Tell Dan Inscription and David

We just got done studying the Tell Dan inscription in Old Aramaic class. It is very interesting because it mentions Israel and the “House of David.” However, what I have been amused at is minimalists who try to get around this with all kinds of downright juvinile arguments. Minimalists are scholars and archaeologists who believe that little or no archaeology can support the Hebrew Bible. Of course, when I did a Google search on it, I found the Wikipedia entry, with all of their arguments against it having any Biblical relevance. Just look at how bad some of the arguments are against the idea that this actually refers to the “House of David:”

Due to the mention of both “Israel” and the “House of David“, the Tel Dan Stele is often quoted as supporting evidence for the Bible. However, critics have suggested other readings of ביתדוד, usually based on the fact that the written form “DWD” can be rendered both as David and as Dod (Hebrew for “beloved”) or related forms.In ancient Hebrew a dot was sometimes used to divide separate words. For example, the phrase “House of David” could be written as בית•דוד. The writer of the Tel Dan Stele did not employ a word divider for ביתדוד.

Now, this is simply real desparation. First of all, it is true that there is no word divider, but that does not mean anything. In fact, one cannot rely on word dividers in the first place because many times they are left off, and and the second place because they are often left off of construct relationships which we have here.

Suggesting that the waw is a holem waw so that it reads “house of Dod” is even more proposterious. The article quotes Phillip Davies:

But the probability is that the second element completes a place-name, such as Beth Lehem (House of Bread) or Bethlehem (one word), as it is commonly written in Latin letters. It seems intrinsically more likely that a place-name composed with beth would be written as one word, rather than a phrase meaning “House of David,” referring to the dynasty of David. Such a place name could be Beth-dod (the w serving as rudimentary vowel, a so-called mater lectionis; the same last three letters are consistently used to spell the last syllable of the Philistine city of Ashdod) or Bethdaud (with a slightly different vowel pronunciation). All these place-names are quite reasonable suggestions…

Davies calls the reading house of David “wishful thinking,” and then has the audacity to throw out this nonsense. First of all, there is no way anyone could mistake a bet and a tav for an aleph and a shin. They are written quite differently. Also, the context is of Israel and Judah. You see, not only is Israel mentioned in this inscription, but, in the line previous to the famous bt dwd, you have, very clearly preserved, the ending yhw, which is what is called a Yahwistic theophoric. A Yahwistic theophoric is a shortened form of the divine name yhwh, which is attached to the beginning or end of a name. The problem for Davies’ interpretation is that this Yahwistic theophoric is at the end of the word. The yhw ending on a personal name is something we know to be unique to the kingdom of Judah. This means that going clear up to the Phoenician city of Bethdaud to try to get the place name is totally unwarranted from the context, since we are in the context of Israel and Judah. Now, to be fair, we do not have the entirety of the name, as only the Yahwistic thophoric remains. However, it is followed by the word br meaning “son,” which is used even in the previous line to identify personal names.

Davies gets even more desparate, as he tries to argue from the reading ‘r’l dwdh in the Mesha Inscription. The problem is that there is no heh following the “dwd” in the Tell Dan inscription, and the letters are very well preserved. What is worse for Davies is that the reading “bt dwd” occurs later on in the Mesha inscription!

He then proceeds to argue that there is an Akkadian word dawidum which may pose a clue to the meaning, but even he admits that we don’t know what the term means. He seems to want to try to argue from the meaning of “dod” in Hebrew, which means “beloved, uncle.” However, minimalists will chide evangelicals for assuming things without evidence, and here is a case where Davies has to do the same. There is no place name or deity with the name “dod.”

Now, the point of this post is not to prove that Davies is wrong. He might keep trying to come up with other interpretations of the evidence that I have just given, and produce more and more absurdities. My point is to post this to show the lengths to which the supposed unbiased minimalists who are supposedly not ideologically driven will go to try to explain away a clear extrascriptural reference to David. In fact, no Aramaic epigrapher agrees with them on this. And yet, you have people openly quoting simply embarrassingly bad arguments. They do this, because they have presuppositions that they bring to the discussion of the evidence, and they will not allow for anything to be counter evidence.

Now, that is not something for which I am faulting them. All scholarship is ideologically driven. I just find it funny when brilliant men try to put on this costume of neutrality, and then they are faced with the very letters “bt dwd” right in front of them, and they make all kinds of absurdities so they do not have to lose their minimalist presuppositions. That is why, whenever you dialogue with a minimalist, you have to attack their atheistic view of archaeology from the start. Evidence like this is helpful, but until you get down to the presuppositions, and show that minimalist presuppositions cannot make sense out of archaeology itself, you will never be able to attack this paradigm.

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