Tel Dan Excavations, HUC Jerusalem/Photo by Zev Radovan

The Tel Dan stele. The discovery of the stone slab at right electrified excavators when it was found at the site of ancient Dan, in far northern Israel, in 1993: It contains the first extra-Biblical reference to David and his dynasty, although a group of scholars known as Biblical minimalists contests that reading. Two additional fragments, upper left, were discovered the following year.

To William Dever and many other scholars, this inscription provides clear evidence that David was indeed a historical figure and not merely a mythical leader invented by later Biblical authors to give Israel a heroic past, as the Biblical minimalists maintain. Pointing to the the lack of a word divider between the words “house of” and “David,” the minimalists argue that the phrase did not refer to a king at all but to a hitherto unattested place name, Bethdavid, akin to Bethlehem, meaning House of David or perhaps House of the Beloved.