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King David Playing the Harp by Gerard van Honthorst (1662).

Discovery of Lost Citadel May Prove the Existence of King David

In Israel, experts believe that they have found a long-lost citadel from the time of King David. Some argue, according to Breaking Israel News , that the building is the Canaanite stronghold of Eglon, which is recorded in the Bible. Now radiocarbon dating indicates that the ruins of the building are indeed from the alleged reign of King David. The find is being held as proof that David was a real monarch and not just a legendary figure, as has been suggested in the last 25 years.

Composite aerial photograph showing Building 101, (governor’s residence) at Tel Eton. Source: Sky-View and Griffin Aerial Imaging/ Radiocarbon CC BY-SA 4.0

Composite aerial photograph showing Building 101, (governor’s residence) at Tel Eton. Source: Sky-View and Griffin Aerial Imaging / Radiocarbon CC BY-SA 4.0

King David: Mythical or Historical

Professor Avraham Faust of Bar-Ilan University, leader of the team that discovered the site, told Breaking Israel News

“Until 25 years ago no one doubted that King David was a historical figure. In the last 25 years or so, however, David’s historicity, and especially the size of his kingdom, are hotly debated.”

According to the Bible, King David was the founder of the first Israelite Kingdom and was an important figure in the history of the Jews.  He is best known as the slayer of the giant Goliath and is perhaps the most famous of all the Israelite kings. It is believed that he reigned around 1000 BC. For centuries, the kings of Israel claimed descent from this king and Jesus claimed him as his ancestor. King David defeated the Canaanites and the Philistines to create the first Israelite kingdom, according to the Book of Kings.

King David by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1768. (Public Domain)

King David by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1768. ( Public Domain )

However, several millennia after his recorded death, King David has become a figure of controversy, with some claiming that he is only a mythical character with there being no physical evidence to support either his existence or the existence of his kingdom. The discovery of the Eglon ‘stronghold’ in a mound that was made of the ruins of many cultures, adds fuel to the debate on King David. The building, referred to in Faust’s report as the ‘governors residency’ was unearthed in a man-made mound near Hebron, known as Tel Eton and is located where the Bible states the Canaanites built a citadel. Eglon was conquered and later occupied by David, according to Jewish tradition.

Large stones found at the entrance to the building and its rooms. Image: Radiocarbon CC BY-SA 4.0

Large stones found at the entrance to the building and its rooms. Image: Radiocarbon CC BY-SA 4.0

New Proof of King David’s Kingdom

There are those who have claimed that the discovery of a lost citadel here supports the biblical account of the reign of King David. The capture of the Canaanite stronghold of Eglon was very important in the establishment of the Kingdom of David. This site, if from the time of David, could provide invaluable archaeological evidence for the existence of the Israelite king. The only other evidence for his reign and kingdom is the is the Tel Dan stele , an inscribed stone, from the 8 th century BC, that refers to a House of David.

The Tel Dan Stele on display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Tel Dan Stele on display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Dr Faust and his team have excavated the building at Tel Eton and believe they may have found the evidence needed that tells us this is part of the Kingdom of David. They make this claim based on radiocarbon dating of the building to the 10 th century BC, the time of David’s rule. This dating is derived from samples of ‘a foundation deposit and from the floors make-up’ as stated in their report published by Faust and Yair Sapir in the journal Radiocarbon.

The Missing Evidence?

For those who say that the discovery of the lost citadel does not prove the existence of King David as there is no hard and compelling archaeological evidence, the dating discovery could be quite a blow. But the fact that there was a citadel from around the time when David is believed to have ruled proves nothing.  Even the team who uncovered the site admit that it does not confirm the existence of David. However, their theory on how the site seems to match the biblical description goes further than the radiocarbon dating.

Prof Faust explained his theory to Breaking Israel News:

“We, of course, did not find any artifacts that said ‘King David’ or King Solomon’ but we discovered at the site signs of a social transformation the region underwent, including the construction of a large edifice in a plan known to archaeologists as ‘the four-room house’ which is common in Israel but is rare to non-existent elsewhere. This seems to indicate that the inspiration or cause for the transformations are to be sought in the highland. The association with David is not based on any archaeological evidence but on circumstantial grounds only. Since the source of the change seems to be in the highlands, and since it took place at the time when David was supposed to have existed, the link is plausible.”

David staring at Bathsheba bathing. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0

David staring at Bathsheba bathing. Image: CC BY-SA 3.0

Elgon and the First Israelite Kingdom

The discovery in the Judean Shephelah in the Hebron hills, is likely to provide archaeologists with valuable insights into the era around 1000 BC.  According to the Bible, King David ruled in the highlands, of southern Israel and he expanded his kingdom greatly, including the capture of Eglon.  The site shows that there was considerable social change around 1000 BC in the settlement. Buildings that are associated with ancient Israelite culture in the highlands have been excavated. This is the distinctive four-room or Israelite house that may also support the view that David conquered the Canaanite citadel. 

In recent years many have disputed the size of the original Israelite kingdom. The Israelite houses found at this site would seem to show that the Israelites had conquered the stronghold and that they had ruled an extensive area, as claimed in the Bible. This would contradict those who argue that the first Israelite kingdom was restricted to the highlands. It would also support the historicity of the Kingdom of David and the value of the Bible as a guide to the early history of the area . However, there are those who argue that this is reading too much into the discovery.

Evidence is Still Mostly Circumstantial

Although Professor Faust has put forward the argument that the site indicated a larger Davidic Kingdom, he also acknowledges that the find only confirms that the area was thickly populated by agrarian communities. He goes on to state that the evidence of social change that was possibly linked to the highlands provided circumstantial evidence for the historicity of the Israelite kingdom. Finds at the exploration of the lost city of Eglon increase the probability that King David was a historical figure but does not end the debate, by any means.

Top image: King David Playing the Harp by Gerard van Honthorst (1662). Source: Public Domain

By Ed Whelan

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