O! ROT! Part II: David and Solomon & the Judges

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This is the second part in a five part series on the reliability of the old testament, based on the book by Kenneth Kitchen.  Here are links to the introductory post and Part I.
The last post ended with Saul's rule over Israel.  We now continue studying the United Monarchy by looking at the ruling periods of David and Solomon.  This is a long post; but as it is a historical study and not a post on philosophy, it is somewhat easier to digest.

The United Monarchy (continued)


With respect to David, Kitchen first makes it clear that the nature and scale of the mini-empire of David and Solomon was not unique in the ANE at the time, "A fact that is almost totally unknown to nearly all commentators on 2 Sam. 8 to 1 Kings 11."1  However, such mini-empires only occurred in the time period around 1200-900BC, as it was a period between the mega-empires.  Kitchen describes three other mini-empires of the time that also had 1) a core "heartland", 2) lands gained through conquest, and 3) vassal-like lands that were gained either by diplomacy (for example, a smaller kingdom coming under an empire through an alliance of sorts) or threat.  Such lands could break away politically when the mini-empire weakened, in stark contrast to the the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires, that had other nations assimilate completely.  Both the king's court and the lands claimed by Israel expanded significantly under David.  The kingdom David built was very much like other mini-empires.

Kitchen does not discuss the likelihood of a shepherd boy becoming king, but he does show that poetry, music, and hymn-writing were not unusual for both the common man and the official artists of the the time period.  Further, kings participated in such arts.  The hymns and psalms written by David were not written in a vacuum - they have clear connections with longstanding traditions in the ANE (Ancient Near East).  "The forms and conventions of biblical poetry, so familiar in the Psalms, go back in origin two thousand years before David's time."2

Such conventions continued past David all the way to the Romans.  This is important in relation to claims that the psalms were written much after the time of David.  Added to this, many of the psalms (as you know) speak of events that are reported by Kings, I & II Samuel, and Chronicles to have occurred during David's time or were experienced directly by David.  Given this, there is no reason to doubt David wrote many of the psalms, especially since the method the text employs in specifically attributing certain psalms to David was a common convention during the time.


In contrast with the rules of Saul and David, because of the major building projects Solomon undertook, as well as records of his riches, it is easy to compare with his contemporaries in other kingdoms.

For example, the temple and palaces that Solomon built were similar both in scale and in style with other temples and palaces of the time.  Even the lavish use of cedar and gold plating - which is dismissed as mere fantasy by some - is corroborated by other such temples and palaces.  Certainly, the building projects of Solomon were impressive, but they were not out of the range of reality.

The visit of the Queen of Sheba is often regarded as fantasy as well.  But Kitchen shows why we cannot assume this.  He goes into great detail about where she probably came from (southwest Arabia), why she probably came (mostly trade), and the scope of her journey next to other journeys of royalty that actually took place.  It may seem like a journey of perhaps 1,400 miles is an invention, until one actually does some homework to find kings that led their armies 1,800 miles and 2,400 miles one way.

The great wealth of Solomon recorded in detail is deemed by some to be out of the realm of reality.  Twenty-two tons of gold a year seems absurd, as well as the thousands of liters of grain consumed by his household, court, and servants.  As far as grain, it would be accurate to say that Solomon & Co. liked to eat, but the numbers given are somewhat comparable to numbers of earlier kingdoms, and the amount of land needed to sustain Solomon & Co. for an entire year was about 5 square miles, well within reason for the size of his kingdom.  As far as his wealth, while it was impressive, it was not beyond the ANE.  In fact, one Egyptian Pharaoh gave to the Egyptian temples in 4 years what Solomon would accrue in 17.

There is much more to discuss with respect to Solomon (Pharaoh's daughter and dowry, chariot trade, etc.), but I will end the section on Solomon with his teachings.  The two bodies of works of Solomon's wisdom are Proverbs 1-24 and Proverbs 25-29 (Ecclesiastes was not discussed).  These two works are often credited by scholars to someone unknown, who lived centuries after Solomon and gave him credit for writing it.  The problem is that the style - significant parallelism - was common during the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC in wisdom writings (which were themselves common).  And the use of prologues was common in the early 1st millennium BC.  Solomon's life straddles these two periods, so it comes as no surprise that Solomon might employ the conventions of both.  A dating of the writing any later than early 1st millennium BC is untenable.

Now I should mention that much of what Kitchen asserts, while grounding the three kings in reality, seems to be in conflict with common evangelical notions.  That is- that Solomon's wealth was far beyond anyone's ever, that the size of Israel increased as "the sands of the seas", and that the temple of Solomon was more magnificent than any structure of the period, both in size and lavishness.  This is believed for the simple reason that the Bible says so.  But to Kitchen, it is clear (and he says so explicitly) that such claims by Kings and Chronicles are rhetoric.  He gives examples of Egyptian rhetoric that was similar - even such phrases as a population being like "the sands of the seas".  Solomon's wealth and temple were impressive, but in simple point of fact they were not the greatest in size and furnishings.  This sort of idea may be uncomfortable for some readers, but Kitchen sees no reason why the writers couldn't use rhetoric, nor why we cannot interpret some of what they say as rhetoric.

The Judges

Let's begin by briefly summarizing the people, places, and events of the time of the judges.  It's worth pointing out that the book of Judges isn't as much of a blow-by-blow as Joshua (which we will cover in Part III), nor is it entirely chronological.  It does record some of the later campaigns, then the majority of the book follows the major theme of Disobedience, Punishment, Contrition, and Deliverance (and sometimes Relapse) - DPCD (+R).  While the events are historical, the author(s) seem(s) to be more interested in the theological issues at hand.  There were likely more than 12 such judges (governors or local leaders almost), but the author(s) chose the twelve.

Right off the bat a certain discrepancy arises.  Many are "tempted" to read Judges as a narrative of continuous history.  If it is a narrative of continuous history and the author of Kings states that Solomon began building the temple "in the 480th year" since the exodus, a literal adding up of the time puts the exodus in or around 1447BC (incidentally, many conservative Christian scholars put the exodus in the 15th century BC - see the appendix of just about any study Bible).  But if we actually add up the years of all the judges successively, the minimum amount of time that passed from the exodus to Solomon's temple is 591 years, not 480.  And from the dates estimated by Kitchen (entering Canaan ~1210BC or slightly before - which we will cover in Part III, Solomon building the Temple ca. 967), the time from the beginning of the Exodus to Solomon's temple is 293/283 years.  What gives?

The reason is simply that some of the judges were contemporaries; some of them operated within a local geographical area.  Analogous discrepancies arise with other ANE kingdoms; there are various examples showing that there had to be overlap of various kings that must have ruled local areas of a given kingdom (as opposed to one mega-king like the Pharaohs of some of the major Egyptian dynasties).  Kitchen does not give any explanation for the 480 years in Kings.  He believes that the time of the judges spanned about 170/160 years.  He gives a basic table showing an estimation of where and when each judge likely lived.

We now move on to archaeology.  An important first step in silencing critics is to look at the Danites.  According to the details given in the Bible and the archaeological finds, "If the narratives in Judges and Joshua about Dan were born purely from some late writer's romantic imagination, how come so consistent a correlation emerges between the 'tales' and the archaeological sequence if they were separated by many centuries?  Otherwise so fortuitous a coincidence partakes of the miraculous."3  Another important piece of information is that if the writers of Exodus-Numbers-Deuteronomy and Judges had only invented the stories centuries later (as is a common view among skeptical scholars), the authors would have had no knowledge of the Midianites.  This is because the Midianites essentially disappeared around 1100BC, and had no lasting legacy like that of some of the older and mightier kingdoms.

Turning from archaeology to theology and literary motifs, we see that the "Deuteronomic Pattern" is not unique to Judges, and so was not likely made up.  There are other similar methods in other cultures; it is a good way of capturing history and teaching a lesson with that history.  Further, Judges 5 (and Exodus 15) - both triumphant hymns - are not unique to the ancient world.  With respect to Israel having twelve tribes, there were also other peoples made up of tribes; for example, the Suteans consisted of at least three tribes and the Haneans at least eight or ten tribes.

Now to the time period that connects Joshua to Judges.  Once again, we find the Egyptian records, archaeological finds, and the biblical record agreeing well; there is no reason to dismiss the factual claims made by the Bible.  In an effort to dismiss the idea that the Israelites came from across the Jordan (and so actually were from somewhere else journeying to a new land), various theories have been proposed.  Generally, it is thought that the Israelites were hill peoples in Canaan before expanding.  However, a rather large problem arises.  Based on current archaeology, the land east of the Jordan where Israel supposedly settled for a time saw a precipitous drop in population right when the Israelites were supposed to have crossed the Jordan and enter the highlands, and the archaeological evidence in the highlands west of the Jordan show a corresponding population explosion - a five-fold increase in a matter of decades.  One attempt to reconcile this evidence with the assumption that the Israelites were always from the highlands (and therefore couldn't possible have come from Egypt) that Kitchen found especially entertaining is the claim that the Israelites' cult must have undergone a sudden and massive shift, in which sex orgies became central.  This is the reason for the five-fold increase in population in 50-60 years.

One of the difficulties when it comes to archaeology of this time period is differentiating between Israelite and Canaanite settlements.  However, some trends in architecture and pottery have emerged that have helped in this difficulty.  For example, four-room houses, utilitarian collared-rim jars, and cisterns have become identifiers of an Israelite settlement.  Further, one other factor makes things much easier: diet.  The Philistines loved their pork, the Israelites ... not so much.  So if pig bones are found with other food refuse or if - in contrast - there is a paucity of pig bones, it becomes rather easy to tell who lived there.

In Part III we will cover the time of Joshua and the Exodus - always a controversial time period when it comes to establishing the historicity of the biblical story.

1.  Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 98.
2.  Ibid., p. 105.
3.  Ibid., p. 211.
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