David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition

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9780743243636: David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition

There has been an explosion of recent discoveries in biblical archaeology. These finds have shed powerful light on figures and stories from the Bible -- and completely changed what we know about some of its most famous characters. The reputations of the first great kings, David and Solomon, evolved over hundreds of years. In David and Solomon, leading archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman focus on the two great leaders as a window into the entire biblical era. David and Solomon covers one thousand years of ancient civilization, separating fact from legend and proving that the roots of the western tradition lie very deep.

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About the Author:

Israel Finkelstein is a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University. He is a leading figure in the archaeology of the Levant and the laureate of the 2005 Dan David Prize in the Past Dimension -- Archaeology. Finkelstein served for many years as the Director of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and is the co-Director of the Megiddo Expedition. He is the co-author, with Neil Silberman, of The Bible Unearthed (Free Press, 2001) and the author of many field reports and scholarly articles.

Neil Asher Silberman is director of historical interpretation for the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation in Belgium. He is a contributing editor to Archaeology magazine and the author of The Hidden Scrolls: Christianity, Judaism, and the War for the Dead Sea Scrolls; The Message and the Kingdom; and Digging for God and Country, among other books.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

David, Solomon, and the Western Tradition

Ancient Legends, the Bible, and Archaeology

From the soaring cathedrals and elegant palaces of medieval Europe, to the hushed galleries of world famous art museums, to America's backwoods pulpits and Hollywood epics, the story of ancient Israel's sacred kings, David and Solomon, is one of western civilization's most enduring legacies. The figures of David -- shepherd, warrior, and divinely protected king -- and of his son Solomon -- great builder, wise judge, and serene ruler of a vast empire -- have become timeless models of righteous leadership under God's sanction. They have shaped western images of kingship and served as models of royal piety, messianic expectation, and national destiny.

Thanks to archaeology, we now -- for the first time -- can dissect the main elements of the biblical story to see when and how each one emerged. The results of our search may be surprising, for the archaeological discoveries of recent decades have clearly shown how far from the glamorous scriptural portraits the actual world of David and Solomon was. Yet the legend was not merely a romantic fiction of imaginary personalities and events. It evolved over centuries from a core of authentic memories into a complex and timeless literary creation. In its unforgettable images and dramatic scenes -- the battle against Goliath, the rise of David from outlaw to king, the splendor of Solomon's court -- the legend of David and Solomon expresses a universal message of national independence and transcendent religious values that people all over the world have come to regard as their own. Yet as we will see, its origins are traceable in the archaeology and history of a single small Iron Age kingdom as it grew from a village society into a complex state.

THE BIBLICAL STORY IN BRIEF

The most elaborate version of the David and Solomon story, contained in a narrative that extends from 1 Samuel to 1 Kings, describes how the people of Israel achieved independence and enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity. Attacked and oppressed in their highland villages by the brutal Philistine conquerors from the lowlands, the elders of Israel cried out for a leader who could protect them against their enemies. Until then, the Israelites had been governed in their separate tribes by spirit-filled "judges." At this time of crisis, the venerable prophet Samuel, following God's instructions despite his own misgivings, anointed Saul, a handsome youth of the tribe of Benjamin, to be the first king over all Israel. Saul was a daring military leader, yet he proved to be unstable, subject to deep bouts of depression, impetuous violence, and repeated violations of religious law. God's second choice thus secretly fell to David, son of Jesse, a young shepherd from Judah, who had been summoned to soothe Saul's fits of madness with the music of his lyre.

As the narrative develops, David's grand destiny unfolds, even as Saul continues to reign. On the field of battle against the massed Philistine armies, David topples the mighty Goliath and earns the acclaim of the nation, enraging King Saul. In a desperate flight into the wilderness to escape from Saul's murderous jealousy, David further proves his leadership, bravery, and skill. As the chief of a roaming band of mighty men, he settles scores, fends off enemy attacks, exacts God's vengeance, and distributes captured booty to the oppressed and poor. When Saul dies on the battlefield, David is proclaimed king of Judah and eventually of all Israel as God's true anointed one, or "messiah." It is a classic tale of the rise of the young hero, a warrior for the true faith and a man of extraordinary charisma, who assumes the mantle of a failed leader and becomes the embodiment of his people's hopes and dreams.

David's subsequent exploits as king of Israel have served as a model for visions of territorial expansion and divine inheritance, over many centuries. In fulfillment of God's promise that Israel would be a great nation, David conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital, providing a permanent place of honor there for the Ark of the Covenant, which had accompanied Israel in its long wanderings. David and his armies then sweep all of Israel's enemies to defeat and destruction, establishing a vast kingdom that stretches from the Euphrates to the very border of Egypt. Upon his death, David is succeeded by Solomon, his son by the beautiful Bathsheba, who rules the kingdom wisely and ushers in an era of peace and prosperity. It is a stirring narrative of power and divine favor enjoyed by a nation whose rulers have been specially selected by God.

Solomon goes on to build a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and reigns with justice and intelligence, over a vast bureaucracy, a mighty army, and a great people. Through his international connections and skill in trade and diplomacy, Solomon is celebrated throughout the world as the richest and wisest of kings. He marries a pharaoh's daughter and gains renown as an insightful judge, author of proverbs, and master of knowledge about all the riches of creation -- trees, beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish. When the queen of Sheba journeys all the way to Jerusalem from her distant kingdom in Arabia to meet him, "Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king which he could not explain to her" (1 Kings 10:3). Solomon's image is the ideal convergence of wisdom, opulence, and power in the person of a king. Indeed, Solomon's rule in Jerusalem is a moment when the divine promise comes to its most tangible fulfillment; his reign is a golden age of prosperity, knowledge, and power for all the people of Israel. Forever after, Solomon's rule would be nostalgically recalled as a golden age of spiritual and material fulfillment that might, one day, be experienced again.

Yet in the Bible, both David and Solomon also have great human flaws, as profound as their God-given gifts. During his flight from Saul, David collaborates with the Philistine enemy and undermines Saul's authority by his own great popularity. Immediately after Saul's death, David unconvincingly disavows responsibility for the targeted assassination of Saul's closest supporters and heirs. Later, his marriage to the beautiful Bathsheba comes as the result of an adulterous seduction -- and a heartless maneuver to ensure the death of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, on the battlefield. As the years pass, David seems powerless to control the violent rivalry of his princely sons Amnon and Absalom. When Absalom attempts to oust David from power, the aging king is vulnerable and uncertain -- even crying out, when he receives word of Absalom's execution, "Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Samuel 18:33). At various stages in his life, David is a ruthless leader, a greedy lover, a vacillating and sorrowful father. In a word, he is profoundly human, trapped between his destiny and his sins.

In the same way, the biblical Solomon also reveals a darker, weaker side. Solomon eventually betrays his reputation as the pious founder of the Temple, succumbing to the lure of foreign women and gods. His vast harem of Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite wives introduces pagan worship into the holy city. God becomes angry. Once-defeated peoples rise up in rebellion. After Solomon's death, the ten northern tribes of Israel break free and establish a separate kingdom. It is a vivid lesson about how the religious faithlessness of a luxury-loving leader can destroy a golden age.

Yet God had given an eternal, unconditional promise that David's "throne shall be established for ever" (2 Samuel 7:16) and that the Davidic dynasty would never fade away. Even after Solomon's moral collapse and the disintegration of his great kingdom, God assures the people of Israel that he would preserve an eternal inheritance for the descendants of David. One day their affliction would come to an end (1 Kings 11:39). What greater assurance could there be for any people that despite their rulers' human error and weakness, the nation's well-being remained secure?

The biblical portraits of David and Solomon are oversized and unforgettable, painted in bright colors. They are filled with human and theological contradictions, yet God's promise of eternal protection to David and to all his descendants offers the hope that someday a new David or Solomon will arise to usher in a new and even more breathtaking golden age.

THE WEST'S ONCE AND FUTURE KINGS

In the eyes of ancient Israel, David and Solomon were local founding fathers; in the eyes of the Judeo-Christian tradition as it evolved and expanded over centuries, David and Solomon came to represent much more. Embedded in the biblical canon and the traditions of Judaism and Christianity, they are revered as the greatest leaders of God's chosen kingdom of Israel, and as the spiritual forerunners of leaders, princes, and potentates throughout the western world. After the destruction of the Iron Age kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE, the legendary fame of David and Solomon was elaborated and uniquely cherished. Abraham, the great patriarch, slept peacefully in his tomb in Hebron. Moses, the great lawgiver, would never return. But David and Solomon had been the recipients of a divine promise that ensured the people's survival and eventual redemption. The lineage of David, son of Jesse, offered a promise for the future, no matter how grim the present might seem. As expressed in the book of Isaiah:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he sh...

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