By January 14, 2009 Read More →

Tel Dan Stele, c. 840 BCE

“[I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab] King of Israel… And [I] slew [the king] of the house of David”

Date- c. 840 BCE

Current Location- Skirball Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

Language and Script- Aramaic; alphabetic

717. EARLY ARAMAIC INSCRIPTION FOUND IN DAN, DATING FROM THE 9TH. C. BC. THE TEXT MENTIONS THE BATTLE OF BEN HADAD KING OF ARAM AGAINST THE "HOUSE OF DAVID", MEANING ONE OF THE KINGS OF ISRAEL "And Ben-hadad hearkened unto king Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel, and smote Ijon, and Dan, and Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali." I KINGS 15:20

Tel Dan Stele 1

The "House of David" Inscribed on a Victory stele, Tell Dan, Basalt, Israelite period, 9th c. BCE, H. 32 cm, W. 22 cm, IAA 96-125/ 93-3162

Tel Dan Stele 2. Photo courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.

General Information-

The Tel Dan Stele was erected by an Aramaic king in the mid-9th century BCE. Ancient Aram was to the northeast of Israel, in present day Syria. The inscription on the basalt stele, written in Old Aramaic, describes his accession to the throne and his victory over the king of Israel and over “the House of David.” The stele was broken in antiquity; only three fragments have been discovered to date, preserving about 13 lines of text. These pieces were reused as building materials in buildings dating to the mid-8th century BCE, but the writing on the stones is dated through paleography to the mid-9th century BCE. Although the Aramaic king’s name is not found in the surviving text, the most likely candidate is Hazael of Damascus, whose rivalry with Israel is recorded in the Bible (2 Kings 8-7–15).

Relevance to Ancient Israel-

• The most notable feature of the inscription is the use of the expression “House of David” (Hebrew, byt dwd) in line 9, making it the earliest known extra-Biblical mention of David and the dynasty he founded. This is crucial for corroborating the Biblical account, since many scholars have at least minimized the importance of the actual David, if not relegated him to fictional myth. The expression “House of David” is used repeatedly in the Bible for the Davidic Dynasty (for example, 1 Kings 12-19, 13-2; Isaiah 7-2; Psalm 122-5). It reigned over all Israel in the period of the United Monarchy (10th century BCE) and over Judah during the Divided Monarchy until the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.

• The identification of the Aramaic king who authored the stele as Hazael fits well with the Bible’s account (2 Kings 10-32–33; 13-3, 22; Amos 1-3–4) of his frequent attacks on Israel.



Tel Dan Stele Detail

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- Archaeologists under the direction of Avraham Biran had been excavating at Tel Dan, in northern Israel, for more than 20 years when the first fragment of the inscribed basalt stele, also the largest of the three discovered to date, was discovered in 1993. It was uncovered during a restoration project of the ancient gateway at Tel Dan that year sitting on the surface by the side of the path toward the gate! In the following year, two additional, smaller pieces of the inscription were found.

David Danzig

See also-

Posted in: Exodus

3 Comments on "Tel Dan Stele, c. 840 BCE"

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  1. Eric Hovee says:

    This is an important, even if controversial, find. Looking forward to what else may turn up, especially with ongoing excavation of Jerusalem’s Ophel area.

  2. Please correct this page. The stele is in the ISRAEL MUSEUM JERUSALEM not the Skirball Museum. As it is a national treasure, even the excavators do not display it in their museum. They get official copies, such as the one in the Tel Dan museum, or the right to request it for exhibition purposes. The stele occasionally travels abroad. Its home and permanent display is the Israel Museum. I write as a licensed archaeologist and tour guide based in Jerusalem.