Archaeologists, aided by burrowing mole rats, discovered a building in the valley below the hills of Hebron attributed to the kingdom of Biblical King David. The discovery is a milestone in the ongoing debate over the veracity of Biblical King David as a historical figure with most archaeologists now looking to the Bible as having a factual basis.

“20 years ago, no one would have said that King David was a historical figure,”  Professor Avraham Faust, co-head of the archaeological dig, told Breaking Israel News. “I am not the first, or only one, to attribute an archaeological find to King David. There may still be a dispute over this, but today, most archaeologists agree that King David was a historical figure.”

The dig, led by  Professor Faust and Yair Sapir of Bar-Ilan University, is at Tel Eton, in the valley near the Hebron hills, approximately 30 miles south of Jerusalem.The city that once stood at the site has been identified by scholars as Eglon, a city which fought against the Israelites as part of the five Amorite kings coalition and was later listed as part of the tribe of Judah.

This was the portion of the tribe of the Judites by their clans…Lachish, Bozkath, Eglon. Joshua 15:20,39

The discovery has become part of an ongoing dispute among archaeologists about whether King David actually existed as real historical figure or whether he was just a mythological figure existing only in the pages of the Bible. Faust and Sapir claim that the city was once part of David’s kingdom.

“This has bearings on the date in which social complexity evolved in Judah, on the debate regarding the historicity of the kingdom of David and Solomon,” Faust and Sapir wrote in Cambridge University’s journal Carbon.

Dr. Faust explained how they came to this remarkable conclusion.

“We, of course, did not find any artifacts that said ‘King David’ or King Solomon’ but we discovered site signs of a social transformation in the region which are consistent with a change from Canaanite culture to a Judean culture,” Professor Faust told Breaking Israel News. “Since it took place at a time we believed the Kingdom of David began to spread into this region, it is clear this building was part of the events in the Bible ascribed to the Kingdom of David.”

This connection between the Bible and archaeology made by Professor Faust can be problematic, as Dr. Eilat Mazar, a prominent Israeli archaeologist, explained.

“Archaeology does not begin with a belief and the Bible and then a search for proof,” Dr. Mazar told Breaking Israel News. “We first find evidence and then try to understand the truth behind the evidence.”

For the most part, evidence of Biblical events is lacking, Dr. Mazar noted.

“Even with what is written about David, one of the more prominent figures in the Bible, there are very few events that would leave evidence we could find archaeological proof of today.”

Nonetheless, Dr. Mazar uses the Bible as a resource to guide her work. This has set her at odds with many other Israeli archaeologists who reject the validity of this technique.

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“We can use the Bible as a source to guide our search, but we cannot use the Bible as proof,” Dr. Mazar said. “But conclusions are drawn after a very long and thorough process of proof. After proving the connection using archaeological methods, the Biblical connection can now be brought.”

Her methods speak for themselves as Dr. Mazar is credited with many major finds.

AnaRina Heymann, director of Jerusalem Watch and the outreach coordinator for the City of David, frequently encounters skeptics who question the historical validity of King David.

“Until 1993, there was no way we could prove that King David existed,” Heymann told Breaking Israel News. “That was when archaeologists discovered the Tel Dan Stele.”

The Tel Dan Stele referencing King David. (Israel Museum/Wikimedia Commons/Oren Rozen)

The Tel Dan Stele, currently on display in the Israel Museum, is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. The inscription boasts of victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David”. It is considered to be the earliest accepted reference to the name David as the founder of the Kingdom of Judah.

“The Tel Dan Stele absolutely one hundred percent proves that King David existed,” Heymann said. “It refutes any claim that King David was merely a story.”

If verified, Tel Eton will be the second major archaeological site attributed to King David. In 2007,  Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University found a large military fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa approximately 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. He eventually dated the fortress to the early 10th century BCE when King David is thought to have ruled over Israel concurrent with the structure at Tel Eton.

Professor Faust noted that the site at Tel Eton indicates a remarkable level of cultural sophistication, indicating the society under King David was complex politically and advanced culturally. The archaeological site covers 15 acres, making it the third largest in the Judean region behind Jerusalem and Lachish. When Professor Faust’s group first began excavations, they discovered fortifications, suggesting the regional importance of the site. Most of the buildings at the dig were from the 8th century BCE, several hundred years later than the period of King David. But further studies suggested the site had a much more ancient history.

The archaeologists recently announced the discovery of a new structure at the top of the tel (an artificial mound formed from the accumulated remains of civilizations that existed on the same site for hundreds or thousands of years) that was notably well-constructed, suggesting its role as a regional administrative center.

“The structure was what we call ‘four-room house’ which is an architectural style that was exclusive to the Hebrews,” Professor Faust said to Breaking Israel News“The structure was excavated, almost in its entirety, and was composed of a large courtyard with rooms on three sides. ”

“The building was nicely executed, including ashlar stones in the corners and openings,” Faust said in Popular Archaeology. “Hundreds of artifacts were unearthed within the debris, including a wide range of pottery vessels, loom weights, many metal objects, botanical remains, as well as many arrowheads, evidence of the battle which accompanied the conquest of the site by the Assyrians.”

Researchers believe the city was destroyed by King Sennacherib and the Assyrians in 701 BCE.

The ashlar stones, finely cut and squared-off masonry, were the earliest examples of such masonry found to date. The structure was built on a deep foundation, indicating a high level of sophistication indicating a highly developed civilization.

While exploring the foundations of the structure, the archaeologists discovered a pottery bowl which they believed was an offering to God as a supplication for protection of the building, something archaeologists have encountered before in more ancient digs. This type of foundation offering enabled the researchers to date the building to Canaanite Bronze Age and early Iron Age around 1200 BCE. This was backed up by radiocarbon samples from a foundation deposit and olive pits and coal found on the floor,  indicate that the house was first built in the late 11th century BCE.

Faust theorized that these foundation offerings indicate Tel Eton was originally a Canaanite settlement that was later colonized by Israel as it extended its borders to the west under the leadership of King David.

“This has bearings on the date in which social complexity evolved in Judah, on the debate regarding the historicity of the kingdom of David and Solomon,” Faust and Sapir write.

The researchers were aided by mole rats, burrowing rodents that live in the region. Archaeologists have little idea of what lays underground when they begin digging and many hours of meticulous work may be spent in a fruitless effort. By sifting through the earth brought to the surface by the burrowing rodents, archaeologists can glean clues about what lays below.

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Source: Israel in the News