In their new book David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, they have some surprising things to say about two key biblical figures, David and Solomon.
Professor Finkelstein believes that there is a “growing and intolerable gap between what is taking place in archeology today and what the public knows.”
Israel Finkelstein (Photo: Eli Algarat)
According to Finkelstein, “Our goal is to reduce these gaps. We are not trying to insult anyone or to destroy anything, but rather to remove ourselves from the traditional reading without invalidating the Bible. On the contrary, we’re doing this because of empathy for the Bible.”
How strong is archeology in the study of the Bible compared with other methods?
“How do you research biblical history? If we stay with the text only, we’ll come to a dead end, to a series of circular claims. There are two ways to break out of the circle: Either through contemporary ancient near eastern documents outside of the Bible, or with help from archeology.
"Archeology clearly shows, for example, that Judea’s southern frontier was relatively void of inhabitants until the eighth century BCE, and this allows us to understand how David could have been a leader of a band of rowdies active in the area.
"On the other hand, archeology shows that Jerusalem, which in Solomon’s day was supposed to be the ‘glorious empire,’ was a lowly village in that period, relatively small and remote, and not the city of splendor described in the Bible.”
Not one good word about the kings of Israel
In their book, Finkelstein and Silberman claim that the kingdoms of David and Solomon did not exist as they were described in the Bible. The story was written, in fact, in Judea in order to justify its rule over large numbers of refugees who came there after the destruction of the Temple. Judea even adopted the name of “Israel,” which was the larger and better-known kingdom in the ancient near east.
“It’s true that in the Bible there were also voices of opposition, there are northern traditions that make all kinds of accusations against David, but the entire package is a Judeaic package… The other voices were swallowed up and assimilated. This includes the voice of Israel.
"In the entire Bible the Judean writers try to say that Judea is the center and Israel is not legitimate. After all, its kings were all outcasts, they don’t have a good word to say about any of them, but the people are OK, on condition that they take it upon themselves to worship God in Jerusalem under the dynasty of the House of David.”
So the entire story of the splitting of the kingdom never took place? The united kingdom of Israel and Judea under the rule of the House of David never existed?
“There’s no reason to doubt the fact that there was a David who founded a dynasty in Jerusalem, but in my opinion the united kingdom in the form described in the Bible did not exist. The whole thing of David’s conquests never happened. In traditional archeology, anywhere a layer of destruction from the tenth century BCE was seen, they immediately shouted, ‘David!’ but there is no real basis for this.
"The whole thing of the people of Israel as something pan-Israelite is something that of course cannot be as long as Israel exists because it was a large, strong kingdom. Judea was a sort of separate, remote tribe. Culturally, too—you can’t speak about one culture.”
So actually, there were always two separate entities, Israel and Judea, and Judea swallowed Israel in one way or another?
“Yes. It’s a process that took hundreds of years.”
And the characteristics of Judaism today are a combination of two different cultures, or did they have some joint basis from the beginning that can be identified with the Judaism we know?
“It can’t be by chance that the writers present Israel as the sister kingdom and not Moab, for example. That is, there were things uniting them and things separating them. They had a common background in language, art, and the God of Israel, perhaps even a certain common history, there were memories. I refuse to believe that there was a Ministry for Making Up Stories in Jerusalem.
"History does not work that way, nor do founding texts of this kind. They were not written by someone sitting in the dead of night inventing stories. They collected all the traditions of the people of Israel and within those collections there are clearly local parts that they stitched together.
"For example, the patriarchs. It’s clear that Jacob is the most important figure in the north and Abraham in the south, in Hebron. They stitched this together later on. The question, of course, is whether the writers of the story of Abraham also knew Jacob, and vice versa. The answer is that it’s reasonable to assume they did.
"The common denominator made it easier to create the late pan-Israelite idea that says that all of Israel is one nation that worships the God of Israel in the Temple in Jerusalem under a king from the Davidic dynasty.”
Is there archeological evidence that King Solomon really existed, or is there a fear that he’s a figure made up by the authors in order to demonstrate, for example, the dangers of a kingdom?
There is no evidence for Solomon’s existence, but since there is historical evidence for the existence of the Davidic dynasty, I don’t think you can say that just because one king wsan’t mentioned, it makes him ahistorical. There was a strong tradition in Jerusalem that this was a dynasty. They knew the kings of the House of David, they knew how to enumerate them one by one, just as we know today.”
And the First Temple, was it built by Solomon? Is there even any archeological evidence for its existence?
“The Temple is an issue that deviates from archeology for the simple reason that there is no archeology because you can’t excavate on the Temple Mount. So here we get into the realm of conjecture. In the ancient near east every dynasty had a palace and a temple, and the temple was the dynasty’s chapel. Since the tradition is so strong, and against the backdrop of what is known about the ancient near east, I don’t see a reason to doubt the fact that the founders of the dynasty built a temple in Jerusalem.”
But if we’re describing Jerusalem as a remote village, how is it possible that there was a temple there?
“It’s not the Pantheon that was standing there. The Bible describes a rather modest building. We, in our culture, imagine the Temple as some kind of enormous Parthenon dominating all of the Temple Mount. This was barely true in Herod’s time. It was the royal family’s chapel.”
In your opinion, what are the implications of your research for the validity of our tradition?
“There are none. Tradition is stronger that these things. I’m in favor of separating the two. When I read the Book of Samuel with my girls I got excited, together with them, as if it were a historical book. You don’t need to tell a ten-year old girl, ‘Just a minute, a certain researcher said this or that.’ What difference does it make? There is a place for both the traditional reading and the academic reading.
"Something interesting has happened here: We, the Jews, who were identified as the People of the Book, have suddenly become a people like all others and we’ve begun to pursue land and monuments. In the past this never interested us.
"I don’t believe that our fate will be sealed on the basis of one kind of archeological study or another. I do believe that if, instead of reading the Bible as well, we continue to watch stupid TV programs all the time, then we’ll be lost. Am I dangerous to our culture?! That’s a joke. We’re just one of many varieties.”