Monday, March 9, 2015

Pipe Dreams: How We Tell the Story of David’s Conquest of Jerusalem

In a recent essay, I discussed some of the problems with historical reconstructions of the empire of King David. Among the most significant of these is the lack of methodological rigor – in particular, the lack of appropriate approaches to texts and other kinds of sources. An Iron Age royal inscription is not a 5th century CE manuscript of a biblical book is not a stone wall or a potsherd. Each has its own very different problems of interpretation. 

Here, I want to explore one specific case of an attempted historical reconstruction in depth: David’s conquest of Jerusalem. If you are familiar with the archaeology and history of ancient Israel, you may have well heard that David’s general Joab was able to conquer Jerusalem by leading a group of Israelites up a water shaft in a surprise attack on the city. This story has been quite popular among scholars and public alike. During her excavation of Jerusalem in the 1960s, the great British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon remarked “I’d hate to think of Joab getting up that way!” of one possible shaft.[1] Today Elad (the Ir David Foundation) uses the story as part of its efforts to Judaize the City of David.

But what is the basis of that reconstruction?