The Old Testament and the Tel Dan Inscription

 

In the last century, there has been perhaps numerous paradigm shifts in academia in relevance to the historical reliability of not only the Bible in general, but the Old Testament as well. These paradigm shifts all came, one after another, as archaeology continued to progress in uncovering the ancient world, revealing countless ancient cities, their prominence, and the discoveries of tens of thousands of ancient texts and inscriptions. All these numerous findings have caused our knowledge of the ancient world to simply explode. Some of these marvelous discoveries including the finding of over ten thousand tablets in ancient Ebla, the discovery and excavations of the ancient city of Avaris (biblical Rameses) by Manfred Bietak, and perhaps more recently, the discovery of the Tel Dan Inscription.

Few archaeological discoveries have been as significant as the finding of the Tel Dan Inscription in the last 100 years. This single artifact was discovered in 1993 in excavations at the ancient site of Tel Dan,  biblical city of Dan (mentioned in verses like 1 Samuel 3:20). Indeed, after the publication of this basalt stone, the idea of biblical minimalism was plunged, and a paradigm shift in the way academics view the historicity of the Bible underwent. It is now unanimous amongst scholars that the Tel Dan Inscription is translated something like as follows;

  1. […] and cut […]
  2.  […] my father went up [against him when] he fought at […]
  3. And my father lay down, he went to his [ancestors] and the king of I[s-]
  4. rael entered previously in my father’s land. [And] Hadad made me king.
  5. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from [the] seven […-]
  6. s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed thou[sands of cha-]
  7. riots and thousands of horsemen. [I killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab]
  8. king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iah son of [Jehoram kin-]
  9. g of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned]
  10. their land into [desolation …]
  11. other [… and Jehu ru-]
  12. led over Is[rael … and I laid]
  13. siege upon […]

The Tel Dan Inscription was found by accident in northern Israel, and dates to the middle of the 9th century BC, uncovered in excavations at ancient Tel Dan, directed by Avraham Biran, a man who unfortunately passed away not too long ago at the age of 98. The significance of the Tel Dan Inscription is voluminous, for both the history of ancient Israel and the great Bible. For example, it is one of the only large writings we possess from the ancient biblical kingdom, and thereby gives us information about literacy at the time. But of course, even more important than that is that it has expanded our understanding and confirmation of the historicity of the Old Testament. Indeed, the Tel Dan Inscription has proven two segments of the Bible, one very major.

Image result for tel dan inscription house of david

Perhaps the first, more well-known and most important, is the phrase “House of David” on the 10th line of the Tel Dan Inscription. The Tel Dan Inscription is our earliest ancient artifact ever discovered to reference the existence of King David, the second king of Israel, the man who slew Goliath, and who established the kingdom of the holy land himself as lead by God. As the prominent archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel has noted;

The Tel Dan stele ended the first phase of the debate regarding the historicity of the Hebrew Bible.

The inscription speaks of the “house of David”, a reference to the Davidic dynasty. According to the renowned scholar Alan Millard who comments on this phrase of the Tel Dan Inscription;

A dynasty was named after its founder, a real man.

Millard specifically noted that in ancient history, the people from the past would name their dynasties off of their living kings for times to come, and thus the fact that David is not only mentioned in this ancient inscription, but is revealed by it to have had a dynasty named after him, speaks extraordinarily strongly that this man did in fact exist, as is now the view of virtually all scholars in the field. This major finding has proven that David, the man lead by God in many of his endeavors, did in fact exist.

There is of course a second contribution of this text to the historicity of the Bible that is well-known in scholarship, but is not as known to the public because it is completely overshadowed by the enormity of being the first discovery to have established the historicity of David. Let us now take turn to what God told us in the story of 2 Kings 9:1-29. Here, we are told that a prophet of God named Elisha came to a man and army commander named Jehu, and anointed him to be king over Israel. However, at the time, Joram was the king of Israel and Ahaziah was the king of Judah (the divided monarchy). So, Jehu took off on his chariot, and in perhaps a single day, slew both Joram the king of Israel and Ahaziah the king of Judah. This magnificent battle and short biblical narrative is vividly affirmed in the Tel Dan Inscription.

Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah would both have died about 850-840 BC, making the Tel Dan Inscription virtually contemporaneous to their deaths. In lines 7-9 of the Tel Dan Inscription, someone is said to have killed the king of Israel named […]ram, and the king of the house of David named […]iah. The only biblical king to ever have their name end with ‘-ram’ is Joram, as pointed out by the great egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament;

In the whole series of the kings of Israel, there is one and only one king whose name ends in -ram, and that is J(eh)oram, son of Ahab, circa 852-841 [B.C.]. Therefore it seems at the present time inevitable that we should restore here “[J(eh)o]ram son of [Ahab], king of Israel.” (pp. 36-37)

And as Kitchen continues to write, he also affirms that the only king of Israel/Judah at the time of the Tel Dan Inscription whose names ends with -iah is Ahaziah, king of Judah. In other words, this virtually contemporaneous document to the events of 2 Kings 9 clearly documents the death of two kings of Israel at the exact same time, both Joram and Ahaziah, just as the biblical narrative records it to have occurred. Indeed, we can consider this biblical battle virtually affirmed by the archaeological record. However, the question arises — if the Bible is simply recording plain history in its common events, such as those recorded in 2 Kings 9, shouldn’t we expect that the biblical authors were doing anything but writing biblical history as they knew it? In fact, the existence of Jehu, the man whom the Bible says to have slain Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah, has been confirmed some time ago as well, as his existence as the king of Israel was recorded by the Assyrian inscriptions of the emperor Shalmaneser III.

Truly, the Tel Dan Inscription is a blessing from God and has helped us further establish the historical veracity of the biblical narratives. Countless discoveries in recent times further helps us to shed more and more light on the biblical texts, and this seems to have no signs of ending, halting, or even slowing down in the near future (on the other hand, it has been speeding up in the last decade or two, especially since 2015). Glory be to God.

1 Samuel 17:37: And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine ” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.”

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9 thoughts on “The Old Testament and the Tel Dan Inscription

  1. Pingback: Academic Christianity | Faith, Philosophy, and Science

  2. I’ve visited Dan with an archaeologist who specializes in the cultic excavation in the past decade. It is fascinating how an open mind about what is discovered at that sight shows a powerful apologetic for the text of Scripture.

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  3. Pingback: The Old Testament and the Tel Dan Inscription – Faith, Philosophy, and Science

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