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Israel Under Kings David and Solomon

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The Bible tells us that during the reign of King David the extent of Israel’s realm stretched from the Red Sea in Egypt to the Euphrates River (I Chron. 18:3). But minimalist scholars question whether David ever existed and relegate the Bible’s accounts of him to the realm of mythology (surprise, surprise). Plus, they doubt whether Israel’s territory was ever that extensive.

An article in Biblical Archaeology Review (March-April 1994) reported a discovery by a team under Avraham Biran at the northern site of Tel Dan, near Mt. Hermon. There they found an inscription in stone mentioning both the “King of Israel” and the “House of David.” This inscription was dated as being from the 800s BC. In addition, the name of David is mentioned on the Mesha Stela—the so-called Moabite Stone. Who knows how many similar finds will be made that should eventually put to rest the dismissiveness of disbelieving scholars?

According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (volume II, p. 915), during the time of David and Solomon there was a power vacuum in both Egypt and Mesopotamia that enabled the new Kingdom of Israel to thrive and expand. To the north, “Assyria had entered then a period of decline, primarily because of difficulties with the Aramaeans….”19 To the south, the decline of Egypt by Solomon’s time is illustrated by the fact that Pharaoh Siamun, who reigned from 978 to 959 BC, gave his daughter to Solomon in marriage—“a concession almost without parallel in Egyptian history since it was a candid admission to the world of Egypt’s weakness and conciliation. Normally, Egyptian kings took foreign princesses but did not give up their own daughters to foreign kings.”20

Hiram, King of Tyre, Friend of David and Solomon 

Add to these facts Israel’s alliance with the Phoenicians—the most powerful seafaring mercantile empire of that period. Indeed, the combination of Israel’s land domination coupled with the seafaring empire of the Phoenicians (led by the city-state of Tyre) produced a formidable economic and political union. Historians agree that the reign of Hiram of Tyre was the “golden age” of Phoenician history—just as the reign of Solomon was the pinnacle of Israelite history.

After providing materials and skilled labor to David for the building of his palace, Hiram did the same to Solomon for the building of the Temple for God. In I Kings 5:12 we read that Hiram and Solomon “made a treaty.” This treaty had long-term benefits, as we read of in later Bible passages. Not only did Hiram and his craftsmen help build the Temple, the Phoenicians joined Israel in other ventures. According to historian George Rawlinson, “the Tyrian monarch entered into a close maritime alliance with his Israelitish neighbour, and engaged with him in joint commercial enterprises of the most lucrative character.”21

I Kings 9:26-28 tells us that Solomon and Hiram built a fleet of merchant ships to go on joint ventures to far-flung countries to trade for valuable merchandise. From the history of the Phoenicians already quoted, we know that there was hardly a place in the known world where Phoenician ships had not already visited for trade purposes.

We are told in I Kings 9:15 that among Solomon’s building projects were Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. What have archaeological excavations of these sites yielded? Archaeologist Yigael Yadin writes this about his dig at Hazor in the 1950s: “What I’m about to say may sound like something out of a detective story, but it’s true. Our great guide was the Bible…. This was the real secret of our discovery of the Solomonic period.”22 Yadin eventually excavated the sites of all three of the cities mentioned above. At each one he found the same architecture now referred to by archaeologists as “Solomonic”—with magnificent, ornately decorated polished-stone buildings whose grandeur certainly suggests the prosperity of Solomon’s time as described in the Bible.

According to Scripture, a host of kings and dignitaries visited Solomon during his earlier years—some to hear his reputed wisdom, some to see the grandeur of his realm. One, who visited for both purposes, was the Queen of Sheba. Many scholars relegate the story of her royal visit to myth. After all, where was this place called “Sheba,” anyway?

Recent discoveries point to what is now Yemen, south of Saudi Arabia, as the location of this once-prosperous kingdom. Werner Keller tells us that the area was not always barren and dry; in fact, the remains of a large dam can still be seen there to this day. “A gigantic dam blocked the river Adhami in Sheba, collecting the rainfall from a wide area. The water was then led off in canals for irrigation purposes, which was what gave the land its fertility. Remains of this technical marvel in the shape of walls over 60 feet high still defy the sand dunes of the desert…. Sheba was then the Land of Spices, one vast fairy-like scented garden of the costliest spices in the world…. That was until 542 BC—then the dam burst. The importunate desert crept over the lands and destroyed them.”23