A King Was Born of David’s Line

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Here’s another one of Humani’s myths:

THE FOURTH MYTH OF CHRISTMAS – Christ was descended from David

According to Matthew, this was 28 generations back; according to Luke it was 41. Both give a list of names but, apart from Joseph, only two names are identical in both lists. In any case, we now know that the first 10 Books of the Old Testament are almost certainly fiction, written 1,000 years or more after the events they purport to describe. The David depicted in the Bible probably never even existed.

There’s quite a lot in this one! Let’s start with the issue about the genealogies. The differences between them are well-known and at first glance they do appear to contradict each other. Possible explanations are also well-known, however. One is that Matthew traces the royal line of David, whereas Luke is tracing the physical line. Another is that Luke is tracing the lineage through Mary. Some have suggested that the way Luke refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph ‘so it was thought’ might indicate this. While we can’t be sure, there are certainly some ways to account for the difference.

The general claim that the ‘first 10 Books of the Old Testament are almost certainly fiction’ is much too sweeping, but let’s focus on the more specific claim that the ‘David depicted in the Bible probably never even existed’. Up until relatively recently the existence of King David had been called into question because it could not be confirmed by external sources.

In his extensive study On the Reliability of the Old Testament, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen describes the reasons for this lack of confirmation as ‘stunningly simple and conclusive’.[i] In the case of Assyria there was no contact with Palestine in the period and so there is no mention of any kings from the region, whether Israelite, Canaanite or Philistine. Likewise, there are virtually no Egyptian inscriptions which mention Palestinian powers and the vast majority of records are now lost. Records from other powers in the region are also in short supply and he also claims there is virtually no ‘hope of retrieving significant inscriptions from Jerusalem at any period before Herodian times’. [ii]

Despite all this, however, ‘the House of David’ is referred to in an inscription dating to the ninth century B.C. which was found at Tell Dan in 1993. The widely respected Biblical scholar Craig Evans reports that:

“Most agree that it is very unlikely that an inscription of this nature would be incised only a century or so after the supposed existence of a legendary, unhistorical personage. Would a Syrian king speak of a mythical “House of David” as if it were a real, enemy dynasty? Unlikely. It seems as if David really did exist after all.[iii]

Kitchen points out that David’s House is also referred to on the Moabite Stone which dates to about the same period. It seems there may well be a reference to the ‘heights of David’ in a list of Shosheq I of Egypt which dates to within about fifty years of David’s death.  Kitchen also emphasises that such explicit evidence is not the only form of evidence and that it is important to compare the biblical records with what can be known independently. Having done this he concludes, ‘the testing of the biblical text against external data (texts and artifactual contexts) shows precious little fantasy and much realistic agreement in practical and cultural aspects’.[iv]

In summary, there’s no good reason to deny the existence of King David and there are plausible explanations for the differences in the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. As such, Humani’s fourth myth seems to be based on a myth itself.

[i] K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 310.

[ii] Ibid., p. 157.

[iii] CA Evans, Jesus and his World, (SPCK: 2012) p 2. Evans also reports that:

“Archaelogical excavations in the oldest part of Jerusalem have uncovered significant evidence of a centralised, organised government complex. Artefacts have been dated to the tenth century BCE, the era of David and his son Solomon. Radio carbon dating at Megiddo, Qeiyafa, and elsewhere has confirmed the emergence of an Iron Age kingdom of David some time around 1000BCE, very much as the biblical narratives narrate….finally, the famous ostracon (an inscribed potsherd) recently found at Qeifya, which dates to the tenth century, offers dramatic proof of the level of literacy required to record the history of the kings of Judah and Israel.”

[iv] Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament p. 158.

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