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First published December 1994

Did Biran Kill David? the Bible in the Light of Archaeology


Recent articles on the bytdwd inscription from Tel Dan reflect some of the worst excesses of the biblical archaeology movement, involving circular arguments, the fabrication of evidence and biblical-archaeological harmonizations. Contrary to such efforts at historicizing the Bible in the light of archaeology, the bytdwd inscription, judging from both the epigraphic and archaeological evidence, should be dated to the eighth century BCE, nearly 150 years later than Biran and Naveh have dated it. The word itself is a place name, with reference to a 'temple of DWD', possibly near Tel Dan itself. The word Dwd is unlikely to be a proper name and seems rather to be a divine epithet, meaning 'the beloved', and probably refers to Yahweh. Moreover, byt dwd in the Bible does not so much refer to a royal dynasty of David as it is a metaphor of Yahweh's eternal reign in Jerusalem's temple. David is its eponymous ancestor. We now have concrete extra-biblical evidence supporting the eponymic and metaphorical character of both David and the House of David.

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1. T.L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (BZAW, 133; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1974), p. 57; N.P. Lemche, Early Israel (Leiden: Brill, 1985), pp. 386-92.
2. K. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (London: Hodgeson, 1959) (= Die Logik der Forschung [Vienna: Springer, 1934]); Thompson, Historicity, pp. 1-9; Lemche, Early Israel, pp. 407-10; F.H. Cryer, Divination in Ancient Israel and its Near Eastern Environment: A Socio-Historical Investigation (JSOTSup, 142; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994), pp. 38-39.
3. In the Biblical Archaeology Review ('The "House of David" and the House of the Deconstructionists', BARev 20.6 [1994], p. 47) Anson F. Rainey has published an unsolicited attack on Philip Davies (cf. P.R. Davies, 'House of David Built on Sand', BARev 20.4 [1994]). Rainey's language is untruthful and approaches the libellous. It is also so filled with misreadings that we need hardly discuss his contribution to any great extent. However, we would ask Rainey to study the literature mentioned here before he again addresses issues of which he is seemingly unaware.
Only a few remarks are needed to expose Rainey's argument. The missing word-divider: here Rainey writes, 'they took for granted that readers would know that a word divider between two components in such a construction is often omitted, especially if the combination is a well-established proper name'. Had Rainey been truly informed and had he read Fred Cryer's contribution to this topic (F.H. Cryer, 'On the Recently-Discovered "House of David" Inscription', SJOT 8 [1994], pp. 1- 19), he would have been aware that this is exactly the issue argued by Cryer, namely, that Bytdwd of the inscription is not a dynastic title. Rather, it is a proper name, either of a person or of a place. Since no person carries a PN that includes byt, it is quite obvious that bytdwd is the name of a locality. E.A. Knauf, A. de Pury and T. Römer have demonstrated ('Baytdawid ou Baytdod?' BN 72 [1994], pp. 60-69) that no such compound as the one proposed by Biran and Naveh exists in the ANE literature. Rainey is arguing one thing and at the same drawing conlcusions that have nothing to do with his argument. Rainey's introduction of the Deir 'Alla inscription is also revealing of Rainey's biases: Brb'r is correctly written without a word divider as he points out, but this is unimportant. Not only is br 'son' not the same as byt 'house', but names that begin with bt are not identical in form to Aramaic names that begin with br, as even Rainey should know. Similarly, Rainey's argument would work only if the dwd element were a place name. Rainey mixes basic logical categories which sound philology does not and cannot mix. As regards epigraphy, Cryer's argument was that Biran may not know—certainly Rainey does not know—but Naveh should have known: the letter by letter epigraphic markers point to a date of the inscription some 150 years later than Biran's ill-founded dating. The insulting final part of Rainey's rambling remarks must be disregarded by any informed scholar on this issue.
4. A. Biran and J. Naveh, 'An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan', IEJ 43 (1993), pp. 81-98.
5. H. Shanks, 'David Found at Dan', BARev 20.2 (1994), pp. 26-39.
6. S. Ahituv, 'Suzerain or Vassal? Notes on the Aramaic Inscription from Tel Dan', IEJ 43 (1993), pp. 246-47.
7. Not 2 Kings, as Ahituv states. But the Hadad of our stele could be identified with any king of Aram. Ben-Hadad not only need not be the same Ben-Hadad who is a character of the Bible stories, but bears the character of a royal title rather than of a personal name, properly speaking: signifying the 'son of Hadad', an eptithet that could be attributed to more or less any king within the Aramaean cultural world.
8. Again, not 1 Kgs 2.34, as Ahituv cites.
9. Z. Kallai, `The King of Israel and the House of David', IEJ 43 (1993), p. 248.
10. In this respect, too, one might find it odd that Kallai denies the 'dynastic' quality of the Mesha stele's reference to Omri even though it refers to his 'son' continuing Omri's presence in Chemosh's territory.
11. E. Puech, 'La stele araméenne de Dan: Bar Hadad II et la coalition des Omrides et de la maison de David', RB 101 (1994), pp. 215-41.
12. R. Chapman, 'The Dan Stele and the Chronology of Levantine Iron Age Stratigraphy' (forthcoming).
13. See on this well known problem, H. Weippert, Palästina in vorhellenistischer Zeit (Handbuch der Archäologie, Vorderasien, II/1; Munich: C.H. Beck, 1992), pp. 510-17.
14. This was the consensus of the seminar held on this inscription at the University of Copenhagen in February of 1994 (see below).
15. T.L. Thompson, 'House of David: An Eponymic Referent to Yahweh as Godfather', SJOT (forthcoming).
16. F.H. Cryer, 'On the Recently-Discovered "House of David" Inscription', SJOT 8 (1994), pp. 1-19.
17. In addition to this first article by Cryer, this seminar led to three other publications besides the present one that are all related to this discussion: N.P. Lemche, 'Bemerkungen über ein Paradigmenwechsel auf Anlass einer neuentdeckten Inschrift (forthcoming); Thompson, 'House of David'; and F.H. Cryer, 'Dwd, Dwd' or Dwdh?' SJOT (forthcoming).
18. The identification of the name bytdwd as a possible place name is not only the conclusion of Cryer's first article but is also supported in the following article by Ehud ben Zvi; E.A. Knauf, A. de Pury and T. Römer, '*Baytdawid ou *Baytdod? Une relecture de la nouvelle inscription de Tel Dan', BN 72 ( 1994), pp. 60-69; and the present writers (Lemche, `Bemerkungen'; Thompson, 'House of David').
19. J. Gibson, Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions. I. Hebrew and Moabite Inscriptions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 76.
20. It should be recalled that the Danish philologist Madvig corrected Cicero's Latin!
21. H. Tadmor, 'Historical Implications of the Correct Rendering of Akkadian "dâku"', JNES 17 (1958), pp. 129-41.
22. H.-P. Müller, Historisch-chronologische Texte, VII (TUAT, I/6; Güterloh: Mohn, 1985), p. 648 n. 13.
23. A. Lemaire, 'House of David Restored in Moabite Inscription', BARev 20.3 (1994), pp. 30-37.
24. E.A. Knauf, A. de Pury and T. Römer, '*BaytDawîd ou *BaytDôd?'.
25. On this, see further Lemche, `Bemerkungen'.
26. G. Ahlström, Psalm 89: Eine Liturgie aus dem Ritual des leidenden Königs (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1959).
27. M. Pope, Song of Songs: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977).
28. J. Tigay, You Shall Have no other Gods: Israelite Religion in the Light of Hebrew Inscriptions (HSS, 31; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986).
29. Lemche, 'Bemerkungen'.
30. Cryer, 'Dwd'.
31. On this and the following, see Thompson, 'House of David'.
32. Thompson, 'House of David'.
33. See on patronage: M. Liverani, Prestige and Interest: International Relations in the Near East ca. 1600-1100 BCE (History of the Ancient Near East Studies, 1; Padua, 1990), esp. pp. 187-202; N.P. Lemche, 'Kings and Clients: On Loyalty between the Ruler and the Ruled in Ancient "Israel"', Semeia (forthcoming); idem, 'The Relevance of Social-Critical Exegesis for Old Testament Theology' (forthcoming), and idem, Power and Social Organization: Some Misunderstandings and some Proposals: Or is it All a Question of Patrons and Clients?' (forthcoming). On the characteristics of the small-region based agricultural economy of the southern Levant which fostered political systems of this type, see T.L. Thompson, Early History of the Israelite People from the Written and Archaeological Sources (SHANE, 4; Leiden: Brill, 2nd edn, 1994), pp. 316-33.
34. On issues of method, see E.A. Knauf, 'From History to Interpretation', in The Fabric of History: Text, Artifact and Israel's Past (ed. D. Edelman; JSOTSup, 127; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), pp. 26-64; Thompson, 'Text, Context and Referent in Israelite Historiography', Early History, pp. 65-92.
35. Especially, D. Gunn, The Story of King David (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1976); idem, The Fate of King Saul (JSOTSup, 14; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980); J.P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Book of Samuel (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1981); but also departing from traditional lines of interpretation: N.P. Lemche, 'David's Rise', JSOT 10 (1978), pp. 2-25.
36. G. Garbini, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel (London: SCM Press, 1988); T.L. Thompson, 'History and Tradition: A Response to James B. Geyer', JSOT 15 (1980), pp. 57-61; idem, Early History, pp. 108-11; P.R. Davies and D. Gunn (eds.), 'A History of Ancient Israel and Judah: A Discussion of Miller- Hayes', JSOT 39 (1987), pp. 3-63; P.R. Davies, In Search of Ancient Israel (JSOTSup, 148; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992).
37. Here, the well-known, but seemingly ostracized study, by D.W. Jamieson- Drake must be mentioned: Scribes and Schools in Monarchic Judah: A Socio- Archaeological Approach (JSOTSup, 109; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991) as well as the more traditional work (from a methodological point of view) of H.M. Niemann, Herrschaft, Königtum und Staat: Skizzen zur soziokulturellen Entwicklung im monarchischen Israel (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1993); and also N.P. Lemche, 'Palästina und Syrien in der vorisraelitischen Zeit,' Biblische Enzyklopädie, I (forthcoming, 1995).
38. On this and the following, see the preliminary discussion of Thompson, Early History, esp. pp. 401-14; also Davies, In Search of Ancient Israel.
39. On this, see Thompson, Early History, pp. 343ff. and especially pp. 410-12.

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Article first published: December 1994
Issue published: December 1994

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Published online: December 1, 1994
Issue published: December 1994



Niels Peter Lemche
University of Copenhagen
Thomas L. Thompson
University of Copenhagen

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