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The frontiers of the Kingdoms of David and Solomon

This map is part of a series of 12 animated maps showing the history of The Bible and History.

The books covering the reigns of David and his son Solomon bear witness to the diversity of biblical traditions with regard to the size of the country occupied by the Israelites, at a time when, in the 10th century BCE, the people were still unified and had not yet divided into two: the Northern Kingdom – Israel – and the Southern Kingdom – Judah.

 With regard to David’s Kingdom, for which the capital was first Hebron before moving to Jerusalem, we have three different versions, all of which are given in the 2nd Book of Samuel.

 In a first passage [2 Sam 3.10], God promised to establish David’s kingdom in Israel and Judah, “from Dan to Beer-Sheba”, which corresponds to the most common definition found in the Bible.

In another passage [2 Sam. 24.5-8], which describes a census of the population, the Kingdom of David stretched from Beer-Sheba to Gilead in the north-east and to Tyr and Sidon in the north-west.

Finally, a third extract [2 Sam. 8.3] gives a different interpretation, stating that “David smote also Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, King of Sobah, as he went to recover his dominion at the River [Euphrates]”. This supposes that the Kingdom’s territory extended as far as Mesopotamia. This text reflects rather a utopian image of Israel already seen in Genesis and Deuteronomy [Gen. 15.18; Deut. 1.7 & 11.24].

Archaeological excavations, however, lead us to attenuate somewhat the extent of David’s Kingdom. Yet the historicity of David himself is corroborated by the so-called Tel Dan stele, dating from the 9th century BCE. This stele commemorates the victory of an Aramaic King – probably Hazael, King of Damascus – over the King of Judah, which is described as a member of “David’s dynasty”.

The fact that David was seen as the founder of a royal dynasty suggests the historical reality of this Biblical figure and his importance. The biblical descriptions of his kingdom appear to have been – in part – embellished in order to glorify the time of the Israelite royal house’s foundation.

This idealization is even clearer for Solomon, David’s son and heir, whom the Bible describes as having surpassed in wisdom all other men.

According to the first Book of Kings [1 Kings 5.1 (4.21 in NRSV)], Solomon ruled “over all the kingdoms from the River (Euphrates), unto the land of the Philistines and unto the border of Egypt”, which corresponds to the maximalist description in the Pentateuch.

But the archaeological sites, as Megiddo, do not corroborate the Biblical references for Solomon’s kingdom. In particular, there are no documents confirming the existence of a large Israelite kingdom stretching from Egypt to Mesopotamia in the 10th century BCE.

On the other hand, the end of the 10th century BCE saw the emergence of the powerful Neo-Assyrian Empire, considered to be the greatest empire known in Antiquity until then.