Tel Dan stele

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Tel Dan Stele
JRSLM 300116 Tel Dan Stele 01.jpg
Tel Dan Stele, Israel Museum. Highlighted in white: the sequence B Y T D W D.
WritingOld Aramaic (Phoenician alphabet)
Created870–750 BCE
Present locationIsrael Museum

The Tel Dan Stele is a fragmentary stele containing a Canaanite inscription which dates to 9th century BCE. It is notable for possibly being the most significant and perhaps the only extra-biblical archeological reference to the house of David.[1][2]

The Tel Dan Stele was discovered in 1993 in Tel-Dan by Gila Cook, a member of an archaeological team led by Avraham Biran. Its pieces were used to construct an ancient stone wall that survived into modern times.[2] The stele contains several lines of Aramaic, closely related to Hebrew and historically a common language among Jews. The surviving inscription details that an individual killed Jehoram of Israel, the son of Ahab and king of the house of David.[1] These writings corroborate passages from the Bible, as the Second Book of Kings mentions that Jehoram, also Joram, is the son of an Israelite king, Ahab, by his Phoenician wife, Jezebel. Applying a Biblical viewpoint to the inscription, the likely candidate for having erected the stele is Hazael, an Aramean king (whose language would have thus been Aramaic) who is mentioned in Second Book of Kings as having conquered the Land of Israel, though he was unable to take Jerusalem. The stele is currently on display at the Israel Museum,[3] and is known as KAI 310.

Discovery and description[edit]

Fragment A of the stele was discovered in July 1993 by Gila Cook of Biran's team who was studying Tel Dan in northern Israel. Fragments B1 and B2 were found in June 1994.[4] The stele was not excavated in its "primary context", but in its "secondary use".[5]

The fragments were published by Biran and his colleague Joseph Naveh in 1993 and 1995.[4]


The Tel Dan stele consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael[citation needed] of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. The unnamed king boasts of his victories over the king of Israel and his apparent ally[6] the king of the "House of David" (b y t d w d). It is considered the earliest widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible,[7] though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance. A minority of scholars have disputed the reference to David, due to the lack of a word divider between byt and dwd, and other translations have been proposed. The Tel Dan stele is one of four known inscriptions made during a roughly 400-year period (1200-800 BCE) containing the name "Israel", the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith.[8][9][10]

The Tel Dan inscription generated considerable debate and a flurry of articles, debating its age, authorship, and authenticity;[11] however, the stele is generally accepted by scholars as genuine and a reference to the House of David.[12][13][14]


The Tel Dan Stele: Fragment A is to the right, Fragments B1 and B2 to the left

The following is the transcription using Hebrew letters provided by Biran and Naveh. Dots separate words (as in the original), empty square brackets indicate damaged/missing text, and text inside square brackets is reconstructed by Biran and Naveh:

1. [          א]מר.ע[   ]וגזר[ ]

2. [     ---].אבי.יסק[.עלוה.בה]תלחמה.בא[ ]
3. וישכב.אבי.יהך.אל[.אבהו]ה.ויעל.מלכי[ יש]
4. ראל.קדם.בארק.אבי[.ו]המלך.הדד[.]א[יתי]
5. אנה.ויהך.הדד.קדמי[.ו]אפק.מן.שבע[ת---]
6. י.מלכי.ואקתל.מל[כן.שב]ען.אסרי.א[לפי.ר]
7. כב.ואלפי.פרש.[קתלת.אית.יהו]רם.בר.[אחאב.]
8. מלך.ישראל.וקתל[ת.אית.אחז]יהו.בר[.יהורם.מל]
9. ך.ביתדוד.ואשם.[אית.קרית.הם.חרבת.ואהפך.א]
10. ית.ארק.הם.ל[ישמן ]
11. אחרן.ולה[... ויהוא.מ]
12. לך.על.יש[ראל... ואשם.]

13. מצר.ע[ל. ]


  1. [ ʾ]mr.ʿ[ ]wgzr[ ]
  2. [ ---].ʾby.ysq[.ʿ]tlḥmh.bʾ[ ]
  3. wyškb.ʾby.yhk.ʾl[.ʾbhw]h.wyʿl.mlky[ yś]
  4. rʾl.qdm.bʾrq.ʾby[.w]hmlk.hdd[.]ʾ[yty]
  5. ʾnh.wyhk.hdd.qdmy[.w]ʾšbʿ[t---]
  6. y.mlky.wʾ[kn.šb]ʿn.ʾsry.ʾ[lpy.r]
  7. kb.wʾlpy.prš.[qtlt.ʾyt.yhw][ʾḥʾb.]
  8. mlk.yśrʾl.wqtl[t.ʾyt.ʾḥz][]
  9. k.bytdwd.wʾšm.[ʾḥrbt.wʾhpk.ʾ]
  10. yt.ʾ[yšmn ]
  11. ʾḥrn.wlh[... wyhwʾ.m]
  12. lk.ʿl.yś[rʾl... wʾšm.]
  13. mṣr.ʿ[l. ]

The 1995 translation by Biran reads;[15]

  1. [ ]...[...] and cut [...]
  2. [...] my father went up [against him when h]e fought at [...]
  3. and my father lay down, he went to his [ancestors (viz. became sick and died)]. And the king of I[s-]
  4. rael entered previously in my father's land, [and] Hadad made me king,
  5. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from the seven [...-]
  6. s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed th[ousands of cha-]
  7. riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son [of Ahab]
  8. king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]
  9. g of the House of David, and I set [their towns into ruins and turned ]
  10. their land into [desolation ]
  11. other [... and Jehu ru-]
  12. led over Is[rael and I laid]
  13. siege upon [ ]

Other scholars have presented alternate translations. For example, Andre Lemaire's 1998 translation reads;[16]

  1. [.....]..[.............] and cut [..............]
  2. [.....] my father went up [......f]ighting at/against Ab[...]
  3. And my father lay down, he went to his [fathers]. And the kings of I[s-]
  4. rael penetrated into my father's land[. And] Hadad made me - myself - king
  5. And Hadad went in front of me[, and] I departed from .... [....]
  6. of my kings. And I killed two power[ful] kin[gs], who harnessed two thou[sand cha-]
  7. riots and two thousand horsemen. [I killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab]
  8. king of Israel, and I killed [Achaz]yahu son of [Joram king]
  9. of the House of David. And I set [......]
  10. their land [.......]
  11. other ...[............ and Jehu ru-]
  12. led over Is[rael ............]
  13. siege upon [.......]

The main differences are on line 6 and 7; Lemaire suggests that two kings, rather than seventy, were killed and that they possessed two thousand chariots and horsemen.


In the second half of the 9th century BCE (the most widely accepted date for the stele), the kingdom of Aram, under its ruler Hazael, was a major power in the Levant. Dan, just 70 miles from Hazael's capital of Damascus, would almost certainly have come under its sway. This is borne out by the archaeological evidence: Israelite remains do not appear until the 8th century BCE, and it appears that Dan was already in the orbit of Damascus even before Hazael became king in c. 843 BCE.[17]

The author of the inscription mentions conflict with the kings of Israel and the 'House of David'. The names of the two enemy kings are only partially legible. Biran and Naveh reconstructed them as Joram, son of Ahab, King of Israel, and Ahaziah, son of Joram of the House of David. Scholars seem to be evenly divided on these identifications.[18] It is dependent on a particular arrangement of the fragments, and not all scholars agree on this.

In the reconstructed text, the author tells how Israel had invaded his country in his father's day, and how the god Hadad then made him king and marched with him against Israel. The author then reports that he defeated seventy kings with thousands of chariots and horses (more on this below). In the very last line there is a suggestion of a siege, possibly of Samaria, the capital of the kings of Israel.[18] This reading is, however, disputed.[19]

Interpretation and disputes[edit]


The stele was found in three fragments, called A, B1 and B2. There is widespread agreement that all three belong to the same inscription, and that B1 and B2 belong together. There is less agreement over the fit between A and the combined B1/B2: Biran and Naveh placed B1/B2 to the left of A (the photograph at the top of this article). A few scholars have disputed this, William Schniedewind proposing some minor adjustments to the same fit, Gershon Galil placing B above A rather than beside it, and George Athas fitting it well below.[20]


Archaeologists and epigraphers[which?] put the earliest possible date at about 870 BCE, whilst the latest possible date is "less clear", although according to Lawrence J. Mykytiuk it could "hardly have been much later than 750".[21] However, some scholars (mainly associated with the Copenhagen school) – Niels Peter Lemche, Thomas L. Thompson, and F. H. Cryer – have proposed still later datings.[22]

Cracks and inscription[edit]

Two biblical scholars, Cryer and Lemche, analyzed the cracks and chisel marks around the fragment and also the lettering towards the edges of the fragments. From this they concluded that the text was in fact a modern forgery.[23] Most scholars have ignored or rejected these judgments because the artifacts were recovered during controlled excavations.[12][13][14]


The language of the inscription is a dialect of Aramaic.[21] Most scholars identify Hazael of Damascus (c. 842 – 806 BCE) as the author, although his name is not mentioned. Other proposals regarding the author have been made: George Athas has argued for Hazael's son Ben-Hadad III, which would date the inscription to around 796 BCE, and Jan-Wim Wesselius has argued for Jehu of Israel (r. c. 845 – 818 BCE).[24]

"Seventy kings"[edit]

While the original translators proposed that line 6 of the inscription refers to the slaying of "seventy kings", later epigraphers have offered alternative readings. Nadav Na'aman proposed that the line should be read as Hazael slew "mighty kings". According to Lemaire, "the reading 'seventy' is based only on a very small fragment of a letter which is interpreted as part of an 'ayin but could also be part of another letter". He proposed that the inscription should instead grammatically be read as "two kings" were slain, in line with the subsequent description of the inscription of only having defeated two kings.[25] Other scholars have followed and further developed Lemaire's reading.[26][27]

Matthew Suriano has defended the "seventy" reading, arguing that it is a symbolic trope in ancient near eastern military language, representing the defeat of all other claimants to power. Noting that Hazael was himself a usurper to the throne of Aram-Damascus, he argues that ancient Syria would have posited a number of other rivals for the throne and that Hazael's claim to have slain "seventy kings" is a reference to him defeating his rivals in succession to the throne of Aram-Damascus.[28]

"House of David"[edit]

Since 1993–1994, when the first fragment was discovered and published, the Tel Dan stele has been the object of great interest and debate among epigraphers and biblical scholars. Its significance for the biblical version of Israel's past lies particularly in lines 8 and 9, which mention a "king of Israel" and possibly a "house of David". The latter reading is accepted by a majority of scholars but not all.[29]

Dissenting scholars note that word dividers are employed elsewhere throughout the inscription and one would expect to find one between byt and dwd in bytdwd too if the intended reading was "House of David".[30] They contend that reading dwd as "David" is complicated since the word can also mean "uncle" (dōd) (a word with a rather wider meaning in ancient times than it has today), "beloved", or "kettle" (dūd).[31][32] Lemche and Athas suggests that bytdwd could be a place-name[33] and Athas that it refers to Jerusalem (so that the author might be claiming to have killed the son of the king of Jerusalem, rather than the son of the king from the "house of David").[34] R.G. Lehmann and M. Reichel proposes interpreting the phrase as a reference to the name or epithet of a deity.[35]

According to Anson Rainey the presence or absence of word dividers is normally inconsequential for interpretation.[36] Word dividers as well as compound words are used elsewhere in the inscription and generally in West Semitic languages, so it is possible that the phrase was treated as a compound word combining a personal name with a relational noun. Mykytiuk argues that readings other than "House of David" are unlikely.[37] Yosef Garfinkel has been vocally critical of alternate translations, characterizing them as "suggestions that now seem ridiculous: The Hebrew bytdwd should be read not as the House of David, but as a place named betdwd, in parallel to the well-known place-name Ashdod. Other minimalist suggestions included House of Uncle, House of Kettle and House of Beloved."[38]

Francesca Stavrakopoulou states that even if the inscription refers to a "House of David" it testifies neither to the historicity of David nor to the existence of a 9th-century BCE Judahite kingdom.[39][further explanation needed] Garfinkel argues that, combined with archaeological evidence unearthed at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the inscription's reference to a "king of the house of David" constitutes primary evidence that David was a historical figure and the founder of a centralized Iron Age II dynasty.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hovee, Eric (14 January 2009). "Tel Dan Stele". Center for Online Judaic Studies. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Stone Tablet Offers 1st Physical Evidence of Biblical King David : Archeology: Researchers say 13 lines of Aramaic script confirm the battle for Tel Dan recounted in the Bible, marking a victory by Asa of the House of David". Los Angeles Times. 14 August 1993. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
  3. ^ "Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing". The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Archived from the original on 12 August 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  4. ^ a b Brooks 2005, p. 2.
  5. ^ Aaron Demsky (2007), Reading Northwest Semitic Inscriptions, Near Eastern Archaeology 70/2. Quote: "The first thing to consider when examining an ancient inscription is whether it was discovered in context or not. It is obvious that a document purchased on the antiquities market is suspect. If it was found in an archeological site, one should note whether it was found in its primary context, as with the inscription of King Achish from Ekron, or in secondary use, as with the Tel Dan inscription. Of course texts that were found in an archaeological site, but not in a secure archaeological context present certain problems of exact dating, as with the Gezer Calendar."
  6. ^ Athas, George (2006). The Tel Dan Inscription: A Reappraisal and a New Introduction. A&C Black. p. 217. ISBN 9780567040435. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  7. ^ Finkelstein, Mazar & Schmidt 2007, p. 14.
  8. ^ Lemche 1998, pp. 46, 62: “ No other inscription from Palestine, or from Transjordan in the Iron Age, has so far provided any specific reference to Israel... The name of Israel was found in only a very limited number of inscriptions, one from Egypt, another separated by at least 250 years from the first, in Transjordan. A third reference is found in the stele from Tel Dan - if it is genuine, a question not yet settled. The Assyrian and Mesopotamian sources only once mentioned a king of Israel, Ahab, in a spurious rendering of the name".
  9. ^ Maeir, Aren M. (2013). "Israel and Judah". The Encyclopedia of Ancient History. New York: Blackwell. pp. 3523–27. The earliest certain mention of the ethnonym Israel occurs in a victory inscription of the Egyptian king MERENPTAH, his well-known "Israel Stela" (ca. 1210 BCE); recently, a possible earlier reference has been identified in a text from the reign of Rameses II (see RAMESES I–XI). Thereafter, no reference to either Judah or Israel appears until the ninth century. The pharaoh Sheshonq I (biblical Shishak; see SHESHONQ I–VI) mentions neither entity by name in the inscription recording his campaign in the southern Levant during the late tenth century. In the ninth century, Israelite kings, and possibly a Judaean king, are mentioned in several sources: the Aramaean stele from Tel Dan, inscriptions of Shalmaneser III of Assyria, and the stela of Mesha of Moab. From the early eighth century onward, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are both mentioned somewhat regularly in Assyrian and subsequently Babylonian sources, and from this point on there is relatively good agreement between the biblical accounts on the one hand and the archaeological evidence and extra-biblical texts on the other.
  10. ^ Fleming, Daniel E. (1 January 1998). "Mari and the Possibilities of Biblical Memory". Revue d'Assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale. 92 (1): 41–78. JSTOR 23282083. The Assyrian royal annals, along with the Mesha and Dan inscriptions, show a thriving northern state called Israël in the mid—9th century, and the continuity of settlement back to the early Iron Age suggests that the establishment of a sedentary identity should be associated with this population, whatever their origin. In the mid—14th century, the Amarna letters mention no Israël, nor any of the biblical tribes, while the Merneptah stele places someone called Israël in hill-country Palestine toward the end of the Late Bronze Age. The language and material culture of emergent Israël show strong local continuity, in contrast to the distinctly foreign character of early Philistine material culture.
  11. ^ Lemche 1998, p. 41: "The inscription is kept in a kind of "pidgin" Aramaic, sometimes looking more like a kind of mixed language in which Aramaic and Phoenician linguistic elements are jumbled together, in its phraseology nevertheless closely resembling especially the Mesha inscription and the Aramaic Zakkur inscription from Aphis near Aleppo. The narrow links between the Tel Dan inscription and these two inscriptions are of a kind that has persuaded at least one major specialist into believing that the inscription is a forgery. This cannot be left out of consideration in advance, because some of the circumstances surrounding its discovery may speak against its being genuine. Other examples of forgeries of this kind are well known, and clever forgers have cheated even respectable scholars into accepting something that is obviously false".
  12. ^ a b Grabbe, Lester L. (28 April 2007). Ahab Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of the Omri Dynasty. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9780567251718. The Tel Dan inscription generated a good deal of debate and a flurry of articles when it first appeared, but it is now widely regarded (a) as genuine and (b) as referring to the Davidic dynasty and the Aramaic kingdom of Damascus.
  13. ^ a b Cline, Eric H. (28 September 2009). Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199711628. Today, after much further discussion in academic journals, it is accepted by most archaeologists that the inscription is not only genuine but that the reference is indeed to the House of David, thus representing the first allusion found anywhere outside the Bible to the biblical David.
  14. ^ a b Mykytiuk 2004, p. 113. "Some unfounded accusations of forgery have had little or no effect on the scholarly acceptance of this inscription as genuine."}}
  15. ^ Biran & Naveh 1995.
  16. ^ Lemaire 1998, p. 4.
  17. ^ Athas 2003, pp. 255–257.
  18. ^ a b Hagelia 2005, p. 235.
  19. ^ Athas 2003, pp. 259–308.
  20. ^ Hagelia 2005, pp. 232–233.
  21. ^ a b Mykytiuk 2004, pp. 115, 117 fn. 52.
  22. ^ Compare: Hagelia, Hallvard (2004). "Philological Issues in the Tel Dan Inscription". In Edzard, Lutz; Retsö, Jan (eds.). Current Issues in the Analysis of Semitic Grammar and Lexicon. Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, ISSN 0567-4980, volume 56, issue 3. Vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag (published 2005). pp. 233–234. ISBN 9783447052689. Retrieved 21 September 2016. Except for some extremely late datings, most scholars date the text to the second half of the 9th century. The late datings come mainly from the Copenhagen scholars N. P. Lemche,[...] T. L. Thompson[...] and the late F. H. Cryer.[...] A not so late dating is argued by Athas, [...] dating the inscription to around 796 BC.
  23. ^ House of David, Lemche, 2004, p. 61.
  24. ^ Wesselius 1999, p. 164.
  25. ^ Lemaire 1998, p. 8.
  26. ^ Na'aman, Nadav. "Three Notes on the Aramaic Inscription from Tel Dan", Israel Exploration Journal (2000), pp. 92–104
  27. ^ Ghantous, Hadi. The Elisha-Hazael paradigm and the kingdom of Israel: the politics of God in ancient Syria-Palestine. Routledge, 2014, pg. 61
  28. ^ Suriano, Matthew. "The Apology of Hazael: A Literary and Historical Analysis of the Tel Dan Inscription", Journal of Near Eastern Studies (2007), pp. 163–176
  29. ^ Mykytiuk 2004, p. 126: is best translated as "the house of david," meaning the dynasty of David or the territory it ruled; Pioske 2015, p. 180: The most straightforward reading of the phrase bytdwd in line A9 of the Tel Dan inscription is the construct phrase "House of David", and this interpretation has garnered the assent of the majority of scholars familiar with the text.; Schmidt 2006, p. 315
  30. ^ Stavrakopoulou 2004, p. 86: However, though the reference to a "king of Israel" is fairly secure, the rendering of the phrase bytdwd as "House of David" is disputed, not least because it occurs without the expected word dividers, which are employed elsewhere throughout the inscription.; Athas 2003, p. 218: The crux for interpreting the lexeme ... lies in the fact that there is no word divider between the seeming two parts, .... This suggests that the lexeme incorporates only one idea rather than two separate ideas, and is to be understood as a single concept or entity. This is confirmed by the fact that elsewhere in the Tel Dan Inscription, construct expressions are used to denote two or more concepts that are both individually exclusive, yet connected genitivally in the given context.
  31. ^ Pioske 2015, p. 180.
  32. ^ Davies 2014, p. 69: In the Bible DWD can mean 'beloved' or 'uncle', and in one place (1 Samual 2-14), it means 'kettle'.
  33. ^ Lemche 1998, p. 43.
  34. ^ Athas 2003, p. 225: Although we cannot be perfectly certain that FIX was intended as a reference to Jerusalem during a time when the city was called FIX, we can be confident that FIX was indeed a toponym. The flow of the immediately surrounding context makes the proposed interpretation of FIX as a reference to Jerusalem most likely.
  35. ^ Athas 2003, pp. 219–220.
  36. ^ Rainey 1994, p. 47.
  37. ^ Mykytiuk 2004, pp. 121–128.
  38. ^ Garfinkel 2011, p. 47.
  39. ^ Stavrakopoulou 2004, pp. 86–87.
  40. ^ Garfinkel 2011, p. 51.