Tel Dan Stele

Tel Dan Stele

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The Tel Dan Stele is a stele
Stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

 (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993/94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel
Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

. Its author was a king of Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

, Hazael
Hazael
Hazael was a court official and later an Aramean king who is mentioned in the Bible. Under his reign, Aram-Damascus became an empire that ruled over large parts of Syria and Palestine....

 or one of his sons, and it contains an Aramaic inscription commemorating victories over local ancient peoples including "Israel" and the "House of David
Davidic line
The Davidic line refers to the tracing of lineage to the King David referred to in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the New Testament...

."

The inscription generated excitement among biblical scholars and biblical archaeologists
Biblical archaeology
For the movement associated with William F. Albright and also known as biblical archaeology, see Biblical archaeology school. For the interpretation of biblical archaeology in relation to biblical historicity, see The Bible and history....

 because the letters 'בית דוד' are identical to the Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 (and early Aramaic) words for "House of David." If these letters refer to the Davidic line then this is the first time the name "David
David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

" has been recognized at any archaeological site. The scholarly consensus among archaeologists and epigraphers is that the fragment is an authentic reference to the biblical King David.

Like the Mesha Stele
Mesha Stele
The Mesha Stele is a black basalt stone bearing an inscription by the 9th century BC ruler Mesha of Moab in Jordan....

, the Tel Dan Stele seems typical of a memorial intended as a sort of military propaganda, which boasts of Hazael's or his son's victories. Some epigraphers think that in the Mesha Stele, the phrase "House of David" appears in the partly broken line 31 and that line 12 mentions David's name.

Authorship


Although the name of the author of the stele does not seem to appear on the available fragments, it is most likely a king of neighboring Damascus. Language, time, and location make it plausible that the author was Hazael or his son, Bar Hadad II/III, who were kings of Damascus and enemies of the kingdom of Israel.

Discovery


The stele was discovered at Tel Dan (also Tel el-Qadi), by a team of scholars and workers led by Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran
Avraham Biran
Avraham Biran was an Israeli archaeologist, best known for heading excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. He headed the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem for many years.-Biography:...

 (1909–2008). Tel Dan is a mound
Tell
A tell or tel, is a type of archaeological mound created by human occupation and abandonment of a geographical site over many centuries. A classic tell looks like a low, truncated cone with a flat top and sloping sides.-Archaeology:A tell is a hill created by different civilizations living and...

, an artificial hill where a city once stood, at the northern tip of modern Israel. Biran's excavations began in 1966 and ended in 1993, making the Tel Dan excavation the longest continuously excavated site in Israel.

Fragment A was discovered in July 1993, and fragments B1 and B2, which fit together, were discovered in 1994. In the broken part of the stone below the smooth writing surface, there is a possible "internal" fit between fragment A and the assembled fragments B1/B2, but it is uncertain and disputed. If the fit is correct, then the pieces were originally side by side.

The Stele is currently on display in the Israel Museum
Israel Museum
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem was founded in 1965 as Israel's national museum. It is situated on a hill in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the Bible Lands Museum, the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem....

 in Jerusalem.

Date


The inscription has been dated to the 9th or 8th centuries BCE. The 8th-century limit is determined by a destruction layer identified with a well-documented Assyrian conquest in 733/732 BCE. Because that destruction layer was above the layer in which the stele fragments were found, it is clear that it took place after the stele had been erected, then broken into pieces which were later used in a construction project at Tel Dan, presumably by Hebrew builders. It is difficult to discern how long before the Assyrian conquest these earlier events took place.

George Athas attempted to date the inscription to the early 8th century BCE, and credit it to Bar Hadad
Ben-Hadad III
Bar-Hadad III or Ben-Hadad III was the son of Hazael, and succeeded him after his death as king of Aram Damascus. His succession is mentioned in II Kings 13:3, 24...

 rather than his father Hazael
Hazael
Hazael was a court official and later an Aramean king who is mentioned in the Bible. Under his reign, Aram-Damascus became an empire that ruled over large parts of Syria and Palestine....

. Athas' view has been criticised by many because the original excavators of Tel Dan argued for a date in the mid-ninth century BCE. However, Athas argued that the date suggested by the excavators needs to be revised in light of the fuller archaeological context. This, he argued, was only revealed more fully in the years following the discovery of the inscriptional fragments when the entire area had been excavated. Suriano attributed the stele to a point late in Hazael’s career based on apologetic motifs that suggest the inscription was made at the time his son (Bar Hadad) was appointed heir and successor. A consensus has yet to be achieved.

Aramaic text


1.[ ]א]מר.ע[ ]וגזר ]

2.[ ]אבי.יסק[.עלוה.בה]תלחמה.בא--- ]

3.וישכב.אבי.יהך.אל[.אבהו]ה.ויעל.מלכי[ יש]

4.ראל.קדם.בארק.אבי[.ו]יהלך.הדד[.]א[יתי]

5.אנה.ויהך.הדד.קדמי[.ו]אפק.מן.שבע[ת---]

6.י.מלכי.ואקתל.מל[כן.שב]ען.אסרי.א[לפי.ר]

7.כב.ואלפי.פרש.[קתלת.אית.יהו]רם.בר[אחאב.]

8.מלך.ישראל.וקתל[ת.אית.אחז]יהו.בר[יהורם.מל]

9.ך.ביתדוד.ואשם.[אית.קרית.הם.חרבת.ואהפך.א]

10.ית.ארק.הם.ל[ישמן ]

11.אחרן.ולה[... ויהוא.מ]

12.לך.על.יש[ראל... ואשם.]

13.מצר.ע[ל. ]

Translation


Following is a line-by-line translation that follows the editio princeps
Editio princeps
In classical scholarship, editio princeps is a term of art. It means, roughly, the first printed edition of a work that previously had existed only in manuscripts, which could be circulated only after being copied by hand....

(Biran
Avraham Biran
Avraham Biran was an Israeli archaeologist, best known for heading excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. He headed the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem for many years.-Biography:...

 and Naveh). Missing text (or text that is too damaged by erosion) is represented by "[.....]," and words and letters that appear within square brackets [ ] have been supplied by modern scholars:

1'. [.....................].......[...................................] and cut [.........................]

2'. [.........] my father went up [against him when] he fought at[....]

3'. And my father lay down, he went to his [fathers]. And the king of I[s-]

4'. rael entered previously in my father's land. [And] Hadad made me king.

5'. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from [the] seven[.....]

6'. of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed thou[sands of cha-]

7'. riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab]

8'. king of Israel, and I killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g

9'. of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned]

10'. their land into [desolation........................]

11'. other ...[......................................................................... and Jehu ru-]

12'. led over Is[rael......................................................................and I laid]

13'. siege upon [............................................................]

Possible Biblical parallels


The writings may coincide with certain events recorded in the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

:
  • 2 Kings 8:7-15 tells how, before Hazael became king of Aram
    Aram
    -Bible:* Aram, son of Shem, according to the "Table of Nations" in Genesis 10* Aram-Naharaim , the land in which the city of Haran lay* Aram , an ancient region containing the state of Aram Damascus...

    , his predecessor was ill and finally died in his bed:
7. And Elisha
Elisha
Elisha is a prophet mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an. His name is commonly transliterated into English as Elisha via Hebrew, Eliseus via Greek and Latin, or Alyasa via Arabic.-Biblical biography:...

 came to Damascus
Damascus
Damascus , commonly known in Syria as Al Sham , and as the City of Jasmine , is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo, both are part of the country's 14 governorates. In addition to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Damascus is a major...

; and Benhadad the king of Syria was sick; and it was told him, saying, The man of God is come hither.
8.And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
9. So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels' burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Benhadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
10. And Elisha said unto him, Go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the LORD hath shewed me that he shall surely die.
11. And he settled his countenance stedfastly, until he was ashamed: and the man of God wept.
12. And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel: their strong holds wilt thou set on fire, and their young men wilt thou slay with the sword, and wilt dash their children, and rip up their women with child.
13. And Hazael said, But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing? And Elisha answered, The LORD hath shewed me that thou shalt be king over Syria.
14. So he departed from Elisha, and came to his master; who said to him, What said Elisha to thee? And he answered, He told me that thou shouldest surely recover.
15. And it came to pass on the morrow, that he took a thick cloth, and dipped it in water, and spread it on his face, so that he died: and Hazael reigned in his stead.
  • 2 Kings 8:28 and 2 Kings 9:15-16 record that, after being injured in fighting in Ramoth Gilead, Joram
    Jehoram of Israel
    Jehoram was a king of the northern Kingdom of Israel. He was the son of Ahab and Jezebel.According to , in the fifth year of Joram of Israel, Jehoram became king of Judah, when his father Jehoshaphat was king of Judah, indicating a co-regency...

     of Israel 'was laid up' in Jezreel:
28. And he went with Joram the son of Ahab
Ahab
Ahab or Ach'av or Achab in Douay-Rheims was king of Israel and the son and successor of Omri according to the Hebrew Bible. His wife was Jezebel....

 to the war against Hazael king of Syria in Ramothgilead; and the Syrians wounded Joram.
15. But king Joram was returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria.) And Jehu said, If it be your minds, then let none go forth nor escape out of the city to go to tell it in Jezreel.
16. So Jehu rode in a chariot, and went to Jezreel; for Joram lay there. And Ahaziah king of Judah was come down to see Joram.

Dispute over the phrase "House of David"


Due to the mention of both "Israel" and the "House of David", the Tel Dan Stele is often quoted as supporting evidence that a kingdom of Judah existed in the 8th century (although the name Judah is not mentioned) and was ruled by a dynasty tracing its descent from the biblical David
David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

. However, critics have suggested other readings of ביתדוד, usually based on the fact that the written form "DWD" can be rendered both as David and as Dod (Hebrew for "beloved") or related forms. In 1999, Biran, who, for 27 years, led the excavation team, responded to such criticism by saying: "(The)consonants are clear—bet, yod, tav, dalet, vav, dalet. It also clearly mentions 'king of Israel'. It was written by an Aramean king who says he killed the king of Israel and killed the king of the House of David, the king of Judah. Those who deny there was a David take the consonants dalet, vav, dalet and say the D and the V and the D represent the word dod, 'uncle' or 'lover'; or even 'doad', which is a 'big vessel'."

In ancient Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 a dot was sometimes used to divide separate words. For example, the phrase "House of David" could be written as בית•דוד. The Aramean writer of the Tel Dan Stele, who is writing to commemorate a victory over the Hebrews, wrote ביתדוד without employing the Hebrew word divider. Anson Rainey
Anson Rainey
Anson Frank Rainey was Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. He is known in particular for contributions to the study of the Amarna tablets, the legendary administrative letters from the period of Pharaoh Akhenaten's rule during the...

, defending the reading "House of David" stated that "a word divider between two components in such a construction is often omitted, especially if the combination is a well-established proper name
Proper name
"A proper name [is] a word that answers the purpose of showing what thing it is that we are talking about" writes John Stuart Mill in A System of Logic , "but not of telling anything about it"...

."

Gary Rendsburg supports Rainey's position, and stated that the phrase Bit ("house of") + X ("founder") is the Aramaean, Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n, and Babylonian way of referring to an Aramaean state. Rendsburg also stated, "[o]ne might even venture that the Assyrian designation Bit-Humri "house of Omri
Omri
Omri was a king of Israel, successful military campaigner and first in the line of Omride kings that included Ahab, Ahaziah and Joram.He was "commander of the army" of king Elah when Zimri murdered Elah and made himself king. Instead, the troops at Gibbethon chose Omri as king, and he led them to...

" for the kingdom of Israel reached Assyrian scribes through Aramaean mediation."

Philip Davies
Philip R. Davies
Philip R. Davies is a biblical scholar with interests in Early Judaism, History of Ancient Israel, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Davies has been labeled a biblical minimalist and associated with the Copenhagen School...

 writes:


But let’s leave this wishful thinking and return to the critical six letters, BYTDWD, to see what they really might mean. Admittedly there are two verbal elements here, of which the first is beth, house. But the probability is that the second element completes a place-name, such as Beth Lehem (House of Bread) correct translation or Bethlehem
Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a Palestinian city in the central West Bank of the Jordan River, near Israel and approximately south of Jerusalem, with a population of about 30,000 people. It is the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority and a hub of Palestinian culture and tourism...

 (one word), as it is commonly written in Latin letters. Also a substantial minority believes that the correct reading and translation are, Bet Lachmu, (House of the God Lachmu) recognising a popular (and verified) local god. It seems intrinsically more likely that a place-name composed with beth would be written as one word, rather than a phrase meaning “House of David,” referring to the dynasty of David. Such a place name could be Beth-dod (the w serving as rudimentary vowel, a so-called mater lectionis; the same last three letters are consistently used to spell the last syllable of the Philistine city of Ashdod) or Bethdaud (with a slightly different vowel pronunciation). All these place-names are quite reasonable suggestions... There are other possibilities... For example, in a contemporaneous inscription, the famous Mesha stele or Moabite stone, the phrase ’R’L DWDH (‏אראל דודה‎) appears. The second word remains somewhat of a puzzle. Some scholars, though a minority, translate it “David” and regard it as the name of the founder of the ruling dynasty of Judah... But the final heh makes this meaning unlikely. The noun dawidum is also found in a cuneiform text from Mari (18th century B.C.E.), offering another possible clue, though the meaning of this term remains unclear. In the Bible DWD can mean “beloved” or “uncle,” and in one place (1 Samuel 2:14), it means “kettle.” So a number of ways of understanding DWD present themselves, most of them more plausible than translating “David.”


Anson Rainey's response to Davies:

"In response to Philip R. Davies’s brief article a few observations are in order. Davies represents what he and a circle of colleagues call the “deconstructionist” approach to Biblical traditions. The present instance can serve as a useful example of why Davies and his “deconstructionists” can safely be ignored by everyone seriously interested in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies. Regarding the recently excavated Dan inscription, Davies makes a great quibble about the absence of the word divider between the components BYT (House) and DWD (David). Joseph Naveh and Avraham Biran did not explain the inscription in detail, perhaps because they took for granted that readers would know that a word divider between two components in such a construction is often omitted, especially if the combination is a well-established proper name. A well-known example of such a proper name composed of two components, is BL‘M.BRB‘R (Baalam, son of Beor) in line 4 of “Combination I” of the inscription from Deir ‘Alla
Deir Alla Inscription
The Deir 'Alla Inscription was the product of a 1967 excavation in Deir 'Alla, Jordan. The excavation revealed a many-chambered structure that had also been destroyed by earthquake, during the Persian period at the site, on the wall of which was written a previously unknown prophecy by the seer...

. There is a word divider, a dot, between BL‘M (Balaam) and BRB‘R (son of Beor), but no word divider between BR (son [of]) and B‘R (Beor). The patronymic of the prophet Baalam consists of two vocables, BR (son [of]) and B‘R (Beor). These vocables are in the Semitic syntactical relationship known as “construct.” The first is closely attached to the second, which takes the accent for both.“The House of David” was certainly such a proper political and geographic name in the mid-ninth century B.C.E. André Lemaire’s recent discovery that the same name (BYTDWD) appears in the Mesha stela further confirms the reading in the Tel Dan inscription. The same situation pertains to BYTDWD (House of David) in the text from Dan. The first component is BYT (house), here in the “construct” form meaning “house of.” The main accent is on DWD (David), the second component. The combination was obviously recognized by the scribe of the Dan inscription as an important proper name. There is no reason whatever to doubt the correctness of the reading “House of David.”


Thomas L. Thompson
Thomas L. Thompson
Thomas L. Thompson is a biblical theologian associated with the movement known as the Copenhagen School. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993–2009, lives in Denmark and is now a Danish citizen.-Background:Thompson obtained a B.A...

 has argued that, even if it could be shown that the terms "of the house of David" and "of the house of Omri" were used to describe the kings of Judah and Israel at that time, we should not conclude that they saw David and Omri as recent ancestors who had founded dynasties in the modern sense, other interpretations of the term "house of" in this context are possible.

Configuration controversy


George Athas proposes that the three extant fragments of the inscription have been placed in a wrong configuration (for the popular configuration, see the figure above). He argues that Fragment A (the largest) should be placed well above Fragments B1 and B2 (which fit together). He also suggests that ביתדוד is actually a reference to Jerusalem, arguing that it is the Aramaic equivalent of "City of David". He also provides evidence for the authenticity of the fragments (called into question by some, such as Russell Gmirkin), and downdates the inscription, proposing that the author is not Hazael, as is popularly touted, but rather his son Bar Hadad.

Authenticity controversy


Athas also provided evidence for the authenticity of the fragments, which were called into question by some, including Russell Gmirkin. In rebuttal to allegations of inauthenticity, the prominent American archaeologist, William Dever states: " I was there (Tel Dan) shortly after it was found. I’ve known Biran for 40 years. The woman who found it, Gila Cook, I hired at Hebrew Union College. I have handled the inscription. I know what I’m talking about. There’s no way (the Tel Dan Stele is inauthentic). All of this was covered by debris until he (A. Biran) started digging. True, it was found in secondary use. Nobody ever argued that it was in primary position. It was re-used in the wall. But there is no way in the world anybody could have dug down there, found that wall five years before Biran came along and planted it. It’s impossible.

Views of archaeologists and epigraphers


Professional archaeologists object to these reinterpretations, often noting that they are suggested by Biblical scholars who have no formal qualifications in the relevant fields. In favour of the reading 'House of David', archaeologist Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Kitchen
Kenneth Anderson Kitchen is Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool, England...

 writes in response to the contrary views of Thomas L. Thompson
Thomas L. Thompson
Thomas L. Thompson is a biblical theologian associated with the movement known as the Copenhagen School. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993–2009, lives in Denmark and is now a Danish citizen.-Background:Thompson obtained a B.A...

:

'(i) The name "David" may be unusual, but is not unparalleled. Long centuries before, it was borne by a West Semitic chief carpenter in about 1730 B.C. on an Egyptian stela formerly in the collection at Rio de Janeiro. (ii) Dwd is neither the name (which Thompson admits) nor an epithet of a deity. Others are beloved of deities (for which references are legion!), but male deities are not beloved of others, human or divine (only goddesses are beloved of their divine husbands in Egypt). (iii) Mesha's stela is ninth, not eighth, century. (iv) On Mesha's stela dwd(h) is not a divine epithet of YHWH or anyone else.'

'(v) Contrary to TLT, "House of X" does mean a dynastic founder, all over the Near East, in the first half of the first millennium B.C.; it was an Aramean usage that passed into Assyrian nomenclature, and examples are common. (vi) Again, the expression, in part of its usage, is like the British "House of Windsor", etc. Such usages were not peculiar to Aram, Assyria, and Judah either: in Egypt, the official title given to the Twelfth Dynasty (Turin Canon) was "Kings of the House (lit. 'Residence') of Ithet-Tawy" = 'the Dynasty of Ithet-Tawy". And the Thirteenth Dynasty was duly entitled "Kings who came after the [House of] King Sehetepibre" (founder of the Twelfth Dynasty). (vii) The charge of forgery is a baseless slur against the Dan expedition, without a particle of foundation in fact.'


Also in favour of the reading 'House of David', archaeologist William Dever
William Dever
William Dever may refer to:* William Emmett Dever , mayor of Chicago 1923–1926* William G. Dever, biblical archaeologist...

 writes:

'On the "positivist" side of the controversy, regarding the authenticity of the inscription, we now have published opinions by most of the world's leading epigraphers (all of whom are seasoned field workers with much experience in biblical archaeology and none of whom is an academic "biblicist"). in Thompson's sense. Thompson is a professor. IBE, University of Copenhagen. The epigraphers maintain that the inscription means exactly what it says. On the "negativist" side, we have the opinions of Thompson, Lemche, and Cryer of the Copenhagen School. The reader may choose.'


After reviewing a range of objections to the Stele's authenticity, Niels Lemche concludes that the Stele should be accepted as genuine until significant evidence to the contrary is found.

'Even if my observations about the almost uncanny prominence of the terms ‘King of Israel’ and ‘House of David’ are not accepted, I have to admit that the arguments in favour of seeing the Tel Dan fragments as fake need to be much more forceful—certainly stronger than I have been able to show in this survey—if they are to prove beyond doubt that the inscription is the work of a forger.'


'At the end of the day, is the Tel Dan inscription important for the study of the history of Israel in Antiquity?Of course is important—if it is genuine. And, until the opposite has been proven, we have to reckon it to be genuine.'

General consensus


Lester Grabbe identifies the general scholarly consensus as regarding the Stele to be genuine, and as referring to the House of David.

'The Tel Dan inscription generated a good deal of debate and a flurry of articles when it first appeared, but it is now widely regarded (a) as genuine and (b) as referring to the Davidic dynasty and the Aramaic kingdom of Damascus.'

See also