Archaeologist Professor Avraham Faust has worked at an Israeli excavation site called Tel ‘Eton for the past 12 years, and he’s made some extraordinary finds. Faust and his team have uncovered areas of the site that date as far back as the 11th century B.C. And, according to some interpretations of the Old Testament, that could mean the site was occupied at the time of King David and King Solomon.
David was the king who came to the throne as leader of the Jews after the deaths of the previous ruler, Saul, and of Saul’s son Jonathan. Before he became king, David famously killed the giant Goliath with a sling shot in an incident that has come to represent any battle between a weak and a strong opponent that the weaker wins by guile.
David’s life was a colorful one, to say the least. Although a hero to the Israelites because of his defeat of Goliath and the Philistines, as well as his capture of Jerusalem, his behavior was sometimes outrageous. The story of Bathsheba well illustrates this.
David spied on the beautiful young Bathsheba while she bathed. She subsequently became pregnant by him, an inconvenient embarrassment for David since she was married. David summoned her husband, Uriah the Hittite, from the battlefield where he’d been fighting, hoping that Bathsheba could pretend that Uriah was the father. But Uriah did not appear, so David had him murdered instead and married Bathsheba.
The actual evidence for these romantic tales of David’s life appears only in the Bible. There have been no conclusive archaeological finds to show that David actually existed some 3,000 years ago. So if any is ever found, that will be headline news indeed. And Tel ‘Eton has the right chronology.
But before we turn to the details of the Tel ‘Eton find, it’s worth a quick look at David’s successor, King Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba. Solomon is best remembered for his wisdom. In the Bible, Solomon has a dream in which God asks him what he desires. Solomon’s answer is wisdom.
The Biblical story known as “the Judgment of Solomon” is a good illustration of this wisdom. Solomon is presented with two women both claiming to be the mother of one child. Solomon’s ruling was apparently brutal and to the point. According to the Biblical Book of Kings, he said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.”
One of the women immediately withdrew her claim to motherhood of the child. Solomon now said that this woman must be the mother, as she would rather lose her child than see it killed. His seemingly cruel response had in fact got to the truth of the matter.
Both of these Biblical characters have enormous religious significance to all three of the main Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And David is credited with the taking of Jerusalem and the construction of the First Temple there. But previously there had been no entirely convincing archaeological evidence that either of the men actually existed. So Professor Faust’s excavation and discoveries have been of enormous interest to many. Let’s take a look at the dig and what it actually unearthed.
The 15-acre site of the Tel ‘Eton dig is a low hill covered in scrub located about 20 miles from the city of the Israeli city Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast. The dozen years of digging at the site have revealed a structure that covers an area of about 2,400 square feet. Professor Faust and his team have given the building the soubriquet of the “Governor’s Residence,” and it was undoubtedly the home of a high-ranking family.
The most immediately arresting features of the house are the ashlar cornerstones, massive pieces of masonry that have been fashioned with chisels. These massive pieces of worked stone can weigh more than 1,600 pounds. They contrast with the much lighter stonework that divides rooms within the house.
The dig has shown that the buildings at the site were destroyed about 800 B.C., when the Assyrians swept across Israel. In the layer that corresponds to that destruction the archaeologists have discovered seals, arrowheads and weights. There is also botanical material representing foodstuffs such as olive oil, grapes and lentils.
And this discovery has allowed archaeologists the opportunity to expand their knowledge about this ancient period in Middle-Eastern history. “The fact that the house was discovered in its entirety allowed us to reconstruct life in the house in a way that was not possible before,” Faust told the Times of Israel.
Digging below the destruction layer brought the archaeologists to the foundations of the building. There, charcoal and olive stones were found, and those were used to carbon date the earliest structure on the site. The results showed that the foundations of the building dated from between the late 11th century B.C. and some time in the 10th century B.C.
Even Faust was surprised at how early that dated the house And it does mean that the building dates from the era that analysis of the Biblical texts suggest was when King David and his successor Solomon ruled the Israelites. That period is known as the United Monarchy and is assumed to have lasted from about 1050 B.C. to 930 B.C.
And once these dates had been confirmed by the researchers, there was a bit of a feeding frenzy among certain sections of the press. The British tabloid The Sun, for example, headlined the story in May 2018 with “Ancient lost city of King David is uncovered near Jerusalem and expert says it proves the Bible is accurate.”
The Sun article continued with the assertion, “Professor Avraham Faust, co-head of the archaeological dig, said the latest find backs the case for the historical accuracy of the Bible.” But a Bar-Ilan University press release from Faust and a colleague actually said, “The association with David is not based on direct archaeological evidence, but solely on circumstantial grounds.”
In other words, this archaeological site fascinating and important though it is, cannot be used to “prove” that either David or Solomon, or indeed the United Monarchy, actually existed in history. But that does not diminish the fascinating aspects of this discovery. The archaeology shows that real people were certainly living at Tel ‘Eton 3,000 years ago. And this excavation has changed our view of the people of the time.
As Faust explained to The Times of Israel, “One of the main points of the discovery is that it refutes the claims that complexity was reached in Judah only in the late eighth or seventh century B.C.E.” In fact, the Tel ’Eton site was occupied from the Late Bronze Age, 1550–1200 B.C., and its population may have been as high as 1,800, indicating an advanced level of sophistication.
And spare a thought for the archaeologists who have toiled at this site for many years only to see their work misrepresented by various media outlets. As Professor Faust told The Times of Israel, “It’s been a real learning moment.” And we’ll leave the last word to another academic, Dr. Ido Koch of Tel Aviv University, who told Haaretz, “connecting ‘Eton and Jerusalem is pure speculation.”