Bible's Buried Secrets (BBC) s01e01 Episode Script

Did King David's Empire Exist?

There is one figure in the Hebrew Bible who divides opinion like no other.
To many he's a simple shepherd boy, who defeated a giant, but for modern Israelis, David is a founding father.
A hero, whose star adorns their national flag.
The Hebrew scriptures describe how he united the tribes of Israel into one nation and made Jerusalem his capital.
But the account of King David in the Hebrew Bible, once considered a timeless record, is built on shifting sands.
Modern archaeology is challenging the historical accuracy of the Bible and this has huge implications for the region and the world.
There's very little evidence for the empire of King David in Jerusalem.
Around it is the most excavated piece of land on the face of the earth.
Still a century and half revealed very little.
But for many Israelis, archaeology is also a way to prove their claim to this land.
If anything we've ever found in Israel, this really sheds light on King David and on this first empire in Jerusalem.
In a country as fought-over, and contested, as Israel David's legacy, as set out in the Bible, is ammunition in an ideological war.
But some scholars are questioning the Bible's version of events.
They claim David's kingdom may not have been vast, or united.
Can we even talk about an historical David at all? In this series I want to show how, buried in the pages of the Bible, are secrets which challenge the beliefs of millions.
I begin by examining the evidence for and against one of its most famous and important stories.
Is the biblical account of King David true? And what are the consequences if it isn't? BIBLE'S BURIED SECRETS DID KING DAVID'S EMPIRE EXIST? Presented by Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible Studies University of Exeter I'm in Jerusalem, at the City of David, the place many believe to be the site of David's ancient capital.
It's a popular tourist attraction but it's also a place of pilgrimage for lots of Jews and Christians who want to explore their religious and cultural roots.
Here's what we're going to do.
Take a look down at the valley.
See the ancient walls of the city in the time of King David.
Can you see that? My name is Francesca Stavrakopoulou.
I'm an academic working in the field of biblical studies.
But on this tour I'm taking a back seat.
King David came here how long ago? Anybody? 3,000.
3,000 years ago.
The guides at the City of David confidently deliver information about the archaeological discoveries and explain their relevance to the stories of the Bible.
So most of the book of Psalms was written right here.
But as a biblical scholar, who's studied this period in depth, I think there's something very odd going on.
Evidence presented here as historical fact, I know to be ambiguous.
My academic experience tells me there's far more to the story of David than meets the eye.
Closer examination could turn this legendary figure, and his many achievements, to dust.
The story goes that David brought together two tribal regions.
Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
This new empire was the first to unite fully all the territories of the Israelites.
It was an unprecedented achievement, the fulfilment of a divine promise believed to go back centuries to the time of Moses when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.
The Bible says David's empire flourished in the 10th century BC.
But the dream was shattered.
It lasted just two generations.
David's realm was split into separate kingdom, each was swallowed up by larger empires.
Frequent attempts to wrestle back control and land from foreign rulers were short-lived.
It wasn't until the 20th century, 3,000 years later, that Israel became an extensive, fully-fledged state once again.
Symbolically, the reign of David has since become a golden age, a source of inspiration, but it's also become much more than that.
In the modern context, David's united kingdom has come to play a huge role in legitimising the very existence of the Jewish state.
But can we trust that the biblical account of King David is historically accurate? Some of the oldest written fragments of the Bible are kept here in Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book.
These religious texts, and the stories they tell, including that of King David, are venerated as a record of divine truth.
They are incontestable.
But, as an historian, I'm trained to take a more objective view.
For me, these texts cannot be untouchable.
They are archives to be analysed dispassionately like any other.
This approach often unearths evidence that directly contradicts the Bible.
So might this also be the case with David? I want to examine the best evidence for and against the biblical story of David, his united kingdom and the existence of David himself.
And to begin, I'm going to visit the biblical home of a very famous giant.
The rich farmlands just inland from the coast of modern Israel have been highly prized for millennia.
The Egyptians controlled this area for centuries, but, shortly before the biblical era of David, a new power took over.
The Philistines migrated by boat from the west, probably from what is now Cyprus.
They quickly established a permanent presence in territory along the coast.
The Philistines play a pivotal role in the biblical account of the life of David.
It's the threat of Philistine expansionism that prompts the ancient Israelites to elect their first king, Saul.
And Saul's desperate attempt to defeat the Philistine army is the backdrop to that most iconic of encounters, the battle between David and Goliath.
The young shepherd boy bravely accepts Goliath's challenge to a duel and, with one throw of his sling, brings down the Philistine's greatest warrior.
It's a fantastic tale of a brave underdog, who battles against the odds to win an unlikely victory.
This legend has become a universal archetype.
It resonates across cultures.
But at the heart of this myth is a real people, the Philistines.
And, remarkably, we have plenty of evidence for them.
The Philistines were an urban people.
They built large cities including this one at Tell es-Safi, a site which archaeologists identify as Goliath's home town, Gath.
'I'm looking for evidence here that the Philistines' were as dominant a force in the region as the Bible suggests.
It's also a rare chance for me to get my hands dirty.
So it's a very careful process.
Each area is mapped into much smaller squares, tying that to a map, essentially, of the site which is called a top plan.
So that as bits of pot and bone and other things come up, you know exactly where they've come from.
'Professor Aren Maeir has been leading excavations at Tell es-Safi for the past 14 years.
' One of his recent finds contradicts the biblical caricature of the Philistines as barbarians.
Oh, look, it's gorgeous.
This beautiful little figurine is a depiction of an Egyptian goddess, Bastet, who is a cat-like goddess.
This is a very, very nice example of the multiplicity of cultural influences that we see in the Philistine culture.
And now if we compare them to the Israelite sites we find very, very few foreign influences.
The Israelites at this time are much more insular.
The archaeology here overturns the Bible's picture of the Philistines as uncultured.
But the Bible also paints them as violent towards David's people.
Does Aren believe this stereotype to be true? In the beginning the Philistines have the advantage and they would have the economic interests to expand eastwards into the foothills and then perhaps into the central hills.
The Israelites would want to keep this territory.
So that's probably the underlying mechanism behind these confrontations.
The story of David and Goliath is probably hinting in that direction.
David's arch rivals may have been unfairly maligned as thugs but it's clear that, beneath the rhetoric, the Philistines were a threat.
They were well organised and they had the means to protect and possibly even advance their own territory.
Such finds don't necessarily make the Bible account true, but they do make the story of David more plausible.
The empire of the Philistines was real enough.
But can we say the same thing about David's kingdom? Did his conquests and state-building leave behind similar signs of a major empire? Proving the historical reliability of the Biblical story of David has always rested on finding evidence for his mighty empire.
And it was in the 1950s, not long after the creation of the modern state of Israel, that the search for signs of a Davidic kingdom took on a new urgency.
During this period, archaeology became more closely linked to a growing sense of national Jewish identity.
Many early archaeologists believed the Bible to be a reliable record of the past and assumed that hard evidence for David's ancient Israelite kingdom lay just beneath the earth.
But finding it was never going to be easy.
The Bible dates David's empire to about the 10th century, which is about 3,000 years ago.
So archaeologists were faced with the challenge of numerous layers of excavations, lots of civilisations and societies, not just Israelite but Greek and Persian and Roman, Arabic, Jewish and Christian, all built on top of each other.
The 10th-century evidence, if it existed at all, had to be carefully sifted from everything else.
Excavations of big mounds, or tels, dominated this period.
They were looking for traces of David's empire - inscriptions, palaces, luxury goods and monumental structures - any signs of a central authority.
Gradually, material remains emerged which appeared to confirm the Bible's account.
It was a golden age of biblical archaeology and one of its biggest stars was the charismatic Israeli archaeologist, Yigael Yadin.
In the mid 1950s, Yadin made a crucial connection, an apparently rock-solid theory, a touchstone for understanding Israel's ancient past.
One of the most important archaeological sites to be excavated in the 20th century was the ancient fortified city of Megiddo, in northern Israel.
Ancient Megiddo's size and splendour is evoked by this model at the site's museum.
And it's clues in the design of this city's fortifications which triggered Yadin's ground-breaking theory.
Yadin found evidence he believed supported a familiar verse in the Bible, in the Book of Kings.
The passage tells of David's son and successor, King Solomon, and his building exploits at a number of sites, including this one, at Megiddo in northern Israel.
It mentions the three biblical cities of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer - cities which Solomon rebuilt to extend David's empire.
Yadin focused on a particular feature of these fortified cities - their gates.
These are the remains of the entrance into Megiddo and this is one of the chambers inside its gate.
Chambers like these were vital defensive structures.
Should enemy forces break in, they were easily contained and killed in these tight spaces.
Yadin realised there was something striking about these gates.
They had six inner chambers.
Up to this point, gates with two or four chambers were much more common.
Then, while digging at the ancient city of Hazor, he found a gate of the exact same design.
Yadin immediately realised that this could be evidence of a centralised Solomonic building plan.
He'd identified two out of three cities.
The question was, would Gezer, the third place mentioned in Kings, match the same design? Gezer had also been excavated, so Yadin went to check its archaeological records.
To his surprise and excitement he found that Gezer, too, had a six-chambered gate.
In all the three cities mentioned in the Bible as rebuilt by Solomon - I repeat - Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor, identical fortifications and gates were found.
For many, this was the eureka moment.
The archaeology appeared to fit the biblical account perfectly.
The empire of David and Solomon was real.
Yadin's conclusions held sway for decades and many still accept his interpretations.
Yadin's findings, and more recent discoveries at sites like Tell es-Safi, seem to amount to a compelling case for the existence of Philistine and Davidic empires.
Yet more evidence that the Bible story of David could be true.
But Yadin's neat conclusions - in fact, his whole approach to biblical archaeology, were challenged and, some would say, overturned in the modern era.
It came with a reassessment of the motives behind the long tradition of archaeology in the Holy Land.
Jews and Christians, it was claimed, dug with a trowel in one hand and a Bible in the other.
Yigael Yadin was more than just an archaeologist.
He was also the former chief of staff of the Israel defence force.
I think the situation is still very dangerous.
As a result, he was closely associated with the hopes and dreams of the modern Jewish state.
Yadin died in 1984, so we'll never know to what extent that coloured his interpretations.
But in his wake came a new generation of archaeologists with a very different approach, one that would expose serious cracks in Yadin's theory.
Israel Finkelstein is co-director of excavations here at Megiddo and one of those trying to steer archaeology in a new direction.
Finkelstein, like Yadin, believes strongly in the legitimacy of a contemporary Jewish homeland, but he's wary of archaeology which is too ready to rubber-stamp the biblical version of Israel's past.
So Yadin started from a point where he accepts the biblical text, the biblical testimony as fully historical, so he can go to the field and say, "Well this building is from the time of Solomon because the Bible says that Solomon was active at Megiddo.
" However, you do not get a vessel here saying, "I was made by Solomon" or "Made by David" and the same goes for the walls that we see around us.
So Yadin, in fact, according to his own testimony, came to his conclusions without using any modern and sophisticated archaeological techniques, so we need to check the Yadin theory afresh.
'When Finkelstein and his colleagues re-examined Yadin's evidence at Meggido, 'they found there were flaws in how the site had been dated.
'Flaws which seriously undermined the biblical account of David and Solomon's empire.
' We found a group of pottery vessels here at Megiddo, in a palace, which had been dated by Yadin to the 10th century BC.
Now, ten miles from here, to the east, there's another site, Jezreel, where more recent excavations revealed the same style of pottery in a royal compound which dates to the 9th century BC.
Now this is very peculiar because if the pottery is the same it needs to date to the same period of time.
Written records from Assyria support the dating of royal buildings at Jezreel to the more recent 9th century.
So, Finkelstein reasoned, the Megiddo palace must also date to the 9th century.
Yadin had got his dating wrong by almost 100 years, and that meant David's successor, Solomon, could not be responsible for the palaces here at Megiddo.
He would have died decades earlier.
To be certain, Finkelstein also tested other sites, which, traditionally, had been linked to David's conquests and Solomon's monumental building.
And there, too, he found the same story - they were not 10th century, but the more recent 9th century.
Grain seeds, lentils like this and olive pits were sent to radiocarbon dating.
They came from layers in places such as Tel Dor on the coast and Rehov in the Jordan valley, layers which have traditionally been associated with the kingdom of David and Solomon.
The results were really surprising because they were in the 9th century, about one century later than the time of David and Solomon.
So can we be sure about this dating? How reliable is carbon dating? Well, radiocarbon dating does not provide you with a year, but the uncertainty for the 9th century is only between 20 and 30 years, which is good enough to show you that the Yadin's dating was wrong.
Finkelstein's findings have had far-reaching implications.
They cast serious doubts on the reliability of the Bible.
We have no traces of empire - no monumental buildings, no palaces, no destruction layers.
No signs that can be taken as evidence of King David's epic nation-building.
Of course, the possibility always remained that something would, one day, be unearthed.
But Finkelstein himself has shown that the chances of this happening remain highly unlikely.
To conquer towns and build an empire, David would have needed an army of thousands from his powerbase here in the south, Judah.
But how populated was the region? To measure levels of population in this area, Finkelstein set up large-scale surface surveys.
He harnessed great armies of students and had them scouring the land, painstakingly looking for the smallest signs of human settlement.
Fragments of every kind, spread over hundreds of square miles.
They built up a more accurate picture of 10th-century Judah, the territory of David.
These meticulous surveys revealed that settlement numbers were meagre.
Perhaps just 20 villages in total.
Not enough to form even the smallest of armies.
The expansive military conquests attributed to David's army would have been impossible.
In theory, he probably could have counted on rounding up a couple of hundred people at most.
What Finkelstein found was that society at this time was made up of shepherds and stock-raisers living in small farmsteads.
They were bound together, not by nationhood, but by kinship - family, clan and tribe.
Finkelstein appeared to have shattered the biblical image of a vast Davidic empire.
Judah, David's powerbase, had no major urban centres and the biblical projects attributed to his son, Solomon, never took place.
King David, he concluded, simply wouldn't have had the manpower to build and run an empire.
The biblical story of King David's major successes simply could not be true.
And this view has become increasingly accepted in scholarly circles since the 1990s.
With implications beyond the ivory towers.
It throws into question the achievements of a national hero, an inspiration for the modern state of Israel.
But the thing about this part of the world is there's always some archaeologist digging away.
And you never know what might turn up.
Well, in 2007, something DID turn up, and it threatened to overturn many of Finkelstein's ideas.
It was a find that promised to breathe new life into the biblical story of David.
For David to have ruled an empire in the 10th century, he had to have major cities.
Yet, of all the significant sites excavated in Israel, ancient settlements like Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer, none had revealed certain evidence of complex urban life from the time of David.
But in the summer of 2007, a dramatic discovery was made at a little-known site, Khirbet Qeiyafa.
Here was a fortified walled town, west of Jerusalem, in what was ancient Judah.
And it lay just beneath the surface.
This site was overlooked for decades.
But close examination suggests it's a key discovery.
It's been confidently dated to the time of King David and is said to be the first fortified city from that period.
And the key thing is it's in a pristine condition.
If it stands up, the evidence here would undermine Finkelstein's claim that ancient Judah, David's base, was a rural backwater.
'Head archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel has offered to show me some of 'the key features of this relatively new, but highly significant site.
' Welcome to Khirbet Qeiyafa.
It looks fantastic.
Thank you.
How long have you been digging? This is the fourth season.
So tell me a little bit about what we've got here.
The architecture is penetrating to the surface so here just after excavating five or ten centimetres, we are already in the 10th century BC in the time of King David and this is quite outstanding, because most of the other biblical sites like Hazor, Meggido, Jerusalem and other sites, if you want to go to the 10th century you need sometimes to excavate ten other layers before reaching this specific one.
So this is really a perfect situation.
It's like a biblical Pompeii.
What stands out it this discovery - large city gates.
A good indicator, some would say, of empire.
This gateway is real monumental architecture, isn't it? This is really a huge surprise to find such a stone.
This is at least six, seven or eight tonnes and it's absolutely clear that these fortifications cannot be built by just the few people who live in the city, there was a need to organise a much larger community, for villages and maybe towns around.
All this required engineering and a lot of manpower and I am sure that it's reflecting centralised authority and not just the community who lived here.
I'm sure that King David, when he came from Jerusalem, entered the city through this gate.
On the face of it, this is really compelling evidence and it certainly challenges a lot of my own ideas about this period.
In theory, if a defensive frontier city like this was in operation, then perhaps it was a part of a larger, more complex, urban society.
Khirbet Qeiyafa makes it more plausible that manpower existed to build and run a vast fortified kingdom.
So this might boost the credibility of the biblical account of David.
But where was the central authority which would have commanded fortress cities such as this? Yossi believes it must have been David's fabled capital Jerusalem.
If such an organised power base could be found there it would go a long way to confirming the biblical account.
But is there any 10th Century archaeological evidence in Jerusalem to prove this? The figure of King David is inextricably linked to the history and identity of Jerusalem.
His name appears wherever you look.
For many, the idea that David never ruled a kingdom from here is unthinkable.
Yet the likely extent of Jerusalem in the 10th Century is one of the greatest mysteries, and controversies, in biblical archaeology.
But a recent discovery at the City of David Archaeological Par has raised hopes among some that evidence connecting David to monumental building in Jerusalem has finally been found.
Doron Spielman represents the organisation running the park, which seeks to highlight the ancient Jewish heritage of Jerusalem.
Doron believes they have uncovered vital clues of a royal palace.
And he holds the view that pottery sherds, found here, date the structure to the 10th Century.
What motivated the recent excavations here? The excavations here are motivated by one line in the Bible.
After the young king David conquers this city, the City of David and creates it as the head of the Jewish empire in Israel, the philistines don't give him time to rest.
The Bible tells us that the philistines came and marched upon David in the city.
David, it says then, leaves his palace and goes down into his fortress.
From that one line we surmise that his palace must have been on top of the city and he went down to a fortress beneath it.
This is the top of the city of David just beyond me.
That's where my office used to stand and underneath my office, in fact, we found what maybe the offices of King David.
This is the largest structure dating to David ever found in the entire country.
This was built not by a small chieftain of a tribe, the only way this could have been built was by a complex economy where you had workers, artisans, architects, people defending the place and the people making money.
So how was this structure dated? When we remove pottery from within these walls, we have pottery that many archaeologists date to the 10th century BC exactly to the time of King David.
If anything we've ever found in Israel, this really sheds light on King David and on his first empire in Jerusalem.
On the face of it, this is a significant find.
If true, it would undermine Israel Finkelstein's claim that there was no empire of David in the 10th Century.
But is the dating of this structure entirely accurate? Repeated excavations have mixed up the pottery remains, making the dating of the structure here highly contentious.
I meet up with Israel Finkelstein again to gauge his response to the evidence for David's Palace.
Well, I find it very difficult to accept first and foremost, because I do not think that you can use the Bible as a guide to the topography of ancient Jerusalem.
You cannot walk with the biblical text in the City of David and read about David or anybody else going down and going up and looking for a way up or a way down.
So what do you think this structure is? Well, first of all it's very difficult to say whether this is one building or several structures.
Things are kind of mixed there.
Probably as far as I can judge from the very little evidence of pottery that could be found there, it was built in the 9th Century BC not in the 10th Century BC.
The piece of land behind us, the City of David is the most excavated on the face of the earth, as far as I can judge.
Still a century and a half of excavations revealed very little in the way of the 10th Century BC.
Drawing firm conclusions about this structure is hard because pottery sherds from different eras have been mixed up.
But, on balance, what pottery there is points to this being from the 9th, not the 10th Century.
Despite the best efforts of some archaeologists conclusive evidence for David's glorious capital has simply failed to materialise.
'And from what I have seen, this is just another example 'of David's many achievements, as described in the Bible, 'that doesn't appear to stand up to archaeological enquiry.
' So where does that leave us? There's no evidence of a Davidic empire in the 10th Century at the cities the Bible says David's son Solomon rebuilt.
And David's great wars of conquest are highly unlikely, given the low population numbers.
True, there's the impressive 10th Century fortress city at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
It could be Israelite and may, in theory, have been built to defend a central administrative centre, a capital city like Jerusalem.
But no evidence has yet been found to suggest that Jerusalem was the centre of an empire in the 10th Century.
So the Bible's claim, and indeed modern Israel's claim, that David united the northern and southern tribes into a fabulous empire ruled from his stronghold in Jerusalem remains just that - a claim, nothing more.
Without evidence for a united kingdom, the historical reliability of the biblical story of David looks threadbare.
It leaves just one part of the story standing, the existence of David himself.
But can we even be sure of that? The Israel Museum contains many highly-prized treasures.
But I've come to see one which is key to the debate about David.
For decades, archaeologists had searched in vain for written evidence of David.
Most scholars agree that the Hebrew bible alone could never prove his existence.
An external reference had to be found to establish David as a historical figure.
Yigael Yadin found nothing in the 50s or 60s.
Neither did the next wave of archaeologists in the 70s and 80s.
But then, in 1993, a breakthrough.
A stele or stone slab with fragments of writing that mentioned David, known as the Tel Dan inscription.
It was found in the hill-top settlement of Dan near the border with Lebanon in what was then the ancient northern kingdom of Israel.
The inscription is dated to the early 8th century and it lists the past conquests of a king of Damascus.
It's an impressive find.
A public statement of an ancient king's power.
But made all the more important by one small but crucial detail.
It mentions David.
The roll call of the defeated appears to include one Ahaziah, a king, the inscription tells us, belonging to a royal dynasty.
The house of David.
Finally it seemed we had an archaeological reference to him.
A tangible sign of his existence.
It was a crucial discovery but, like so many finds, initially its authenticity was contested.
Some questioned the translation, others even claimed it was a forgery.
Most people now accept the Tel Dan inscription is genuine but there is still disagreement about it's significance.
Does it offer definitive evidence of King David? I'm not so sure it does.
The Tel Dan inscription was written about a century and half after the period of David.
Enough time, perhaps, for a fictional story of a legendary founding figure to develop.
But other scholars disagree.
For them the Tel Dan Stele is a solid marker of a real person.
They also believe that the Biblical account relating to David is simply too detailed to be entirely made up.
I'm going to meet one such person, the eminent American academic Baruch Halpern.
He's on vacation here in Jerusalem, so I've invited him out for dinner.
Where else but the King David Hotel? Can Baruch say for certain that King David really existed? So why is Tel Dan and the inscription found there, why is it so important? Until that stele was uncovered, it was possible to claim that David was an invention on the order of King Arthur.
A legendary figure, invented late.
The reality is that Tel Dan established that David did exist, was a person, was the founder of a dynasty, but that doesn't tell us what he was or what he did.
So how do we find out who he was and what he did? We're thrown back on two kinds of evidence - biblical narrative and archaeology.
Each is subject to doubt to scepticism, each is constructed into history somehow, and bridging that gap is the historical imagination of the scholar.
Let's talk about David and the Bible.
He's not a one dimensional character at all.
Do you think that might tell us something about the historicity of David or the traditions dealing with him? It's the right question.
He ain't no plaster saint! He murders a bunch of people on his way to the throne.
All the people he murders he has alibi's for, so the text is defending him against the accusation that he murders these people.
That already tells you that he must be authentic.
You don't get that kind of defence, that kind of alibi, for fictional characters.
So where are the biblical writers getting their information from? Are they drawing on archival material, other sources? Some of it is derived from memory, oral memory.
Some of it has to be from documents, payrolls, the names of Saul's grandchildren, for example.
That's not something they're getting orally, I don't think.
I mean there's so little evidence for Judah having attained statehood in the 10th century, and my natural assumption is to be sceptical.
Yeah, that's the difference between your historical imagination and mine.
Did David exist? The David that exists in popular imagination, the David of David and Goliath, uh-uh.
That David doesn't exist.
That's a fictional character.
But the politician David, the guy you couldn't trust as far as you could throw him, he existed.
"You can't stab your enemies in the back," is an old saying.
And he didn't, he stabbed his enemies in the front and his friends in the back! Baruch has been charming company.
I share his taste in fine-dining, but I remain sceptical about the Biblical account of David.
For me, it could still be a legendary story.
The fact I keep coming back to is that we have very little - if any - evidence from the biblical period of David.
We've got the Tel Dan inscription, but even that was written 150 years after his reign.
As a historian, I expect more tangible evidence.
A king as mighty as David should have left behind clearer signs of his power.
Some scholars, anxious to defend the biblical record, claim that the evidence of his empire has simply not yet been found.
But I don't buy that argument.
Because for me there are clear signs of a mighty king of Israel who did leave a mark in the archaeological record.
Remarkably it's evidence from just a few generations after the period of the biblical David.
And there are no ambiguities about the existence of this flesh and blood king.
The Louvre in Paris is home to an ancient inscription.
The Mesha stele.
It was first discovered in the 19th century in what was the ancient kingdom of Moab - now modern Jordan.
The inscription describes the military successes of a king of Israel called Omri in the early ninth century, just a few decades after the biblical era of David.
And it would seem from this inscription that he gave the poor Moabites quite a beating.
It reads, "Omri, king of Israel humbled Moab many days.
" According to the inscription, Israelite occupation of Moab continued under Omri's son with the building of new strongholds in Moabite territory.
So this evidence, from outside the Bible, not only names but also describes in some detail the expansionist policies of an Israelite king, just a few generations after David.
By contrast, the best written evidence for David is the fleeting mention of a house of David on the Tel Dan stele.
Omri sounds like a far more credible figure of history.
A king who had the power and status to make his mark.
And, unlike King David, Omri really did leave his footprint in the archaeological record.
And it's still visible centuries later.
I'm back in Israel, heading north, to a site I've always wanted to visit.
It's a place called Samaria, capital of the ancient northern kingdom of Israel, and Omri's powerbase.
But getting there means crossing the green line, with a military escort, into the occupied West bank.
This region has always been very desirable, the land is rich and fertile, but as a result it's always been fought over as well.
Omri wasn't the last person to have to use military might to hold it in his own control.
You've got a lot of Jewish settler communities living side by side, not altogether comfortably, of course, with Palestinian Muslim settlements too.
It's a fraught, tense place.
It was Omri who first put this place on the map by building his capital here.
And unlike Jerusalem from the same period, this was no-one horse town.
Samaria was a huge, elaborate city.
So much of my research as an academic has been taken up with this particular part of the world.
This was once an important, potent, powerful capital.
My love of the ancient Israelites and Judahites really comes alive here, this is where my kings were.
What is astonishing about this place is that, amongst the layers of later civilisations, fragments of Omri's original city, walls and foundations, can still be seen and studied.
Omri is said to have come to power through a coup-d'etat and quickly extended his lands into a mini-empire.
Certainly, Settlements in the north grew, trade boomed, population rose.
In Omri's time, elaborate administrative centres were built, and, unlike David's empire, we can see the evidence.
The largest was this vast compound.
They had to build a huge podium here as a platform for the palace complex.
It would have required massive filling and levelling operations.
Another key indicator of empire is trade in luxury goods, and Samaria doesn't disappoint.
500 ivory fragments, including 200 decorated pieces, were found here.
Further evidence that Omri ruled over an advanced state.
It's pretty clear to me that if an expansionist and mighty king like Omri left such an obvious trace in the archaeological record, then king David, about whom the Bible makes even bigger claims, should also have left a clear, visible footprint.
The visible extent of Omri's empire, and the scant evidence for David's, proves to me that we can't just take the Bible's account of David at face value.
So is the story too exaggerated to be historically reliable? I've looked at all the significant evidence for and against the biblical story of David as a record of history.
And it's not a convincing picture.
The historical David may or may not have existed, the jury's still out on that.
But the lack of evidence for his great united kingdom, in contrast to the wealth of information about Omri, makes the very existence of his empire questionable.
If the story of David, as laid out by the Bible, is not reliable, it does beg a key and unavoidable question.
Why was this great story written? What purpose does it fulfil? For once there is a clue in what the Bible says - or rather in what it doesn't say.
Isn't it odd that there's virtually nothing about Omri and his achievements? Well, Omri is in the Bible, but blink and you'll miss it.
Just one fleeting passage.
Not exactly a great write up.
Why is the biblical account so silent when it comes to a significant historical figure like Omri, and yet so lavishly attentive to David for whom there's so little evidence? The answer may help us get to the bottom of what the story of David is really all about.
To understand what's really going on with the story of David, we have to recognise that the Bible is not a history book.
It's religious literature, shaped by ideological and political factors This can result in a biased account.
To see how easily bias can find its way into a nation's archive, I've come to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem to look at some historic maps of ancient Israel.
Some of the maps reveal a great deal about the interests and motives of the people who drew them.
This map's from 1927, but interestingly a lot of the place names are glossed with little details about biblical stories.
So for example, "Here King David ruled," we're told.
There's also an elephant here and camels, so clearly there's some intention to make this look like an exotic place, somewhere different, somewhere unusual.
'And this same kind of spin is there in the Bible story of David.
'The triumphs of the great northern king Omri are barely mentioned.
' Later kings of the north all get a bad press, and their achievements are downplayed.
That would suggest to me that the biblical authors are anxious to promote their own version of events.
They claim the territories of the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah were united under David.
According to the Bible they were lands of the same chosen people.
But Omri and the northern kings are comprehensively stitched up by the biblical authors.
This anti-northern spin tells me that Judah and Israel were far less united than the Bible is prepared to admit.
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say I don't believe that Israel and Judah were ever united under a Davidic king at all.
And once we accept that Israel in the north and Judah in the south were independent, rival kingdoms, it becomes easier to identify which region controlled the writing of the Hebrew bible.
Judah.
And this explains why the story of David was written the way it was.
In the 9th and 8th centuries, the north - Israel - had the upper hand.
Then in the 7th century it was the southern kingdom - Judah - in the ascendancy.
And it's at this time that founding stories about origins and identity begin to take shape.
It's a story filtered through the experiences of Judah, their conflict with Israel, and the rise of their holy capital, Jerusalem.
But a sacred capital of a holy nation needs divinely ordained leadership.
And for a king to have been truly chosen by God, he needed land and lineage, a vast empire, and a line of descent David may not have achieved these great heights of power, but the dynasty bearing his name had survived.
And, just a few generations later, he became the perfect model for the biblical writers, who moulded him into a charismatic king who united all the tribes of Israel.
He was immortalised as ruler over one people, in one land, living under one God, with one temple in Jerusalem.
My search has shown me that the events of David's life as described in the Bible probably never took place.
But in some ways that shouldn't matter.
It's the meaning of the story of David which has proved so resilient.
Even now, it's a source of hope and solidarity for modern Israelis and the Jewish faith.
It's incredible that a 3,000 year old story should continue to play such a pivotal role in the identity politics of a modern state like Israel.
But I sense dangers here, both to archaeology and to Israel's identity.
I do talk about politics and archaeology, but not like that about archaeology Yonathan Mizrachi is an archaeologist who shares my fears.
He believes that the objectivity of some archaeology has been compromised by nationalist attempts to reinforce ancient claims to this land.
I must say that I'm an Israeli.
I think there are a lot of reasons why I should live in Israel, historical reasons, traditional reasons, religious reasons.
But I don't see archaeology as a way as to prove the belonging of the Israeli people to this land, or to use it as a claim for sovereignty in any future political agreement.
So if archaeology can't prove or disprove the existence of an historical figure, what can it do and what should it do? Archaeology is about cultures, how people lived, what was their daily life? What was the relationship, for example, between man and woman? What was the relationship between the people that lived in Jerusalem and other cities? Accepting past cultures, according to my understanding, is a very important tool to accepting present cultures and here we are living next to different cultures.
And I strongly believe that, if people can follow this kind of understanding, it will be easier for them to accept the differences among the society today.
This may still be a promised land for the Jewish people, but the use of science to try and prove ancient, divine rights to this territory is a dangerous exercise.
As I've seen, the results can back-fire, and undermine those very claims.
Religion speaks to the mysterious and unexplained part of us.
Whereas politics deals with the here and now.
Perhaps they should remain apart, for the sake of all the people of this land.
Next week I look at monotheism.
Did the people of the Bible believe in one God, or in many Gods? BIBLE'S BURIED SECRETS DID KING DAVID'S EMPIRE EXIST?