goes on to detail the many artifacts found from the Second Temple period and later.

One thing is abundantly clear: The paucity of artifacts from the Davidic period is another strong piece of evidence against the existence of David and Solomon and their “united” kingdom. To be clearer, it appears that Israel Finklestein is correct.

Please feel free to refute below.


Filed under History, Israel

41 responses to “Another Nail in the Coffin of David, Solomon and the United Monarchy?

  1. Paul Freedman

    The “document hypothesis” of the order of Biblical canonization assumes a textual record prior to the divided monarchies and the entire self-presentation of the very context of a state of division in the later narratives assumes a prior state of unification–the memory of the united kingdom underlies the narrative of the divided kingdoms. And the post-exilic return. After a certain point extrapolating historical frauds runs counter-factually to our common and every day experience as to how the world works. There is no proven instance AFIK of a religious community simply making up stories about its contemporary history–although we can debate the content of the revelations its prophets claim to have received. The biblical texts are not, we should note, whatever fundamentalists may assert, written from the point of view of God, although they include speeches of God–they are not prophetic utterances in their entirety (neither are the gospels, although I think the Koran is). Another example is that of the Mormons–we may debate the historicity of their holy revelations–they did not make up out of whole cloth, however, accounts of who they were, how their founders behaved, where they went, etc.

    Moreover you have archeolgical strata defining an Israeli society prior to the later kingdoms if we are going to accept the interpretive claims advanced by archeologists. So you have a bracket here: on the one side you have archeological evidence and textual evidence that in secular terms of reference define a distinct Israeli society pre-division and you have a coherent narrative framework and historical memory post-division that points to a unified kingdom.

    The same kind of extrapolation suggested here underlies the theses of those who claim that Jesus as a person never existed–it is all myth. I have no documents to prove that my great-great grandfather lived either–I don’t know his name. I can safely, however, assume his existence notwithstanding that I don’t have one single artifact. Not a one. Artifacts may not be transmitted, even in situ. The dirt sifted may be the wrong dirt. And, let us not forget, that the bedrock structures, the foundational elements of the Mount left standing and built upon by the Arabs may themselves contain more traces of the Davidic/Solomonic architecture.

  2. Paul Freedman

    “extrapolation suggested here”–in the post, not by me

  3. D

    “The paucity of artifacts from the Davidic period is another strong piece of evidence against the existence of David and Solomon and their “united” kingdom.”

    And the absence of any telephone wires proves that cellular technology existed during the Bayis Rishon period.

  4. Paul Freedman

    or, another example: I live in Falls Church, VA–this has been continually settled since about 1690. However there may be a distinct paucity of artifacts from that period in any designated site in comparison to the artifacts that will turn up from, well, three hundred years later.

  5. sdddsas

    >There is no proven instance AFIK of a religious community simply making up stories about its contemporary history

    Are you kidding me? The contemporary Orthodox world has completely revised what east Europe was like prior to WWII–and they did this while there were people alive who were there.

  6. dsds

    >I have no documents to prove that my great-great grandfather lived either–I don’t know his name. I can safely, however, assume his existence notwithstanding that I don’t have one single artifact.

    That’s not the same thing as assuming a particular person lived. You’re assuming that your great-grandfather had a father. Obviously he did. But if someone were to just decide that that particular man, your great-grandfather’s father, was named Moshe Schwartz and lived in Warsaw and was born in 1807 and had green eyes there’d be no reason to believe that claim.

    Note: I do not believe that Jesus wasn’t a real person. But I have no confidence that we can draw a real biography of him based on what are ostensibly the historical memories of his early followers and their successors.

  7. Avraham

    And Troy was a myth as was a city called Jericho, and the Coelecanth Fish was extinct millions of years ago which was why offshore Madagascar the fisherman caught this extinct fish on a regular basis and the Piltdown Man was a great scientific find.

    LOLOL, you are a magnificent idiot arent you.

  8. Paul Freedman

    dsds–Moshe Schwartz of Warsaw?!!!! he was my great-great uncle!!!!! 🙂

    I buy your point, it’s great, I agree with you, but I feel that the “totality” of the evidence points to a “Jesus” and that the entire claims and texts and archeological evidence in the world as we know it points to a Davidic-Solomonic kingdom with a logical certainty close to that of my having a great-great grandfather.

  9. Paul Freedman

    ssdddsas: “unreliable history” is not the same as “completely made up”–I mean there were shtetls–the claim that there was no Davidic or Solomonic kingdoms is like saying that Medzibuzh never existed *at all*. Yes, we have specific evidence (we actually have the lease documents house by house) for the latter but I think we have convincing evidence for the former too.

  10. Y. Aharon

    You jump to conclusions with little understanding of the underlying facts. The dirt involved was taken from under the southern section of the temple mount close to the eastern corner. That part of the mount was articially raised by Herod who wished to extend the temple platform. The fill used to create that extension is partly reflected in the dirt being discussed. It is not surprising then that few of the artifacts uncovered from the dirt date back that far. An additional important fact is that the original city in the times of David was confined to the southern hill now called Ir David. Shlomo subsequently built the temple and his palace on the northern hill which became the temple mount. The area under discussion was not significantly occupied during either the times of David or Shlomo.

    Y. Aharon

  11. Actually, there are artifats from before and after David and Solomon. It is the era of David and Solomon that is lacking, not those before and after it. There is much evidence for Jebusite and Cannanit occupation and then for late monarchy occupation. The gap is David and Solomon.

  12. Paul Freedman

    I still think that the complete non-existence of a non-Israelite community (as differentiated from a local and polytheistic people) before the divided monarchies in Jerusalem is unlikely given the entirety of the biblical chronicles. And see Y. Aharon. I personally would fine “provocative” theories that “downgraded” assumptions of the importance or magnificence or wealth or extent of the Davidic kingdoms and the “original city .. confined to the southern hill called Ir David.”

  13. Yos

    “To be clearer, it appears that Israel Finklestein is correct.”

    If an angel came down from the sky and said as much… DOUBT IT!

  14. Anonymous

    Shmarya: The Jebusites and earlier peoples occupied that site for many centuries prior to David. It should not surprise anyone if more artifacts from that earlier period were found than for the some 70 year period of David and Solomon. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the area under the “Solomon’s stables” near the sourtheastern corner of the temple mount was not occupied significantly under either David or Solomon – despite the misnomer.

    Y. Aharon

  15. Joseph

    Shmarya’s ridiculous assertion certainly weakens his credibility in areas in which he is probably correct in. In fact, to swallow such an assertion is to really wage war on much of Judaism’s foundations (Islam and Christianity)– which even our bitter enemies, for centuries, vouched for and many still do to this day.

    When I subscribed a number of years ago to Bibical Archeology Review (run by a reform Jew), even they would never have made such an assertion. How could they? When it seemed that every few months corraborating evidence would be found to back up OUR sources and traditions?

  16. Joseph

    Correction: >>(Islam and Christianity)–

  17. Paul Freedman

    I had understood that a non-polytheistic and idol-worshipping strata of distinct Israelite culture had been excavated along the seam of the conquest–although secular archeologists still question (as does the “documentary hypothesis”–and portions of Judges–a one-time and massive conquest). So, at least outside of Jerusalem, putting that city to one side, you had an *Israelite* bracket, before the bracket of the exile and Second Commonwealth return. I had also thought there were finds in Jerusalem. In any event the hypothesis of Finkelstein denies Israeli history, as far as I can tell, a monarchal culture, until the division: he would move our understanding of Jewish history forward, cutting off hundreds of years from the back end. Basically everything from Bereshit through, what? I guess Judges becomes a nostalgic projection of the divided monarchies–that’s a lot to swallow.

  18. victoras

    It actually seems strange that common landfill,
    probably polluted with wastes, blood, and many sorts of putrified traces of past habitations of different cultures/peoples

    would be casually used as fill dirt, upon which would rest the foundation of a second Temple, i.e. a holy site.

    If there were rites, protocols for other mundane tasks in the lives of the unified &/or divided kingdoms…why not for the backfill which would support the foundation stones for a holy site/Temple platform??

    by carting in unspoiled fill & newly dressed stones, or else ‘sifting’ the debris filled soil which would support the Temple foundation’s extension…
    ?what was wrong with them back then ??
    or was it expedient enough to bless the contaminated, pre-used, likely desecrated soil from older ruin & debris fields in the immediate area for the Temple extension?

    something just does not sit well with me on this whole sifted soil expedition

  19. Paul Freedman

    victoras: please clarify–without doubt this is the site of the Second Temple mount: what about the dirt do you find suspicious? Finklestone’s extrapolation from the lack of rich finds from the Unified Monarchy to one side–her we have dirt upon which the Second Temple mount rested–it wasn’t “landfill” at the time AFIK–it was the ground that was there–after you cart it away and transport it to the Kidron Valley it becomes “landfill”–but when the foundation for the mount was laid at the time wasn’t it just plain old earth?

  20. Paul Freedman

    oic: “That part of the mount was articially raised by Herod who wished to extend the temple platform. The fill used to create that extension is partly reflected in the dirt being discussed. “–what, this dirt was not just from the immediate area? Y. Aharon: by your own accounting the area itself would not be expected to be rich in united monarchy findings.

  21. TM

    The key scholarly proponent of the theory that the Davidic and Solomonic periods are simply myth is Israel Finkelstein. Without his theories, it is doubtful that any of these suggestions about the false historicity of these periods would have taken hold in academic circles.

    The problem is that Finkelstein has not only been proven wrong, he has an entire career at stake if he accepts the evidence refuting his views so he stands at the gate with a sword in hand.

    This sifting through the earth removed from Solomon’s Stables area does not prove anything about anything. To prove something, we would have to undertake a real dig under key areas of the Haram Al Sharif – our Temple Mount. Isn’t it just a little weird that we view this site as the site of the temple and it just so happens that the Muslims built their largest religious compound on it?

    Anyway, for a sophisticated, scholarly assessment and critique of Finkelstein’s theories, read the following:

  22. Paul Freedman

    TM: thanks

  23. Paul Freedman

    My understanding from this material is that the “clincher” of finds in Jerusalem itself is only made a “clincher” by means of previously (academically contested) post-datings from revised pottery chronologies; these reasssign (indirectly–not through fortification dating) undisputed massive and kingly type structures out of the United monarchies to their successors. Again, Finklestein’s placing of these non-Jerusalem monarchal structures out of the United Monarchy time period are not by any means the concensus.

  24. Paul Freedman

    The conclusion of this material arguing for a United Monarchy:

    Contrary to the claims of The Bible Unearthed, the Bible’s witness to the presence of kingdoms in and around tenth-century Israel is based on the reality of institutional-type structures. One cannot easily dismiss this as simply the projection of a golden age superimposed upon history from some later date. Monumental public architecture at sites such as Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, and Beth Shan witness to at least some sort of centralized administrative interest – albeit perhaps in some formative stage – operating in tenth-century Israel and argues against Finkelstein’s assertion that the northern kingdom of Israel “would emerge [in the ninth century BCE] as the first real, full blown state in Iron Age Palestine” (1996: 185).

  25. Few, if any, serious archeologists take this foolish argument seriously. The majority, while not as extreme as Finklestein, are much closer to Finklestein than to you or to that piece. And every day, science makes finds that support Finklestein.

  26. Paul Freedman

    Shmarya–well bring us one other authority who states that David and Solomon were merely tribal chiefs, not kings. Because that is the claim. From what I’m reading if this post’s claim is that they are entirely fictional that goes beyond Finklestein.

    That is the argument–not whether the monarchy was much less exalted, rich, and imperious than represented in the biblical chronicles but whether there was an effective north-south monarchy beyond the Jebusite territory.

    The scholastic deconstruction of “The Bible Unearthed” linked to by TM is quite subtle, even esoteric, but seems a hardly foolish rebuttal to the chronological underpinnings of Finklestein.

  27. Paul Freedman

    and the article lists real archeological, “scientific” scholars who don’t buy Finklestein–because the foundations on which he moves chronologies forward cause, for them, other problems.

  28. Paul Freedman

    and the article lists real archeological, “scientific” scholars who don’t buy Finklestein–because the foundations on which he moves chronologies forward cause, for them, other problems.

  29. TM

    Shmarya, forgive me because I’m not sure where you’re getting your info, but there is actually a far greater preponderance of senior and serious archaeologists who strongly disagree with Finkelstein, not the other way around. From Mazar (a prominent Israeli archaeologist) to Dever (a prominent American archaeologist), you have disagreement with Finkelstein. It isn’t just recent disagreement, by the way, but disagreement borne of many years of fieldwork and research that follows Finkelstein’s original publications on this topic and they take his views seriously and into account. Then they reject his claims and, for example, provide scientific dating to disprove his theories. Here’s Mazar:

    Here’s a popular article about the dating issue.

    You’ll note which side Lawrence Stager (non-Jewish, extremely prominent biblical historian and archaeologis) is taking in the dispute:

    ” one of the leaders in the archaeology of Israel, Professor Lawrence E. Stager, who is director of Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, dismissed the claims of Finkelstein and the other archaeologists who share his views.

    “Mazar and his colleagues have now put another nail in the coffin of Finkelstein’s theories,” Stager said. “There’s no question that Rehov and the other cities that Shoshenq conquered were indeed there at the time of Solomon.

    “We don’t need to rely any more only on the Bible or on Shoshenq’s inscriptions at Karnak to establish that Solomon and his kingdom really existed, because we now have the superb evidence of the radiocarbon dates.” “

  30. Paul Freedman

    TM: again thanks. This is very valuable–there is a temptation to radical iconoclasm that sometimes needs to be resisted.

  31. Paul Freedman

    Shmarya: Harvard.

  32. No, they disagree with Finklestein but, as I wrote, they’re much closer to him than to the positions you espouse.

  33. Paul Freedman

    Shmarya–you are incorrect–TM disagrees fundamentally with you and Finklestein, *as do his sources.*

    Finklestein is deliberately setting out an “idol-smashing” refutation of the biblical narrative–that is his position and TM says that the vast majority of archeologists reject this. Black and white. Why do you make us call you an idiot?

  34. No, I’m actually correct. I deal with people in that world and am familiar with it. B’kitzur, Deever is the middle and he’s much closer to Finklestein than to TM’s sources. This isn’t even a disputed question.

  35. Paul Freedman

    TM: Shmarya has the capacity to evade recognition of possible error indefinitely–you will go round and round in circles to no worthwhile purpose. You might e-mail me if you have the time with brief comments on what the scholarly consensus is of the material wealth and extent of the unified kingdom compared to its neighbors. I give up with this guy.

  36. Anonymous


    They are “close” to each other about some issues, but are “far” from each other on the basic premise we’re discussing regarding the presence of a Solomonic and Davidic period.

    Here’s Amnon Ben Tor also taking issue with Finkelstein:

    Here’s Dever coming to different conclusions than Finkelstein in reviews of their concurrent books:

    Here is a sophisticated discussion about how despite agreement regarding some basic understandings of the archaeology, Dever and Finkelstein are in disagreement about…the basic premise of the historicity of ancient Israel:

    Here’s good coverage by Salon where even one of Finkelstein’s co-diggers, Baruch Halpern, expresses some misgivings about Finkelstein’s conclusions:

    Dever declares that Finkelstein is “the only archaeologist in the world” who advocates the redating. Lawrence Stager, a professor of the archaeology of Israel at Harvard and director of the Harvard Semitic Museum, says “Ninety-five percent of the specialists in the field would disagree with him” and dismisses Phyllis Tribble, a professor of biblical studies who enthusiastically reviewed “The Bible Unearthed” in the New York Times Book Review, as someone who “doesn’t know much about the Old Testament and archaeology.”

    And while Baruch Halpern, a historian who was a co-director of the Megiddo excavation with Finkelstein, describes the book as “excellent” and “challenging,” he remains unconvinced by Finkelstein’s redating of the Solomonic ruins because the theory relies overmuch on pottery seriation, a technique for dating sites using ceramic remains, which he distrusts.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at with rejection of the Davidic and Solomonic periods. I don’t suggest that we have perfect evidence of anything, but it’s clear that Finkelstein has some serious opposition in the field and his primary support comes from those who have a political (and perhaps religious) motivation for discounting Israelite history. A Davidic seal was found in the dirt remains of the Solomon’s Stables, so are you rejecting that find as well? Are you rejecting the viewpoints of people like Dever, Stager, Mazar, Ben Tor and even a co-writer of Finkelstein’s because it suits your own convictions? Isn’t it better to approach this matter with some humility, say, “I don’t know” and “Experts feel differently than I do but one agrees with me” instead of making a sweeping statement that could well be wrong?

  37. TM

    The comment above is mine. I don’t know why my name didn’t come up.

    Please also note the two paragraphs under the Salon link are a quote from that article.

  38. Yochanan Lavie

    Aside from purely scholarly conjecture, there are political motivations for minimizing the Jewish presence in Israel. I don’t think Finkelstien and Shmarya are among those, but left wing academics would gleefully deconstruct the bible in order to “recover Palestinean history.” We ignore that at our peril.

  39. TM

    They already do, Yochanan, there is predominantly Scandinavian school of thought that claims there never was an Israel – the nation or the place – and that they are a historical fiction. They are led by scholars with university positions and they have a prominent, though open and flexible in terms of its publication roster, publishing press of some note. Needless to say, they made Arafat kvell.

  40. There are two or three of that “school,” at most.

  41. TM

    No Shmarya, there are at least 4 proponents of this school even by the most minimal (heh) accounting and if you listen to Thomas Thompson who is one of them, they are actually surrounded and supported by another couple of dozen scholars of repute and long tenure.

    Let’s not dismiss them because they are a small number. They have a following, they have forced many like Dever and Halpern to respond to them, and they play a significant role in the politics of ancient Israel (which they would call Palestine – even when relating to the period prior to Roman domination of the area) and modern Israel and Palestine.

    Sheffield Press is a serious press that is widely respected in the field and two of the key members of this “school” including Whitelam who wrote “The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History” and Davies, who, I believe, determines in large part what is published by this prestigious press, come from the department that runs this press.

    To tie this in with your post, these Minimalists NEED people like Finkelstein because without him they have to listen to people like…Dever, Mazar et al. They WANT desperately for Finkelstein to be right.

    The politics of their views are as plain as day and it is ironic that in order to buttress their sympathetic view of the Palestinians, the Minimalists are seeking to deny my history and heritage which undeniably precedes that of the Palestinians and/or Muslims. I don’t walk around denying Arab history and neither do the historians who I list above who are opposed to Finkelstein’s or the Minimalists’ views, but in order for the Arabs to fight Israel, and strengthen their claims to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, they continue to deny my history.

    These Minimalists undeniably combine these politics with their scholarship. My language – our language of thousands of years – and my sandals refute them. Perhaps Finkelstein feels comfortable agreeing with them because his career is deeply indebted to his rebellious views and perhaps because as an Israeli he doesn’t care much whether the historicity falls in the column of Israeli or Palestinian, but that’s simply naivete or calculated career politicking.

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