A Royal Whodunit

Credit: BiblePlaces.com, Israel Museum

In Deuteronomy 7 Moses gives the Israelites confidence for their anticipated invasion of Canaan. “You may say to yourselves, These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out? But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt…Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.”

In 2 Kings, it was the Arameans who entered the territories of the Kingdom of Israel, but with a range of successes and failures in their battles. In 2 Kings 6, “Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria, before they experienced a reversal of fortune. In 2 Kings 8, “Ahaziah went with Joram son of Ahab to war against Hazael king of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The Arameans wounded Joram.” 2 Kings 10, “In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel. Hazael overpowered the Israelites throughout their territory, east of the Jordan in all the land of Gilead (the region of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh), from Aroer by the Arnon Gorge through Gilead to Bashan.” In 2 Kings 15, Aram reaches further south into the Kingdom of Judah. “In those days the Lord began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah against Judah.”

In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam led the split of the 10 northern tribes from the Rehoboam’s kingdom centered in Jerusalem, he established two competing sites for ritual worship, one at Dan at his kingdom’s northern edge and another at Bethel near his southern border: “One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.”

Tel Dan is an archaeological site in the northeastern corner of the Hula Valley, north of the Korazim Plateau and the Sea of Galilee. It is located where the Dan River feeds into Jordan River. This location would have been a potential entry point and target for an Areamean army heading south from Syria into the Israelite kingdom.

At Tel Dan, archaeologist Avraham Biran recovered the Tel Dan Stele. The consensus is that the stele dates to somewhere between the mid-9th to mid-8th century BCE. The language of the text is Aramaic, and the monument appears to have been set up by an Aramean king, who credits the Aramean god Hadad for his successes. The text is most famous for the claim that he defeated the king of Israel and the king of the ‘House of David,’ makings this is first generally accepted mention that attaches David of Judah to royalty.

While the stele is notable for its record of a battle between Aram and the combined forces of Israel and Judah, and specifically the mention of a political unit associated with (King) David, it differs from the Bible on one detail. In the Tel Dan Stele, as it is interpreted, the Aramean king claims to have killed Jehoram son of Ahab of Israel and Ahaziahu son of Jehoram kin of Judah, in the Bible the Arameans only wounded Joram, and in a palace coup, Jehu killed Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah.