Via Gnostical Turpitude
, I find this column
which contains the following two paragraphs:
"Once in the 'land,' of course, the People forsook God's promise, and went after strange gods. Eventually, after generations of battling with God and forsaking his laws, they were driven again into exile only to return to a ruined Sion, chastened from the rivers of Babylon. All this makes sense as a story of how we lead our inner battles with the Good. It bears rather less relation to actual history than does, say Malory's Morte D'Arthur, to the actual history of the British Isles...
"There is no archaeological evidence for Jerusalem being a City of the legendary David or for Solomon having built a Temple, any more than there is for King Arthur's Camelot. That simply isn't the sort of book the Bible is. Very few Jews ever thought it was, incidentally, until outer political circumstances in Russia and later Germany changed the desire for a Jewish homeland from a romantic dream of the few into a matter of dire urgency for the many."
Unless this author has some rather unconventional views of King Arthur, I'm assuming this puts him in the rejectionist school with regard to the general outline of ancient Israeli history as told in the books Christians consider the Old Testament and Jews the Tanak. This view tends to get a lot of play in the media because it appeals to simply put questions like "Is the Bible true?" However, this is really not the way matters are viewed by most scholars, and often the people reading and writing the news stories fail to appreciate the nature of historical methods when dealing with the complex sources of ancient history.
Earlier this semester, I was reading the pre-Islamic sections of at-Tabari's History
, which began with accounts of religious figures such as Abraham and legendary ancestors of Arab tribes, becoming more and more reliable as it reaches Muhammad's lifetime. The stories of ancient Israel contained in the Old Testament follow a similar pattern. The account of Jacob and his sons becoming the twelve tribes of Israel bears a definite structural resemblance to Malik Ibn Fahm and his sons becoming the Arab tribes in pre-Islamic Oman, and while we may accept the lessons of anthropology is assuming their exploits to be largely enlivened accounts of collective tribal wanderings, we can still perhaps learn from them the controversies for which the Arabs remembered them as evidence or the deeds considered significant to the tellers of the tales, and we can even note that the bursting to the Ma'rib dam that started their wandering appears to be a real event, even if its use as the cause here is questionable.
In looking at the sources for the "kingdom" period of Israel's history, we find plenty to occupy our minds. Certainly by the standards of ancient history the scholar of Israel is in reasonably good shape, as the people involved had a record which they believed faithfully recorded their past. And although the form in which we have this record now dates from post-exilic times, evidence suggests the material itself is much older. Genesis reveals traces of an impure monotheism, such as the use of the plural "Elohim" by one of the traditions within it. This is not something that would have been simply invented in later Judaism, and suggests the survival of traditions from a very early period.
Skipping ahead to the kingdom, the books of Samuel reveal two voices, one supporting a monarchy, the other not. Most scholars feel this reflects an early ambiguity about whether there should have been a king as opposed to judges, but I suppose it could also have reflected a post-exilic debate over a possible monarchy. Still, if the latter is true, it is significant that both interpretations agree on the existence of kings with certain names rather than having the anti-monarchic school deny the existence of kings itself. It actually seems difficult to deny the existence of kingdoms at all, certainly, as there were allegedly people who made the return from captivity who remembered its beginning. Keep in mind the fact that somebody
had to be ruling that territory, and archaeology points to the strong central authority of a kingdom. The fact the kings of Israel interacted with people whose historicity we know suggests a certain reliability to the tradition, as well.
As a historian, I am very wary about using the lack of archaeological evidence to prove a negative. This Jonathan Edelstein post
links to evidence that finally turned up about East Africa when people had previously assumed there was none. The case in this article seems especially unconvincing. First of all, I've said I find the existing historical tradition fairly convincing, at least in its later stages, and the very last chapter of II Kings talks about a king and a temple in Jerusalem. (Make no mistake here: When people mean they find no evidence of Solomon's temple, they're saying there's nothing for a temple in the kingdom period.) Furthermore, the temple is not just a building project of an early model ruler, but the centerpiece of the late Davidic monarchy's religio-political ideology. (This of course makes the treatment of Solomon especially interesting, because he is protrayed as building other temples, something which does not appear in the pious Chronicler's History which includes the book of Ezra.) In this light, it seems very easy to suggest that either the temple's remains haven't been found yet, the original destruction of the temple was complete, or the builders of the temple under Ezra simply cleared the ground before building their temple on the same site.
As far as a city being in Jerusalem during that period, I've poked around and confirmed the lack of artifacts for the "United Monarchy" period of Jerusalem's history. However, there clearly was a city there for most of the second millennium BCE, as well as for the first millennium BCE. Even the books of Samuel confirm this when they claim David conquered the city from the Jebusites. Believing the city did not exist c. 1000 BC requires you to belief that its rather strategic spot went unoccupied for a short period of time just when there appears to have been a burst of building elsewhere, such as at Megiddo. And it is, incidentally, this burst of building which causes scholars to believe that at least something was happening in Israel during that period.
All this is not to say that the history of Israel recorded in the Bible is proven. I actually have no firm idea if there was a Solomon, but I believe the odds are that there was. Even then, though, there's nothing that says he actually did all the things he is credited with. Often a magnificient court or city will become even more magnificient in lore as it fades from memory. According to Dr. Morgan, Iranian lore credits the very historical Khusrau II with all sorts of magnificient projects, when in reality many of these belong to other periods. Tabari attributes a very high level of prosperity to the Lakhmid capital of al-Hira, when in reality Persian records paint a somewhat more modest picture. On the other hand, Solomon, David, and Co. could be the Hebrew equivalent of the mythical early kings of Persia or China.
But that is just the way ancient history works, and very seldom is anything actually proven. In Egypt, for example, people assume the monuments prove everything, but IIRC, the names on the monuments frequently don't match those of the pharaohs listed in Manetho, the Ptolemaic historian whose work provides the basic framework within which things are written. I believe Sheshonk I is actually dated on the belief that he is Shishak from 1 Kings, and the theory is that his listed conquests don't include Jerusalem due to damage. (Or there's the Jerusalem didn't exist theory, which is still possible.) There's a reason I didn't go into ancient history: When I look too closely at the edifice of its chronology, it seems like if I blow too hard, the whole thing will collapse. Which means in a sense that anything is possible, and we need to just take our best guess rather than hold out for non-existent proof.
One more thing that a couple of lines in the article linked to brings to mind: I have in the past said that the political contentiousness of Israeli history makes me stay close to the established academic historians, and that goes for the entire
history of Israel. I wish to say explicitly that what I am about to say is not meant to refer to the author of this article, whose political views I know nothing about, and who seems to be a serious student of Judeo-Christian history who has written reasonable books on the subject. I also note that my own views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tend to favor the Palestinians, despite my current inclination that the Israeli left is the force that should pragmatically be catered to as most likely to end the conflict. But I have in the past encountered evidence that suggests some are interested in assaulting the traditional core of ancient Israeli history to serve political purposes. I mean this mainly for people who will discover this post via google: Be careful with what you're looking at. If, for example, Jerusalem wasn't really the "City of David" and there was no temple there, that has definite repercussions for the debate over Jerusalem's present status. The same goes for arguments which might seem to question Israel's right to exist in the present by questioning whether it ever truly existed in the past. Again, I'm not trying to charge anyone with this, but rather just send out a cautionary note about some of the agendas that float through the "real world."
UPDATE: I just remembered hearing somewhere that Omri is known from Assyrian sources. Unfortunately, I don't remember where.
UPDATE: This religious site
goes into the evidence supporting the existence of the early monarchies. I don't agree with all the implications the site does, and it stays with the "Is the Bible true?" framework, but some of the points are very strong. And once you grant existence to the likes of Omri and Ahab, it becomes very tough to continue to doubt the temple.