Digging up evidence of biblical characters

In the Bible story, David defeats Goliath when David is still a young shepherd. Later, he grows up to be a powerful king of Israel. Sometimes, though, people have questioned whether David really existed at all, especially since his name had never been found in any historical documents except the Bible. Was David a myth?

"Two years ago, this controversy was put to rest," says David Noel Freedman. He's a history professor at the University of California, San Diego. As archaeologists uncovered the ruins of the old city of Dan in upper Galilee in Israel (see map on facing page), they found fragments of a 9th-century stele (pronounced STEE-lee). A stele is a stone pillar used in ancient times as a monument. A stele might be carved with stories or tributes to a leader or an important event. This one was from the 9th century BC. It told of a Damascus victory over two enemies. One was identified as the "House of David." Here was evidence from an enemy that David was a real person - and a king.

The story of Noah and the ark is often debated. People continue to search for evidence that Noah built a real ark to survive a flood. News stories occasionally report that a remnant of the ark has been found here or there. None of these discoveries have turned out to be good evidence. (This doesn't disprove the story. It just means there's still no archaeological evidence to prove it.)

To some people, that's not even the point. Carol Meyers is a professor of biblical studies and archaeology at Duke University. "Even if they found evidence of an ark," she says, "it wouldn't prove that God told Noah to build it. That's the real point of the story.

"Some people believe that every word in the Bible is literally true," she explains. "Others look for symbols and messages in every verse. Most people are somewhere in between."

Archaeologists continue to explore ancient cities. Even if they don't find evidence of Noah or other characters, their findings help us understand what life was like in biblical times. They help bring to life the stories and inspiration of ancient peoples.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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