The stone slab found in an excavation site in Tel Dan further proved that King David existed. But many doubt if his story is true, if he ever lived at all.
King David is a super character based on the references from the Old Testament of the Bible. He was the brave shepherd who killed a bear and a lion that attempted to harm his sheep and, he slew the giant Goliath of the Philistines. David won many battles for the Israelites that eventually, he was anointed king of God’s people.
David’s life was so legendary even some Jews to this day consider him a fictional character. Without nil citation outside the Bible, skeptics doubt if King David truly existed.
The discovery of the Stone Slab
In 1993, an excavation team led by Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered a stone slab in Tel Dan in northern Israel.
Bible scholars, archaeologists, and epigraphers said the 13 x 16 inches broken stone slab or stele with Aramaic inscription is about 2,800 years old.
It is a very ordinary-looking slab but what makes it interesting is the implication of the inscription engraved on it.
Epigrapher Joseph Naveh was the first to read and translate the 13-line inscription.
Quoting verbatim and italicized for emphasis, the translation reads:
[…] and cut […] my father went up [against him when] he fought at […] And my father lay down, he went to his [ancestors]. And the king of I[s]rael entered previously in my father’s land. [And] Hadad made me king. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from [the] seven […]s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kings, who harnessed thou[sands of cha]riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned] their land into [desolation …] other [… and Jehu ru]led over Is[rael … and I laid] siege upon […]
From what remained of the engraved writings in the broken stone slab, the inscription written from the 9th BCE narrates the victory of someone who was an enemy of Israel in defeating many kings of Israel and Judah (or House of David).
That author was said to be King Hazael of Aram. Also mentioned in the inscription were the names King Jehoram, son of King Ahab of Israel, King Ahaziah, son of King Jehoram of the House of David, Hadad, and Jehu. All these names were cited in 1 Kings, Old Testament.
The translation has been the subject of debates since the epigraphers carefully provided the context on the missing parts based on the writings engraved.
Among the contentions was on the accuracy of the account, whether Hazael did kill the kings or was he merely claiming it. Referencing with 1 Kings 11, Jehu claimed responsibility for the death of the kings of Israel and Judah.
Significance of the Stone Slab Discovery
The importance of any archaeological discovery is subjective; the researcher or viewer would choose which part he deemed deserves to highlight to respond to an issue.
In the stone slab, the marvel is on the ‘bytdvd’ inscription that is clear and intact.
BYTDVD translates to House of David, scholars, and epigraphers agree, among them Ira Spar, professor of History and Ancient Studies. Other scholars dissent to this, saying ‘bytdvd’ refers to Bethlehem.
What matters most is this: The stone slab inscription is a victorious boasting of one of Israel’s fiercest enemies claiming it defeated kings of Israel and Judah. Of all the points and schools of thought that the stone slab inscription generated, the most important is, it is a historical proof outside the Bible, that King David existed!
Check this article for another ancient inscription dating to the Book of Judges.