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David Dawat Inscription from Egypt
From the BASNY Explorer

The earliest non-biblical reference to King David may have been discovered in Egypt. According to an article appearing in Biblical Archaeology Review for Jan.-Feb. 1999, Kenneth Kitchen, one of the world’s most distinguished Egyptologists and a leading expert on Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period (c. 1100-650 BCE) has found what he believes to be the phrase “The Heights of David” within a listing of territories allegedly conquered by Pharaoh Sheshonq I.

This king is known to have invaded Canaan in 925 BCE and is believed to be the same as the King Shishak mentioned in I Kings 14:25, who, according to the biblical account, campaigned in Canaan at about the same time, after the death of King Solomon. If Kitchen’s translation is correct and the “David” named in the inscription refers to King David, then this would be the earliest mention of King David’s name in the archaeological record. It would date to about fifty years after King David’s death and about a century earlier than the “House of David” inscription from Tel Dan. The translation, however, is not without problems.

Kitchen transliterates the inscription as h(y)dbt dwt. The first word means “heights” or “highlands.” It is dwt that presents the problem. The second letter in that word is the equivalent of the Hebrew waw and can be read as either the vowel “o” or the consonant “v” and both usages are found in the Sheshonq list. The third letter, t, means the word can be translated as Dot or Davit and neither corresponds exactly to David.

To make the comparison work, Kitchen first dismissed the translation of Dot as without foundation, there being no such name in any ancient records of that time or earlier. Next, he looked for evidence that the “t” could be a proper substitution for “d.” Kitchen found such evidence in a sixth century CE inscription from Ethiopia that refers to David as Davit, a precise correlation with the Sheshonq usage.

Such a discovery is still a long way from clear proof that the original Egyptian text refers to King David, and already Kitchen’s reading is coming under attack. Nevertheless, Kitchen seems confident in his interpretation. He argues that ”Heights of David” also makes good historical sense as the territory in question, according to the list arrangement, is in Southwest Judah or the Negev, and this is the region where David was active when he fled from King Saul. Later, still before David became King, the Philistines made him a present of the city of Ziklag, which was probably located on the Negev border. Kitchen believes that David’s association with this hilly terrain would account for the area becoming known as “The Heights of David.”

Physically, the inscription is part of a list entered on the exterior south wall of the Great Temple of Amun in Karnak. The territories named were written upon pictures of enemy soldiers and the inscription in question appears in two parts, each on a different male figure. The images are shown in the accompanying illustration on page 1, which was taken from the same issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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