The recent discovery at Tel Dan of a ninth-century B.C.E. inscription—the first extra-biblical reference to the House of David—is causing extraordinary contortions among scholars who have maintained that the Bible’s history of the early Israelite monarchy is simply fiction. According to these scholars, the history of the Israelite monarchy was made up after the Jews went into exile following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.
What, then, is this embarrassing reference to the dynasty of David doing in a ninth-century B.C.E. Aramaic stela? One scholar has gone so far as to suggest that the inscription may be a fake, presumably salted in the tell by some desperate biblical literalist.1 Other scholars in this camp have advanced arguments no less far-fetched in an attempt somehow to eliminate the reference to David—arguing, for example, that the three Semitic letters forming David’s name should really be read as “uncle” or “kettle.”2
How insubstantial these arguments are has been demonstrated elsewhere.3 But this high-decibel dispute has focused attention once again on the reliability—or unreliability—of the Bible’s account of the Israelite monarchy, from its origins to its demise.