FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Contesting the views of revisionist scholars, world-renowned archaeologist William G. Dever defended the existence of an Israelite state in Palestine during the 10th century B.C., the biblical era of Solomon’s reign.
Dever, a leading figure in biblical archaeology for nearly half a century, was the guest speaker for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Biblical Archaeology Lecture sponsored by the seminary’s Charles D. Tandy Archaeology Museum and Tandy Institute of Archaeology.
“Tonight, I want to talk about the age of Solomon, but before I do that, I want to set it up by telling you something about a school of European biblical scholarship,” Dever said. “These people call themselves revisionists because they are rewriting the history of ancient Israel, but when they finish, there is no history. They call themselves revisionists. I call them nihilists.”
According to Dever, the revisionist scholars deny that an Israelite united monarchy, like the biblical kingdom that flourished under Solomon, ever existed. Dever contested this claim, arguing that the archaeological evidence confirms the existence of a centralized Israelite state in 10th century Palestine.
According to a “wonderful, detailed description” in 1 Kings 9:15-17, the Egyptian pharaoh attacked and destroyed the city of Gezer, Dever said. The pharaoh then gave the city as a dowry to his daughter when she married Solomon. The passage then states that Solomon fortified or refortified four sites: Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer and Jerusalem.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had archaeological evidence from those sites for an early stage? Well, we do,” Dever said. “And what do you suppose the revisionists make of this evidence? They just ignore it, because it is inconvenient for their theories.”
Dever reported that excavations, especially at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, have uncovered “monumental architecture” that cannot be explained without reference to a centralized government. The architecture of each of these cities is adapted to topography for strategic military advantage, but all the cities show the same structural patterns, such as six-chambered gates, double or casemate fortification systems, similar palace structures and Phoenician masonry (according to 1 Kings, Solomon utilized Phoenician craftsmen in his building projects).
These architectural structures can be dated to the 10th century B.C., Dever said, with reference to stratigraphy, ceramic typology and ancient Egyptian chronology. This process is aided by the discovery of destruction levels, filled with rubble and showing evidence of fires “so fierce that it melted the limestone and it flowed down like lava.” According to Dever, the destruction can be attributed to the military invasions of the Egyptian Pharaoh Sheshonq, that is, the biblical Shishak (1 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12).
“At one time, there stood a monumental Egyptian inscription at the site of Megiddo celebrating the destruction by Shishak,” Dever said. Shishak was the first pharaoh in the 22nd Egyptian dynasty, and archaeological evidence shows that he raided Palestine in the late 10th century B.C. Amid the rubble of destruction, archaeologists also have discovered the hand-burnished pottery characteristic of the 10th century. According to Dever, this implies that the monumental architecture that Shishak and his army destroyed “must have been built a generation or so earlier — and that places us precisely in the middle of the reign of Solomon.”
“Of course, the revisionists argue that, ‘Well, you’ve never found anything from the 10th century, nothing monumental in Jerusalem.’ That’s true, because we never were able to excavate [in Jerusalem],” Dever said. Jerusalem was the fourth city that Solomon refortified, and it was the center of his kingdom. Despite the lack of access to the archaeological evidence that lies below modern Jerusalem, Dever argued that biblical descriptions of Solomon’s Temple resemble other 10th-century temples in the Middle East.
“All the descriptions in the Hebrew Bible,” Dever said, “make good sense in the light of what we know about ancient architecture.”
Revisionist scholars also contend that a centralized state could not have existed in 10th century Israel because literacy was not widespread, and the knowledge of reading and writing is necessary for the administration of a kingdom. Archaeological evidence like the Gezer calendar, however, has shown that even in rural areas young boys were learning to read during the 10th century and earlier, Dever said.
Encouraging Southwestern to remain involved in biblical archaeology, Dever said the seminary’s ongoing excavations at Tel Gezer would play an important role in affirming the existence of a united Israelite monarchy in 10th-century Palestine. Southwestern Seminary has led excavations at Tel Gezer under the supervision of Steven Ortiz, professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds, since 2006.
While Dever affirmed the importance of ministerial training in his Nov. 3 lecture, he encouraged students to study archaeology and urged Southwestern to train biblical archaeologists who can challenge the skeptics in the field. Biblical archaeology, especially in the United States, is in “disarray,” he said. Many academic programs are floundering, and some have been shut down or replaced by academic programs emphasizing modern Middle Eastern studies.
“I always say to my Israeli colleagues, ‘The archaeology of Israel is too important to be left to you alone. This is our Holy Land, too.’ So we have to be involved, even though the Israelis dominate the field,” Dever said. “You have a unique opportunity at this particular juncture in time. Step in. There is not a lot of competition. Step in, and do something significant.”
Underscoring the need for rigorous academic training, Dever said, “Don’t ever apologize for your faith, or for the Bible, or for the Western tradition, or for being an American. Fight, and make sure you have the facts on your side.”
To learn more about Southwestern Seminary’s involvement in biblical archaeology, visit swbts.edu or gezerproject.org.
Benjamin Hawkins writes for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
This report of Dever’s Nov. 3 lecture was reprinted with permission of SWBTS.