The Tel Dan Stele (2 Kings 8)

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In 1993 and 1994 fragments of an Aramaic monumental inscription were discovered in Tel Dan, Israel. Although only a fraction of the original inscription was recovered, the preserved portion alludes to eight Biblical kings. Based on the names recorded in the document, it can be dated to around 841 B.C. Even though his name is missing, it appears that Hazael, king of Aram from approximately 842-800 B.C., commissioned the stela (or stele) to commemorate his defeat of Joram and Ahaziah at Ramoth Gilead (2 Kings 8:28-29). Hazael is mentioned in the records of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria from approximately 858-824 B.C., and his name is inscribed on objects taken as booty by the Assyrians.

The initial lines of the inscription mention “my father”, possibly a reference to Ben-Hadad II, Hazael’s predecessor. The names of Joram and Ahab can be restored in the phrase “(I killed Jo)ram son of (Ahab) king of Israel”, where the brackets indicate lacunae in the original text. Joram was king of Israel from approximately 952 to 841 B.C., while Ahab ruled from approximately 874 to 853 B.C. This is followed by the statement “and (I) killed (Ahaz)iahu son of (Jehoram kin)g of the House of David.” Ahaziag/Ahaziahu ruled Judag in 841 B.C. The name of Jehoram, who reigned from 848 to 841 B.C., can be supplied where the text is missing.

The most remarkable aspect of the Tel Dan Stele is the phrase “House of David”, providing extra-biblical evidence for the existence of David. This is important because some recent scholars have denied the existence of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, treating David as a character more of a legend than of reality. This inscription demonstrates that ancient kings recognized the Davidic dynasty over Jerusalem and by implication validates the historicity of David himself. Some scholars have tried to avoid this implication by arguing for an alternative translation for “House of David”, claiming that the words refer to some place or to a god rather than to king David. Few are persuaded by these protests, and the inscription is widely recognized to be an extra-biblical witness to the dynasty of David.


 

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