Tel Dan Excavations, HUC, Jerusalem/Zev Radovan

Is it a fake? According to most scholars, “The House of David” (BYTDWD, Beth David) is inscribed on this Old Aramaic stela from Tel Dan, in northern Galilee. In 1993 excavator Avraham Biran found the stela’s large right-hand fragment beneath an eighth-century B.C.E. wall; Biran later recovered two additional fragments and attempted to fit them into place. Apparently set up by the king of Damascus, the Tel Dan Stela boasts of victories, in Biran’s reconstruction, over “[Jeho]ram son of Ahab, King of Israel” and “[Ahaz]iah son of [Jehoram, ki]ng of the House of David.” The Biblical rulers Jehoram (851–842 B.C.E.), of the northern kingdom of Israel, and Ahaziah (843–842 B.C.E.), of the southern kingdom of Judah, were exact contemporaries—supporting a mid-ninth-century B.C.E. date for the stela. The reference to the “House [or dynasty] of David” suggests that Judahite kings traced their descent back to an actual David, who is traditionally believed to have lived a century earlier.

The Biblical minimalists, however, contending that David is a mere literary creation, dispute this reading. They point out that the dots used to divide words in the Tel Dan inscription are absent in BYTDWD, which might indicate that the phrase is a place-name, like Bethlehem. It has also been suggested that DWD should be read not as David but as Dod, possibly meaning “beloved”—so that the phrase might be translated as “The House of the Beloved.” In the accompanying interview, Niels Peter Lemche questions the ninth-century B.C.E. date of the stela; he even suggests, without providing any evidence, that it might be a fake—that is, “salted” years earlier for archaeologists to find.