It should be apparent by now for those who have been reading my series of articles that the OT cannot be taken by face value, due to its tendentious nature. However, there is a way of determining which parts to it really reflect historical situations, and that is corroborating the Biblical narrative to independent ancient sources – though the descriptions of the events will vary considerably. I will deal here mostly with the Mesopotamian sources, as I’m most familiar with those.
The earliest Israelite king mentioned in the Ancient Near East sources is Omri, who reigned 880 – 874 BCE. Anything prior to Omri we simply do not have correlation from external sources, since the bytdwd inscription, which I will deal with later, does not directly deal with David himself. A contemporary source mentioning Omri is the Mesha Stele, erected c. 850 BCE. This is what it says:
Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemoš was angry with his land. And his son replaced him; and he said, ‘I will also oppress Moab’. In my days he said so [...]. But I looked down on him and on his house. And Israel has been defeated; has been defeated forever, And Omri took possession of the whole land of Madaba, and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son: forty years. And Kemoš restored it in my days. And I built Baal Meon, and I built a water reservoir in it. And I built Qiryaten. And the men of Gad lived in the land of Atarot from ancient times; and the king of Israel built Atarot for himself. and I fought against the city and captured it. And I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Kemoš and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it before Kemoš in Qerioit, and I settled the men of Sharon there, as well as the men of Maharit.
And Kemoš said to me, “Go, take Nebo from Israel.” And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed it all: seven thousand men and (male) aliens, and women and (female) aliens, and servant girls. Since for Aštar Kemoš I banned it. And from there I took the vessels of Yahweh, and I brought them before Kemoš. And the king of Israel had built Jahaz, and he stayed there while he fought against me. And Kemoš drove him away from me.
According to the Bible, Ahab (871-852 BCE) was the son and successor of Omri. He is referred to at the Kurkh Stela of Shalmaneser III, which describes the battle of Qarqar (not mentioned in the OT) in which Ahab participated. This is what it says:
10,000 men from Ahab the Israelite [a-ha-ab-bu MAT si-ri-la-a].
Jehoram, son of Ahab is mentioned in the Tel Dan Stele (9th-8th BCE, possibly erected by King Hazael or his son Bar-Hadad of Damascus):
And Hadad went in front of me[, and] I departed from ………..
[.................] of my kings. And I killed two [power]ful kin[gs], who harnessed two thou[sand cha-]riots and two thousand horsemen.
[I killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and I killed [Achaz]yahu son of [Joram kin]g of the House of David. And I set [.......................................................]
their land …
[......................................................................... and Jehu ru-]
led over Is[rael...................................................................................]
siege upon [............................................................]
Though the text is badly fragmentary, the name [..]ram king of Israel is clearly present there. This can only apply to Joram/Jehoram. Hazael is mentioned in the 2 Kings. This inscription does have a problem with the House of David reference. The text, as can be seen, is badly fragmentary, and while there is some agreement that the best interpretation of ‘bytdwd’ is ‘House of David’, and the most common interpretation of this is to accept that the ‘bytdwd’ is a reference to a political entity that was an enemy of the person that the inscription honours. Then, when secondary textual information is added from the Hebrew Bible, that political entity would be the chiefdom centred in Jerusalem in the 9th century BCE. However, in my opinion the tales of David and Solomon are typical Golden Age legends. David is presented as the founder of the Judean dynasty, and may possibly be historical. However, there is no corroborated evidence for such a person, as the bytdwd inscription refers to the royal house and not to any specific person named dwd.
The Assyrian inscription on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III (859-824 BCE) has ia-u-a mar hu-um-ri-i, transcribed and translated as Jehu, son of Omri. Akkadian does not have ‘O’, so any name starting with an ‘o’ would be written as ‘hu’ or ‘u’. Though according to the Bible Jehu was not a son of Omri, the usual term for the Kingdom of Israel in the Assyrian inscriptions is MAT bit-Humri. The MAT there is a determinative that indicates that the following signs are to read as the name of a country/kingdom, so it could be roughly translated as ‘Kingdom of the House of Omri’. This was in use until the reign of Sargon II, 722 BCE. The entire text reads as:
I received the tribute of Jehu son of Omri: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden goblet, golden cups, golden buckets, tin, a staff of the king’s hand, and javelins.
Calah Orthostat of Adad-Nirari III (811 to 783 BCE):
I subdued from the bank of the Euphrates, the land of Hatti, the land of Amurru in its entirety, the land of Tyre, the land of Sidon, the land of Israel, the land of Edom, the land of Philistia, as far as the great sea in the west. I imposed tax and tribute on them.
The text literally says KUR. (determinative for ‘land’) hu-um-ri.
Annals of Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 BCE):
In the subsequent course of my campaign, I received the tribute of the kings…Azriau the Judahite .
Uzziah/Azariahu ruled 792/791-751/750 BCE.
16 districts of Bit-Humri I leveled to the ground. I carried off to Assyria the land of Bit-Humria, its mercenaries…all of its people,…I killed Pekah, their king, and I installed Hoshea as king over them. I received from them 10 talents of gold, x talents of silver, with their possessions and I carried them to Assyria.
Pekah ruled from c. 752-732/731 BCE.
I received the tribute of…Sanipu, Ammonite, Salamanu, Moabite,…Mitinti, the Askhelonite, Jehoahaz, the Judahite.
Jehoahaz ruled for just one year, 841/840 BCE.
The wide land of Bit-Haza’ili in its entirety, from Mount Lebanon as far as the city of Gilead, Abel…on the border of Bit-Humria I annexed to Assyria. I placed my eunuch over them as governor.
Bit-Haza’ili here means Damascus/Aram, and the usage is basically the same as with Bit-Humri – a name of a ruler associated with the country he once ruled. Hazael ruled 842-805 BCE.
Sargon II (722–705 BCE):
“I plundered Sinuhtu, Samerina and the entire land of Bit-Humria.”
“Sargon …subduer of Judah which lies far away.”
With the power and might of Aššur, my lord, I overwhelmed the district of Hezekiah of Judah…Azekah, his stronghold, which is located between my land and the land of Judah…I besieged by means of beaten earth ramps, by great battering rams brought near its walls, and with the attack of foot soldiers [...] They had seen the…of my cavalry and they had heard the roar of the mighty troops of the god Aššur, and their hearts became afraid. I captured this stronghold, I carried off its spoil, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. I approached Ekron, a royal city of the Philistines, which Hezekiah had captured and strengthened for himself….His skilful battle warriors he caused to enter into it.
Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong walled cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape… Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and divers treasures, a rich and immense booty… All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government.
Ashurbanipal (685-c. 627 BCE):
Two minas of gold from the inhabitants of Bit-Ammon; one mina of gold from the inhabitants of Moab; ten minas of silver from the inhabitants of Judah;…minas of silver from the inhabitants of Edom.
Nebuchadnezzar (c. 605-562 BCE):
Year 7: in Kislev the King of Babylonia called out his army and marched to Hattu. He set his camp against the city of Judah and on 2nd Adar he took the city and captured the king Jehoiachin. He appointed a king of his choosing there, took heavy tribute and returned to Babylon.
We have texts which list the rations given to Jehoiachin (ia-u-ki-nu LUGAL KI.ia-hu-du, see E. F. Weidner, Jojachin, Konig von Juda in Babylonische Keilschrifttexten, Paris, 1939) in Babylon, along with his sons and other Jews. This corroborates the Biblical account that Jehoiachin was taken to Babylon.
And that’s about it. There is no place in history for “Darius the Mede”, and I can state positively there never will be. We have more than plenty of business documents, private letters etc. from the Late Babylonian/Early Persian era, all neatly dated to the regnal year of the ruler. In all that material, there is just no room left for a “Darius the Mede”. Likewise, Daniel as the governor of Babylon is just not there and never will be, even under his name Belteshazzar (in reality -balaššu-uṣur, the theophoric element of the name is missing) and never will be, since we have the entire list of the governors of Babylonia under the early Persian rule.
- A. G. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Augustin, 1975)
- Assyrian royal inscriptions (Harassowitz, 1972)
- K.A. Kitchen: A Possible Mention of David in the Late Tenth Century BCE, and Deity Dod as Dead as the Dodo? (JSOT December 1997 vol. 22 no. 76)
- A. Kuhrt: The Ancient Near East (London 1995)
- B. Metzger & M. Coogan (eds): The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford, 1993)