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How Ancient Mud Balls Provide Evidence for the Kingdoms of David and Solomon

Biblical archaeology has always fascinated me -- especially the way that archaeologists in this area discount the Bible. After all, in virtually any area of archaeology, if archaeologists have a written text that describes people, places or activities then that written text is used to inform the research. Naturally, there is always skepticism due to bias or story-telling that may be involved in ancient writings, but the written source is almost always seen as providing an additional source of information. In the case of the Bible, however, the Biblical account is treated as less than helpful. It appears to be assumed to be wrong or treated as though it has no worth whatsoever.

And yet, over and over history keeps coming up with other sources of information that either directly confirms the Biblical accounts or leads the accounts to be more possible. Such is the case with a recent discovery that was reported in December 2014 from the area of the Gaza strip. Essentially, archaeologists discovered  "six fragments of clay, once used to seal documents or expensive goods," according to an article entitled "Ancient Seals May Shed Light on Biblical Kings, Government." The article continues:

"They're little bitty mud balls but they're really important because of what they suggest about what's going on," [Mississippi State University archeologist James W.] Hardin, the lead author, said in a telephone interview from the university in Starkville. After tying the scroll or other item, ancient officials would wrap part of the string with clay and stamp it with an official seal to show that it had not been opened.

What exactly do they suggest? Well, these six little fragments of clay are from approximately the 10th Century BC. This is the time period that roughly corresponds to the dates that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon should have been assistance if the Old Testament is accurate. For many years, archaeologists have discounted the Biblical accounts of these kingdoms, however, basically assigning them the same level of truth as is assigned to the Legend of King Arthur. The belief was either that these two Kingdoms never existed or that they are accounts about much smaller rulers (usually referenced as minor warlords) that were elevated in importance through Legend. Of course, a few years ago,  a large structure in East Jerusalem was located by archaeologists dating back to the 10th Century BC, and an Israeli archaeologist, Dr. Mazar, reported that it was likely the Palace of King David. (Of course, there is rarely an end to such debates, but I have yet to see any articles that successfully disprove that claim. In fact, a later article published at the now-defunct gave several good reasons to conclude that it was the palace of the great Old Testament king.)

Now, this seemingly insignificant finding may help establish that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon were much larger than the kingdoms of minor warlords. The article points out:

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century BC, says Mississippi State University archeologist James W. Hardin. This could indicate that Biblical accounts of David and his son Solomon described real kings rather than the backwater chieftains considered more likely by some archeologists, said Hardin, an associate professor in the department of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures.

If the Israeli influence stretched from Jerusalem to an area in Gaza approximately 20 miles from Jerusalem that was previously thought to be totally rural and under control of Gath, that is important evidence that a significant kingdom controlled from Jerusalem existed at the time that David and Solomon were said to be kings over tribes of Israel and Judah. Interesting to see what else is exposed from the continuing excavations of this site.



Starlight said…
As a liberal Christian I never had any issue with believing that the kingdom of Israel was a real place, or that David and Solomon were real people, and as an atheist now I still don't see any particular reason to question that.

However what has always been obvious to me when reading those stories is that the writers of the accounts had clear socio-political agendas they were pushing at the time and so we can assume their accounts range from selective in their choice of facts, through to reporting rumours that suited their purposes, through to getting creative with the facts of their accounts. And while that we can assume that they were probably reasonably accurate with basic publicly available facts like "X fought a war against Y and conquered town Z", when they record stories about private conversations between private individuals it's reasonable to assume that what we are reading is the writer's idea of 'what I think they might have said' combined with a liberal dose of 'what it's convenient for my political purposes for them to have said'.

Also, different biblical authors approach the issue of historical accuracy in different ways. Some simply collate all the source accounts they can find together and put them one after the other, essentially implying to the reader "here's the various different accounts I've heard from various people about what happened". Others try their hand at working out what 'really' happened by trying to do a semi-critical analysis of their sources and reporting to the reader only what they think really happened. Others do something half-way in between where they try and tweak each account to remove the most obvious inconsistencies between the accounts.

For example, the accounts in 1 & 2 Samuel about David contradict about who killed Goliath, whether Saul knew David prior to that battle, and whether David's lover was Saul or Jonathan, because there are at least 3 different sources that have been collated into the accounts we currently have. For example, 2 Sam 1 implies Jonathan was David's lover, while 1 Sam 16 implies Saul was. And someone has made some ham-fisted edits to 1 Sam 17ff to change it from what seems originally to have been a story about David and Saul being lovers, to now be a story about David and Jonathan being lovers, presumably a change motivated by the editor's knowledge of the traditional song recorded in 2 Sam 1 saying that David loved Jonathan more than Saul and a desire for consistency (a desire somewhat defeated by a subsequent editors inclusion of the edited version of the 1 Sam 17ff source right alongside the 1 Sam 16 source!).

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