David Inscription

The House of David Inscription

By far the most celebrated find from Dan, the House of David inscription is a late ninth-century BCE victory text inscribed on basalt stone in the Aramaic language. An Aramaean king, most likely Hazael of Damascus, occupied the Israelite city of Dan sometimes probably in the 840s, after which he evidently erected this inscription in a public place to indicate his suzerainty over the city. After his hold on the city ended, the Israelites seem to have torn down the inscription, broken it up and reused its fragments in the construction of a new outer gate –– a fitting end to the hubris of their conqueror. As a result of this appropriation of the inscribed fragments as building materials, excavator Avraham Biran discovered extant pieces within the wall of the outer gate in secondary context.

Why is this inscription so important historically? In this text, the Aramaean king claims to have killed the kings of both Israel (Joram) and Judah (Ahaziah) in the course of his southern conquests. Interestingly, this parallels an account of the murders of Joram and Ahaziah in 2 Kings 9, but in the Hebrew Bible’s account it is Jehu who kills the two kings in a bloody coup and seizes the throne of Israel for himself! So we have a strange, complicated set of parallel texts, in which each names a different murderer. More importantly perhaps is the fact that the Aramaean king refers to the kingdom of Judah by its dynastic name, a name frequently used in the Hebrew Bible as well: the House of David. This not only indicates that the family of David still sat on the throne of Jerusalem, but this inscription represents the oldest textual reference to the historical King David ever discovered!

The House of David inscription is comprised of three related basalt fragments, which the Israelites apparently broke up following the end of foreign occupation by the Aramaean king who commissioned the Aramaic text in the 840s BCE.

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Artist Gila Cook discovered the first major fragment of the inscription inside the wall of the outer gate. The fragment had been reused as constructional material.

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