Dating 1 & 2 Samuel and the Davidic Narratives via Archaeological Anomalies and Anachronisms

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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20 Feb. 2001
Revised 05 March 2005

The "Primary History," Genesis to 2 Kings, is a national history from the Creation to the Exile. In historical compositions it is the ending which gives a clue to dating of the whole work, 2 Kings 25:27 providing a date of ca. 562-560 BCE which was the reign of the Babylonian king Evil-Merodach. So we have that as a terminal date for the Davidic stories. 

Are there any earlier clues ? Yes, several "historical markers" exist within the Davidic narratives, Archaeology has established that several towns identified as existing in David's days did not come into existence until several centuries later.

I note that 1 Samuel 30:26-31 mentions several villages whose elders received spoils taken by a victorious David from the Amalekites. Three of the cities appearing in this list have been identified and their archaeological parameters established. They are Jattir,  Aroer and Eshtemoa ( 1 Sam. 30:27-28).

"When David reached Ziklag, he sent some of the spoil to the elders of Bethel, Ramoth-negeb, and JATTIR; in AROER, Siphmoth, and ESHTEMOA...all the places where David and his men had roamed." (1 Sam 30:26-30, TANAKH, The Holy Scriptures. Philadelphia. The Jewish Publication Society. 1988)

Jattir is currently identified with Khirbat `Attir, the pottery sequences suggest the city was not in existence in the days of David, the late 11th/early 10th centuries BCE :

"In 1971 the Levitical City survey found that the earliest occupation at Khirbet `Attir was Late Iron II...Most of the Iron II pottery comes from the 7th/6th centuries; the 8th century was also represented. The identification of Khirbet `Attir with biblical Jattir stands. Although the archaeological evidence does not support an occupation of the site during the conquests of King David, it was occupied during the writing of the Deuteronomistic history." (David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 3, p.650, John L. Peterson, "Jattir," 1992)

Eshtemoa is currently identified with es-Samu`, which lies 8 kilometers northeast of Khirbat `Attir, southwest of Hebron in the hill country of Judah.

"The first to identify es-Samu` with biblical Eshtemoa was Robinson (1841:626-627), and his identification has never been contested..." (ABD 2.618, John L. Peterson, "Estemoa," 1992)

Peterson noted that in 1971, Yeiven in the course of repairs to a 4th century CE Synagogue at es-Samu, found two vessels of the 9th-8th centuries BCE. This is the only "hard date" appearing in this article. If Eshtemoa is not any earlier than this period, then it, like Jattir, didn't exist in Joshua's days as a town to be alotted to Judah (Jos.15:50, 21:14), and it didn't exist in David's days either.

Yeivin on Eshtemoa:

"Pottery from the 9th and 8th centuries BCE found on bedrock attests to the period the wall was erected." (p. 425. Vol. 2. Ze`ev Yeivin. "Eshtemoa." Ephraim Stern. Editor. 
The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. New York. Simon & Schuster. 1993)

Yeivin noted that beneath the floor of a Synagoge was found a jar filled with silver scraps including ear-rings. This jar bore an inscription dated to either the late 10th or 9th century BCE, which agreed with the jug also being of the same century.

"The pottery jugs belong to an early phase of the Iron Age, from the late 10th to the 9th centuries BCE, a date that corresponds to the script of the above mentioned inscriptions." (p.246. Vol.2 Yeivin. "Eshtemoa.")

As David is portrayed distributing "booty" in 1 Sam 30:26-30 to the elders of Eshtemoa, perhaps the silver found in the Late 10th or 9th century BCE jug is what "lies behind" the biblical narrative ? The excavations reveal the city is not earlier than the 9th century BCE, suggesting the Davidic narrative has erred in attributing the "silver booty" to David's time in the 11th century BCE.

Aroer is currently identified with `Ar`arar. The town doesn't appear in Joshua, its only appearance is 1 Samuel 30:28.

According to archaeological work done at modern `Ar`arah, believed to be ancient Aroer, the site was unoccupied before the 7th century BCE: 

"Ar`arah was excavated between 1975 and 1981 by A. Biran and R. Cohen. They concluded that this 5-acre site was first settled in the 7th century BC and was occupied intermittently, until ca. AD 70. Though it is possible that further excavations might uncover remains from the 11th or 10th centuries BC, it does not appear that `Ar`arah was occupied in the time of David."(ABD 1.400, Gerald L. Mattingly, "Aroer 4," 1992)

Biran suggested that Tel Esdar, 1 1/2 miles away from `Ar`arah, might be Aroer, as it did possess pottery of the 11-10th centuries BCE, the period of David. He suggested the name moved from Isdar to `Ar`arah when the latter was founded in the 7th century BCE 

"Biran suggested that Davidic Aroer can be identified with Tel Esdar...and that the name Aroer was transferred to the latter site when it was founded in the seventh century BC. Excavations at Tell Esdar did recover remains from the 11th-10th centuries BC, BUT THERE IS NO OTHER ASSURANCE THAT BIRAN'S SUGGESTION IS CORRECT."

([Emphasis is mine] ABD 1.400, Gerald L. Mattingly, "Aroer 4," 1992)

Although site's name do move with later settlements, this is more frequently attested by the abandonment of Iron Age tells in the Hellenistic and Roman periods according to Aharoni (Aharoni pointing out that the tell is usually resettled in the Bronze and Iron periods):

"Circumstances changed completely during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The small tell no longer sufficied for meeting the needs of the greatly expanded town that was laid out according to plan. Therefore, most of the tells were abandoned and the population usually transferred to a more spacious area round about. In many cases the ancient name was carried over to the new settlement." 

(cf. pp.105-107, "The Study of Toponymy," Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, A Historical Geography, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1979, ISBN 0-664-24266-9)

If `Ar`arah is Aroer, then David cannot be making distributions of spoils to elders in a non-existent village of the 7th century BCE.

Another location associated with the Davidic narratives is Anathoth, a priestly city in the tribal territory of Benjamin, it first appears in the Bible as the home of Abiezer and Jehu, two of David's bodyguards (2 Sam 23:27; 1 Chr 11:28; 12:3; 27:12). Current consensus, after archaeological probes were conducted, locates Anathoth at Ras el-Kharrubeh.


"The most important archaeological work at Anata and Ras el-Kharrubeh was done over fifty years ago by E.P. Blair and A. Bergman (Biran)...Biran's survey at Ras el-Kharrubeh identified pottery from Iron I to Byzantine (Bergman 1936). Out of two probes a few sherds were found from the END OF IRON I, some from Iron II, and a few more from the Persian-Hellenistic and Roman periods. Biran concluded that THE SITE WAS OCCUPIED FROM ABOUT THE NINTH CENTURY to Byzantine times. The settlement reached its peak in Iron II (between 800 and 600 BC), although it continued to exist in Persian-Hellenistic times, finall coming to an end in the Byzantine period. As a result of the work done by Blair and Biran, the identification of Ras el-Kharrubeh with Anathoth is universally accepted among Israeli, European, and American archaeologists...At Ras el-Kharrubeh there was an abundance of pottery dating from Iron II as well as Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. The earliest sherd from Iron II was from the 9th century, and the 8th century had the most impressive amount.

(ABD 1.228, John L. Peterson, "Anathoth," 1992)

Archaological probes have then, established that Anathoth did not exist in David's days, the late 11th/early 10th centuries, it's earliest sherds were the "end of  Iron I" but principally 8th-6th centuries.

Gibson has noted in an "updating" of Avraham Negev's book on Archaeology (1972), that recent work done at Anata has revealed that this place possesses sherds from Iron II, suggesting that it may indeed be Anathoth, but in any case, it didn't exist in early Iron I for Joshua to distribute nor in King David's world.


"However, a new survey conducted within the area of the village of Anata by U. Dinur also brought to light Iron Age II material there as well. Hence, the identification of Anathoth with Anata still remains a possibility." 

(p.33, "Anathoth," Avraham Negev and Shimon Gibson, Editors. Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. [Revised and Updated Edition], New York & London. Continuum. 1972, 1986, 1990, 2001. ISBN 0-8264-1316-1  hdbk  pp. 560)


It is unlikely that these Davidic narratives were composed in the 11th-10th century BCE. We must posit a period of 100/200 years after the founding of of these places (the latest being Aroer in the 7th century), such that the national memory would have forgotten just when they had been founded, making it possible to spin a yarn about these towns' being in existence in David's days, the 12th century BCE. 

The latest elements date a work, so the books of 1 & 2 Samuel, as we currently have them, were probably composed either in the 6th or 5th century BCE (100-200 years after Aroer had been founded). The above archaeological anomalies reveal  the presence of historical anachronisms within the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings), suggesting that this is a composition of either the Exilic or Post Exilic periods (ca. 560-458 BCE). It is _my understanding_ that the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings) was, in fact, written in the reign of the Babylonian monarch Evil-Merodach, between March and August of 560 BCE in the Exile.

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