[b-hebrew] question re: Tel Dan stela

George Athas gathas at hotkey.net.au
Thu May 27 08:57:30 EDT 2004

Hi Brian!

> When you say seemingly unanimous evidence, are you referring to all 
> those dozens of Israelite royal inscriptions? Oh, wait. There aren't 
> dozens of Israelite royal inscriptions. So then are you referring to 
> non-Israelite royal inscriptions for your standard against which to 
> measure the Tel Dan inscription? Clearly, there was enough of a cultural 
> difference between the Israelites and surrounding examples you might 
> cite that accounts for their lack of long royal inscriptions. This 
> cultural difference can account for the interpretation of Bayt Dawid as 
> a dynastic Davidic House.

Good point about the royal Israelite inscriptions. Are you saying that there were none, or that we have found none? The answer to that at this point in time must be that we don't know. It must be an argument from silence. I for one think that there probably were Israelite royal inscriptions, but since we don't have any in our domain we can't argue either for or against whether they did or did not refer to kings as 'king of [Dynastic Name]'.

In terms of epistemology and logic, if you are saying that I cannot make my point, then you cannot make your point either. There is no logically necessary link between proposing the likelihood of Israelite royal inscriptions and the use of the phraseology 'king of [Dynastic Name]' in those same inscriptions.

However, since the field of interest is not devoid of all royal inscriptions, I believe we can say something. I am not declaring the matter proven -- I am merely building a cumulative case. And there is far more evidence for saying that kings were not labelled as 'king of [Dynastic Name]' than there is to say that they were. Neighbouring cultures do not seem to have used that phraseology. Neither does it appear anywhere in the entire biblical corpus. Granted, the biblical corpus is not a royal inscription, but it is literary Hebrew.

Furthermore, bear in mind that the Tel Dan Inscription is not an Israelite royal inscription at all -- it is a Syrian royal inscription. To say that Israelite royal inscriptions may have used the phraseology in question is to argue from another culture -- the very thing you are arguing against. Following that logic, we may just as well argue the case from the fact that Aztec or Chinese inscriptions may have used the phraseology in question. If that is illegitimate, then what makes Israelite culture a legitimate measure? If it comes down to the fact that Israelite culture is sufficiently proximate or similar to Syrian culture, then we are back to my initial assertion.

Finally, you will notice that I used the terminology 'seemingly unanimous evidence'. I am aware that the case cannot be proved, so we must qualify the statement with the word 'seemingly'. This shows that I am building a cumulative case, not an absolute proof. But, then I believe that is also what you are trying to do. We have to weigh up the two arguments side by side, then, and see where the burden of proof lies.

To summarise, if we say that a neighbouring culture cannot be used as a standard here, and we use a neighbouring culture as the standard to back our argument, our argument defeats itself. I realise that you are saying an argument from silence has the potential to be an argument, but I want to say it also has the potential to argue against you. While the silence persists, we will have to build cumulative cases that appeal to the burden of evidence, rather than the absolutes of proof.

Best regards,

Lecturer in Biblical Languages
Southern Cross College
Sydney, Australia

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