The National Geographic News recently reported on the discovery of what may be the oldest known Hebrew text ever found. It was found near the valley where the young David is said to have battled the Philistine Goliath, and could lend historical support to some Bible stories. This 3,000-year-old pottery shard with five lines of text was found during excavations of the Elah Fortress, which is the oldest known Biblical-era fortress -dating to the 10th century B.C.
This is believed to be the most important archaeological discovery in Israel since the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The lead researcher from the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology believes the text may provide evidence for a real-life King David and his vast kingdom, the existence of which has never been believed by scholars. The technique of carbon-14 dating of items found at the archaeological site, and the analysis of other pottery remains nearby, also date the text to around the year 1000 and 975 B.C. That is when King David would have lived.
The fortress is located southwest of Jerusalem on what was the border between the Israelite-run Kingdom of Judea and the coastal Philistine territories. The Philistines settled the southern coast of Palestine around the same time as the Israelites, in the 12th century B.C. During the Biblical period, the Elah Valley was the main point of passage between the two territories.
It’s not known whether the Judeans or the Philistines controlled the strategic fortress overlooking the Elah Valley, which was surrounded by nearly 700-meter-long fortifications built of massive stones. The Israeli researchers believe the site was the westernmost outpost maintained by the Kingdom of Judea, which controlled land in southwest Asia and Palestine and was a predecessor to the Kingdom of Israel.
Pottery at the fortress is similar to that found at other Israelite sites, and there are no pig remains — an indicator that often distinguishes Israelite from Philistine sites, as the latter had no prohibition against eating pork. Garfinkel believes the Elah site could provide historic evidence of the United Monarchy in the 10th century B.C. That’s when King David is said to have united Judea and Israel, establishing a large kingdom that stretched between the Nile River in present-day Egypt and the Euphrates in Iraq, according to the Bible.
Though most researchers don’t believe King David’s kingdom existed, evidence from the pottery shard seems to support the idea of a strong central administration based in nearby Jerusalem, as detailed in the Bible, Garfinkel said. “There is a big debate if the Biblical tradition is accurate history or mythology written hundreds of years later … But this is the first time in the archaeology of Israel we have evidence that in the time of King David such heavily fortified cities were built.”