[b-hebrew] RE: question re: Tel Dan stela

Scott Needham jsn at hwhome.com
Tue May 25 13:15:57 EDT 2004

Mssrs. Washburn and Hurwitz:

 | It's generally assumed that the inscription has two words but
 | lacks a word-divider symbol between them. There are profuse
 | explanations for this.

Care to share?  I'll be trying to get Athas' book this afternoon, and
I'm anticipating, in true dissertation style, an exhaustive review of
prior work

 | George Athas is the local expert on the Tel Dan inscription. He
 | has as much info as you could want on his web page. I don't have
 | the address handy, but a google or altavista search under his
 | name and Tel Dan should turn it up pretty quickly.

IIRC, this site went down in flames with xoom.

 | I can not comment on Lemche's position here because I'm not
 | familiar with it. It is known that intially he regarded the Beit
 | David inscription as fraud, but later changed his mind.

Well, here it is, below.  As more often than not, NLP eschews
citations that might help folks like me, which, more often than not,
makes me wonder about the value of his assessment.  So, if this
reproduced text spurs further comment, I'd appreciate it.

>From pages 47-60 of the _Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition_
per my original cite; this text forms a complete section of the
article.  Unfortunately, I have no Hebrew font, so Hebrew characters
are omitted where the brackets appear with enclosed gibberish.  Also,
'_' is used to enclose words in italics.

David or 'House of David'?

However this may be, the most important questions remains: Is King
David of Israel mentioned by this text? In this connection only 11.
8-9 of fragment A are relevant. Let us review these lines without any
reconstruction of the content of the lacunae:

  [Hebrew characters of lines 8 and 9 with lacunae in blank]

The king of Israel is mentioned in 1. 8; in 1. 9 follows bytdwd. The
first impression is without doubt that this should be seen as a
reference to the Kingdom of Judah known from the Old Testament. This
explains why most contributors to the discussion of the text have
reconstructed the lacuna before ['fl~f1'~] in this way:[~t~J]. Thus
the kings of Israel and Judah seem to appear in the same context.

Maybe one would like to ask the question: Why write `(the) house of
David' (in one word)? Why not simply Judah?

Israel, or in the terminology of modern scholars, the Northern
Kingdom, most regularly appears in contemporary inscriptions as either
the 'House of Omri' (Akkadian Bit Humriya, in Hebrew it would be
['10il C1':I]) or Samaria (or Samarina, Hebrew [i 1CV]) following the
name of the capital of the kingdom. The phrase 'House of Omri' is
never used as the name of the state of Israel in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament uses as the name of this kingdom either `Israel' for
Samaria or 'Ephraim'-the latter name never used outside the Old

The Mesha inscription from ancient Moab dating from the ninth century
BCE seems to use `Omri' in two different ways-as a personal name and
as the name of the kingdom of Israel in this context:

Omri conquered all the land of Madeba, and he stayed there in his time
and half of his son's time, altogether 40 years. (11. 7-8).

This line is usually taken to refer to Omri, king of Israel. However,
if the reference to `Omri' is to the _person_, how could he stay in
Madeba `half of his son's time'? It is obvious that Omri is to be
understood as the apical name of the kingdom and not the person Omri,
who is intended in the last part of the passage in question.

In normal conditions the regular parallel in ll.8 and 9 in the Tel Dan
inscription would be

...king of Israel ...king of Judah...

or else
...the king of the House of Omri... The king of the House of David...

The way in which 'House of David' is written in the Tel Dan fragment
creates another problem. In the Old Testament `the House of
David'--[71-1 n1:1]--always appears as two words, not as one word as
at Tel Dan.

Neither do we have any evidence in the Old Testament or in ancient
Near Eastern inscriptions attesting the title `king of the House of
X'. Accordingly, we never find the word-pair in the Old Testament:
`king of the House of Omri'//`king of the House of David'. Whenever
the 'House of David' is mentioned in the Old Testament, it always
functions as the dynastic name of the Kingdom of Judah (or Jerusalem),
in exactly the same way as the 'House of Omri' in ancient inscriptions
indicates the Kingdom of Israel. The state gets its name from the name
of its ruling royal family or from the name of the founding family of
the state (whether real or mythical).

Thus, Jehu is in an Assyrian inscription referred to as the `son of
Omri', which he of course was not. In the ancient Near East of the
Iron Age such dynastic names appear with a certain frequency. This
practice includes the Aramaean states of Syria and Mesopotamia, such
as _Bit Adana_, _Bit Gusi_, among others. These names are always
written in two words in Akkadian, as in Aramaic inscriptions including
a word divider (.). Only place names may occasionally appear as one
word, as does, for instance, Bethel. (I owe this observation to the
German scholar Axel Knauf)

The appearance of the _single_ word, _bytdwd_, has induced some
scholars-including Thomas Thompson and myself-to ask the question:
Does the Tel Dan inscription at all speak about `the House of David'?
(Lemche and Thompson 1994). May _bytdwd_ be nothing more or less than
a reference to a locality and function as a toponym of a place, for
example, in the vicinity of Dan? Or might it be the name of an object
of some sort? We might, for instance, think of _bytdwd_ as the name of
a temple devoted to a deity, _Dwd_-something that earlier scholars
such as Gosta Ahlstrom believed could be identified on the basis of
Hebrew personal names (Ahlstrom 1959). Other scholars have referred to
a passage in the aforementioned Mesha inscription (1. 12), in which
King Mesha boasts of having removed something called [71'fl'f ~R-IA]
from its sacred place at Atarot. In most translations, the passage is
rendered along the lines of `and I removed its DWD-altar(?) from its
place...' We do not, however, know for sure if this is a special altar
constructed according to a DWD-model, or whether it was an altar
devoted to a deity called DWD. However, this passage in the Mesha
inscription may indicate that not every inscription bearing the
element [dwd/'Tl 7] might include a reference to biblical King David.
It might not be the House of King David which is mentioned in the Tel
Dan inscription.

It would, however, be a mistake to say that many people-except for a
few specialists-have accepted any interpretation of the phrase
_bytdwd_ according to which the _bytdwd_ is not the House of King
David of the Old Testament. This is easy to understand when, on the
one hand, we consider the closeness between the expression _bytdwd_ in
1. 9 and the mentioning of Israel in 1. 8, and, on the other hand, we
remember that it is part of human nature to look for confirmation of
one's own preferences. I will return to this subject in my closing

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