Finding King David's Palace and Archaeological Doubts

A few weeks ago, I passed along a report that an archaeologist in Palestine had reported that she believes that she has found the Palace of King David. Now, an analysis of this find has become available through Azure, a quarterly journal published in English and Hebrew editions by the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, offering essays and criticism on Israeli and Jewish public policy, Jewish philosophy, cultural trends, religion in public life, Zionist history and more. The new article in the magazine is entitled "Facts Underground" by David Hazony, and begins with this interesting tidbit:

The field of biblical archaeology has been rocked, so to speak, by dramatic new finds in the heart of ancient Jerusalem. For the last few years, a number of respected archaeologists have posited that the biblical accounts of Jerusalem as the seat of a powerful, unified monarchy under the rule of David and Solomon are essentially false. The most prominent of these is Israel Finkelstein, the chairman of Tel Aviv University's archaeology department, whose 2001 book The Bible Unearthed, written together with Neal Asher Silberman, became an international best seller. The lynchpin of his argument was the absence of clear evidence from the archaeological excavations carried out in Jerusalem over the last century. "Not only was any sign of monumental architecture missing," he wrote, "but so were even simple pottery shards." If David and Solomon existed at all, he concluded, they were no more than "hill-country chieftains," and Jerusalem, as he told the New York Times, was "no more than a poor village at the time."

But now comes word of a most unusual find: The remains of a massive structure, in the heart of biblical Jerusalem, dating to the time of King David. Eilat Mazar, the archaeologist leading the expedition, suggests that it may be none other than the palace built by David and used by the Judaean kings for over four centuries. If she is right, this would mean a reconsideration of the archaeological record with regard to the early First-Temple period. It would also deal a death-blow to the revisionist camp, whose entire theory is predicated on the absence of evidence in Jerusalem from this period. But is she right?

That is the twenty dollar question: is she right? If she is correct and the edifice is the palace of King David, it adds a lot of credence to the Biblical accounts which much of modern archaeology dismisses. In fact, in a recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, the premier popular magazine reviewing archaeological issues of the Biblical lands, flat out said that archaeology was not supporting the truth of the Biblical accounts.

But here is evidence that is rather remarkable supporting the Biblical view. To begin with, the structure that she identifies as the Palace was found by Dr. Mazar by using Biblical clues for its location. The find itself has a wealth of additional evidence supporting its identification as the palace of David.

The evidence is remarkable. It includes a section of massive wall running about 100 feet from west to east along the length of the excavation, and ending with a right-angle corner that turns south and implies a very large building. Within the dirt fill between the stones of the great wall were found pottery shards dating to the eleventh century b.c.e.; this is the earliest possible date for the walls' construction. Two additional walls, also large, running perpendicular to the first, contain pottery dating to the tenth century b.c.e. -- meaning that further additions were made after the time of David and Solomon or during their reign, suggesting that the building continued to be used and improved over a period of centuries. The structure is built directly on bedrock along the city's northern edge, with no archaeological layers beneath it -- a sign that this structure, built two millennia after the city's founding, constituted a new, northward expansion of the city's northern limit. And it is located at what was then the very summit of the mountain -- a reasonable place indeed for the palace from which David "descended."

It is significant that the site is located to the North of the old city of Jerusabite, as pointed out in the essay "Is It the Palace of King David?" by Sarah H. Moore.

"One of the reasons researchers were at a loss in finding this important place was that they assumed that King David, as logic would dictate, built his home in the safest, best protected part of the city, inside the Jebusite city walls," says Mazar. However, this was not the case.

The Jebusite city, while almost impregnable, was also very small, approximately 9 acres in size. Nevertheless, scholars continued to search for King David's residence within the city walls. No remains were found that pointed to the existence of a great palace like that which the Bible describes, and scholars began to doubt biblical claims that such a grand structure ever really existed.

"But one of the main clues in finding King David's palace," says Mazar, "was surprisingly from the Bible itself." 2 Samuel 5:17 states that: "When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went DOWN [from his palace] to the [citadel]." (NIV, capitalization added for emphases)

Although the Philistines were defeated by King David's forces, the Bible is careful to indicate that the palace was located above the "Me'tsuda" (the citadel or stronghold). "The Bible would not have said 'went down' unless David indeed did go from his palace, down the slopes of the ophel mountain, to the citadel. Consequently, his palace must have been located north of the city, not in the center of it," says Mazar.

The Philistine invasion took place after the completion of David's new palace, but before the northern fortifications were sufficiently finished. Therefore, King David, who was already living in his new residence, which was not yet strong enough to withstand a major assault from the north, decided to retreat for a time to the old Jebusite fortress, the "Me'tsuda," south of his palace.

Although King David conquered the city from the Jebusites, he permitted them to remain. Dr. Mazar reasoned that with David's followers and members of his administration flocking into Jerusalem, the nine-acre city quickly became overcrowded.

"There was no way it could accommodate an imperial palace, as well as new residences for all his officers and their families," says Mazar. Since the areas to the south, east, and west were fully built-up and stood on the brink of steep slopes, David must have built his new palace north of the walls of the Jebusite city.

Supposing that the majority of scholars agree with the identification of this edifice as the Palace of David and Solomon, will the BAR change its position that when it comes to archaeology of Old Testament Israel that the Bible is more inaccurate than accurate? I doubt it. But whenever I read about the archaeologists dismissing any portion of the Old Testament as "myth" or "legend" because they cannot find evidence for it, I remember three things:

First, there is an adage in archaeology that reads "lack of evidence is not evidence of lack." While archaeologist can make suppositions about the accuracy of a text based on the lack of evidence, all it takes is a single find to show the presuppositions are meritless. In fact, whenever an archeaological question arises, it is always helpful to ask whether the conclusion is based on evidence found or evidence not found. The former is much more reliable than the latter.

Second, there have been a number of archaeological finds that seem to confirm the accuracy of at least the more recent parts of the Bible. The discovery of the Pool of Shiloam, the discovery of the porticoes mentioned in John, and the discovery of Hezekiah's tunnels, all come to mind. Thus, when archaeological evidence has been found for things mentioned in the Bible, it seems that they have been confirming rather than denying the accuracy of the Biblical texts.

Third, in archaeology, as in every discipline, there can be political, theological or religious reasons for the reasoning. Personally, my experience in reading BAR is that the BAS is much quicker to accept evidence that debunks the Bible over evidence that establishes the evidence. I think that the evidence in this case, while it cannot on its own establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the edifice found is the palace of King David, the evidence appears to be very strong. But we shall see . . . .

If Biblical archaeology interests you, please make sure to check out the weekly articles from the Associates for Biblical Research which provide a great deal of information on archaeological issues relating to Biblical times as well as updates on the latest discoveries.


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