BAR 34:04, Jul/Aug 2008
Archaeological Views: Letting David Go
Fifteen years ago, Avraham Biran discovered the now-famous House of David inscription at the cardinal northern archaeological site of Tel Dan, where David Ilan and I have resumed excavations. It was not like Biran needed the extra exposure. He had put Dan on the map almost 20 years earlier with the discovery of the massive Middle Bronze gateway, the oldest intact archway in the world, the gate complex of the Israelite city, and the late Iron Age remains of the temple built by Jeroboam I, where the king had placed a golden calf and established the northern kingdom of Israel.
It was customary to refer to states by the dynasties of their rulers, so the “House of David” referred to Judah, just at the Assyrians and Moabites referred to the northern kingdom of Israel as the “House of Omri.” The Tel Dan stela, then, marked not only the first extra-Biblical reference to Judah, but also the earliest attestation of the kingdom’s dynastic founder, David.