The Tel Dan Stela and the Kings of Aram and Israel -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 13:2 (Spring 2000)
Article: The Tel Dan Stela and the Kings of Aram and Israel
Author: Bryant G. Wood

The Tel Dan Stela and the Kings of Aram and Israel

Bryant G. Wood


A people known as the Arameans lived in the regions of Syria and Mesopotamia in antiquity. They were a large group of linguistically related peoples who spoke dialects of a West Semitic language known as Aramaic. Although not politically unified, they developed powerful city-states that had a strong cultural influence in the Near East in the first millennium BC. The Aramaic language, very similar to Hebrew, became the official international language during the Persian Period, ca. 539–332 BC, and eventually replaced many of the local languages of the area, including Hebrew. As a result, in New Testament times the main local language was Aramaic rather than Hebrew.

The nation of Israel was in conflict with the Arameans for about 300 years, from the time of David, ca. 1000 BC, until Assyria annexed the Aramean city-states at the end of the eighth century BC. Most of the conflict was with the city-state of Damascus that, under Hazael, dominated Israel in the second half of the ninth century. A recently discovered inscription, the Tel Dan Stela, takes us back to those days.

Discovery and Significance of the Tel Dan Stela

The largest fragment of the Tel Dan Stela, Fragment A, was discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel in July 1993 (Biran and Naveh 1993; Wood 1993). Then, in June 1994, two additional joining fragments, labeled Fragment B, were found (Biran and Naveh 1995). Together, Fragments A and B represent only a fraction of a much longer inscription. The language is Aramaic and it celebrates the victory of a king of Aram over Israel and Judah. It is the first royal inscription to be found in Israel.

The most stunning aspect of the document is the reference to Judah as the “House of David.” For the first time, it was thought, the name David appeared in an extra-Biblical document. At about the same time, however, two French scholars, André Lemaire (1994) and Émile Puech (1994), independently recognized the same phrase in the Mesha Inscription, which has been around for well over 100 years (Wood 1995). It now likely that the name David is in a third inscription. Egyptologist K.A. Kitchen believes that the phrase “highland of David” appears in the Shishak inscription in the Temple of Amun at Karnak, Egypt (1997: 39–41). All this at a time when a number of scholars were challenging the existence of the United Monarchy and a king name David!

Unfortunately, the beginning of the Tel Dan Stela is missing. This is where the name of the king who commissioned the memorial, and the event which occasioned it, would have been recorded. With the discovery of Fragment B, however, we can assign the stela’s place in histor...

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