The City of David and Solomon
Looking at the historical rather than the biblical evidence, the vicissitudes of the Bronze Age and Iron Age Jerusalems appear as moments in the tale of an ordinary city of “Hatti-land.” Yet Jerusalem has come down to us as an extraordinary city. The link—and the separation—between the urusalim of the retenu, amurru (Amorites), and Judahites on the one hand and the extraordinary city of the so-called Abrahamic faith traditions on the other hand is Scripture. Scripture has forever conditioned the way in which this city is remembered. The biblical historians whose work became part of Scripture preserved historical memories but they shaped them into exemplars, prescriptions, and retrojected utopias of what the city ought to have been and hence should become “again.” If one strips the biblical accounts of their theological judgments, their idealization of their heroes, and their demonization of their foes; if one then augments one's telling with what is known from other Ancient Near Eastern sources, as well as from archeology and epigraphy; the result of such surgical operations may never be more than a sequence of plausible, though far from certain, events, names, dates, and events, which is about as much as one can do for ancient history. The story of ancient Jerusalem is nevertheless the story of a real city, with real people who lived and breathed. What is extraordinary about the early city is not its existence or experience but that we know so much more about it than we do about any other city of the ancient southern Levant. The reason for this difference is Scripture. The city was remembered. It was also rebuilt in later ages. One might say, she was rebuilt twice: once in memory and once in fact. Even as we seek to tell the story of Jerusalem as it was before Scripture came into being, we realize that this story never really be narrated without always already referring to and relying on Scripture.

The most glaring difference between critical history and the received story of Jerusalem concerns the age of David and Solomon, which according to the Bible, was the time of a “united monarchy” that broke apart after Solomon’s death. David and Solomon are towering figures in the biblical and western traditions, and modern historiography on ancient Israel long accepted the historicity of these characters and the basic authenticity of the biblical accounts of their reign. Most people believe that these figures and their actions are not just paradigmatic but historically factual. Yet it is possible to describe the early history of the city as a plausible sequence of causes and effects, circumstances and developments, that can be known at least in outlines even without taking into account the legendary founders. In contrast to some of the later kings, David and Solomon are exclusively attested in Scripture.(1) Whether or not these personages existed is secondary to the fact that they appear to us as figures in Scripture. This means that, contrary to how they appear to us through Scripture, they are not necessarily part of the founding of Jerusalem or of the Israelite state, but rather figures of a cultural memory shaped by historians working in hindsight and in light of the reign of later Judahite kings, including Hezekiah and Josiah.

The idea of a “united kingdom” is something we know from Scripture alone. According to Scripture, David was the second king of Israel after Saul, a Benjaminite. David is credited with the unification of two political entitities, namely, Judah (plus Benjamin) and Israel. The story surely has a historical core; in light of the Tel Dan stela’s confirmation of the royal title “House of David,” the name of the eponymous founder of the Judahite dynasty has been independently confirmed. But the way in which it came down to us represents the utopian projection into the past of the political projects of Hezekiah or Josiah, the kings who sought to bring the lands of the erstwhile kingdom, centered in Samaria, under Judahite or Jerusalemite rule. The historiographic project may have been conceived under Hezekiah, who rebelled against the Assyrians, or under Josiah, who no longer faced Assyrian power and whose acts of expansion and centralization, as described in 2 K 22-23,  find a clear echo in the archeological record. In either case, the David of the deuteronomistic historians represents the great uniter, the one who was approached by the Israelite elders with the request to rule over them, and Zion (Jerusalem) was the fortress he conquered and named for himself (“City of David”) and chose as the seat of his kingdom. In light of archeology (“absence of evidence”) and literature (de facto vassalage to Israel and Damascus in Kings, confirmed by prophetic literature), this scenario is highly improbable. On the other hand, it was useful as a founding legend used by the later kings to promote unity and the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s rule over “all Israel.”(2) The “House of David” needed an ancestor in order to trace the legitimate succession of the later kings to a proper origin, but whether the historical David was very much like he was remembered later cannot be ascertained. The David of Scripture is therefore a literary figure and his power over our imagination rests on the biblical account rather than on his historicity. As to the truth behind the “united kingdom,” Judah and Israel were indeed united, though most likely with Israel as the dominant partner and Judah as Israel’s vassal. Under the House of Omri, Judah was a junior partner within Israel’s expansive realm. This scenario, if it was the case, must have been odious enough for the landed aristocracy of Judah to enjoy the counter-narrative offered by the story of the united kingdom, the illegitimate breaking away of Israel from the House of David, and the come-uppance of the north due to its disobedience to YHWH and Jerusalem.

Finally, some of the biblical accounts (or the attention of later readers) describe the Solomonic temple as if it had been the only legitimate place of worship from the start, and this is how it has been received by our monotheistic traditions. In contrast, in our telling the Jerusalem temple is no more than an ordinary royal chapel used as a treasury and symbol of royal power that took on the singular qualities we are used to read into it only late in the history of the kingdom, when it became the cultic center of an ambitious act of centralization and expansion in defiance (or imitation) of Assyrian power. To gain a realistic picture of ancient Jerusalem, its royal house, the political vicissitudes of the city, and its cultic status, we largely neglected the Book of Chronicles as a source or used it very sparingly. The reason for treating Chronicles in this way is that, by all accounts, its authors represent the perspective of the Jerusalem-based, post-exilic Jewish community living under Achaemenid Persian rule (see below, chapter II). It is in Chronicles where Jerusalem’s centrality is always already presupposed,(3) whereas in Samuel and Kings the originally more marginal position of Jerusalem to the political history of Israel (the northern community) is not yet completely obscured. The difference in emphasis between our telling and the biblical or conventional one (obtained by harmonistic readings of deuteronomistic and chronistic history) has important consequences.

Among these consequences is the following. From our perspective it makes little sense to refer to the early history of Jerusalem, or any part of it, as the “First Temple Period.” This classification, found in rabbinic sources, is used by many modern historians to refer to the period between David/Solomon and the Babylonian destruction of the city (c. 1000-586). The term presupposes a “scriptural” or biblicist point of view, according to which the Jerusalem temple of post-exilic times represented a mere restoration of the Solomonic temple, in the sense in which it is described in Chronicles, ignoring that the “second temple” was, in constitutional terms, an innovation. (We will see in the next chapter that the second Judahite commonwealth was centered in a temple city that differed significantly from its predecessor.) The Book of Chronicles and the Pentateuch, both products of the post-exilic period, served as the founding legends of a temple-based community that delineated this community’s institutional and communal boundaries. This characterization is true even if both Chronicles (as we saw) and the Pentateuch have roots in pre-exilic law and lore. The label “First Temple Period” subjects the Jerusalem(s) that existed and functioned before and outside of biblical historiography to this later community’s perspective. It gives expression to their assumption of continuity and their claim to legitimate succession. There is nothing wrong or illegitimate about this strategy of establishing a past as long as we recognize it for what it is, i.e., what assumptions are made when we think of pre-586 Jerusalem in terms conceived after 539. The received view of temple restoration and continuity with the pre-exilic period configures that past in light of a later age and it provides that later age with the dignity of repristination. Temple restoration is a popular device in the Ancient Near East by which the impieties of conquest and change are masked as pious acts of renewal. It dispells the impression of innovation, which was considered sacrilegious. But if we wish to understand how an ordinary city of the southern Levant grew into the holy city of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, it is essential to keep later judgments at arm’s length. We therefore suggest to avoid, as much as possible, the expression “First Temple Period” as a qualifier of the early history of Jerusalem. Such avoidance has the added advantage that it helps us to see the continuities between Bronze Age and Iron Age Jerusalem, a continuity that is also suggested by some of our biblical historians themselves, namely, where they suggest that the pre-Davidic “Jebusites” were not driven from the city but lived among the Judahites “to this day.”

Footnote 1 This is not to deny that some features of the stories about David and Solomon may be historical or that the later compilations may contain authentic traditions. On the whole question see FINKELSTEIN and SILBERMAN (2006).

Footnote 2 It seems as if, in a compromise between north and south, the south provided the dynastic ruler and the single royal shrine, treasury and city, while the north provided the name “Israel,” which was of obvious ancient dignity. The melding of two or more local traditions is also evident in the patriarchal stories of Genesis, where it has long been noted that Abram/Abraham represents Hebron (=David) while Jacob represents Shekhem (=Israel). To be sure, the Genesis stories as we have them were most likely shaped in the period of exile and return. (Hence Abram’s origins in the “Ur of the Chaldeans,” i.e., the neo-Babylonians.

Footnote 3 Cf. Gary N. Knoppers, “’The City YHWH Has Chosen’: The Chronicler’s Promotion fo Jerusalem in Light of Recent Archaeology” in VAUGHN and KILLEBREW (2003): 307-326.