Scholars excavate proof of Kings David and Solomon

JERUSALEM — The existence of a united Israelite monarchy headed by King David and his son, King Solomon, in the 10th century BCE has been affirmed by laboratory tests on archeological samples from excavations near Beit She'an.

The findings, reached through carbon dating by scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, have particular significance to the running debate among archeologists about the authenticity of the biblical account of the two kings, and the period and extent of their reign.

The distinguished Hebrew University archeologist, the late Professor Yigael Yadin, argued more than 40 years ago that a series of monumental structures and particularly the city gates of Hatzor, Megiddo and Gezer as well as certain Megiddo palaces were founded by Solomon, as recorded in the First Book of Kings (9:15). However, in the 1990s various scholars criticized this view, claiming that the United Monarchy of David and Solomon was not a real historical period of any value in the history of Israel. Indeed, these critics even argued that Yadin's findings were relevant only from the ninth century BCE, the period of the Israelite kings Omri and Ahab.

Writing in the April 11 issue of Science Magazine, Hebrew University Professor Amihai Mazar, Ben-Gurion University archeology and ecology expert Hendrik Bruins and Professor Hans Van der Plicht of Groningen describe their findings from excavations at Tel Rehov, located about five kilometers south of Beit She'an in the Beit She'an Valley. The scholars argue that these findings conclusively prove that they found at Tel Rehov signs of an urban society from the 10th century BCE that can be compared with finds from other Israeli sites such as Megiddo, Hatzor and Gezer, which were attributed in the past to the United Monarchy.

The authors wrote that "the issue of chronology in the Near East and Eastern Mediterranean region is not just of historical interest, but relates to various applied fields in the realm of risk assessment, including climate change, drought, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions."

The excavations at Tel Rehov have been carried out over the past six years under the direction of Mazar, with the financial support of John Camp of Minneapolis, Minn. The digs revealed several strata from the time of the Book of Judges (12th to 11th centuries BCE) until the Assyrian conquest of Israel in the eighth century BCE.

In the article in Science, Mazar, Bruins and Van der Plicht write of radiometric carbon 14 tests that were carried out at Groningen on charred grain and olive pits found in various strata at Tel Rehov. The dates achieved in this research were particularly precise, making it one of the best sets of radiometric dates based on stratigraphic sequence from any site related to the biblical period.

The results show that two strata at Tel Rehov are safely dated to the 10th century BCE. One stratum was destroyed in heavy fire. The date of this destruction fits very well with the reign of Shishak, the Egyptian Pharaoh who invaded the Land of Israel around 925 BCE. Shishak's invasion is mentioned both in the Bible (Kings I 14:25) and in his monumental inscription at the temple of Amun at Karnak in Upper Egypt, where Rehov is mentioned among many other places conquered at that time.

Shishak's military campaign was recorded in stone relief on the southern wall of the Amun temple, listing the names of the places he raided in ancient Israel and the Levant. The name Rehov appears on this list after the term "The Valley," most likely referring to the Beit She'an/Jordan Valley, and before the name Beit She'an. This sequence of place names at Karnak fits the local geography in the region of Tel Rehov very well indeed, according to the Science article.