The task of identifying the historical David is complicated from the outset by the fact that the Old Testament provides us with two contrasting Davidic characters who cannot have been the same person. One is a warrior king who lived c. 1500 B.C.: the second is a tribal chief generally agreed by biblical scholars to have lived from 1000 to 960 B.C., ruled over the traditional Promised Land—from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south of the Israel-Judaean upland—and spent most of his life in conflict with the Philistines, the "Peoples of the Sea," who had invaded the coastal area of Canaan in the middle of the twelfth century B.C. and were trying to expand their territory.
Scholars have largely chosen, despite the lack of any genealogical link between him and the start of the Christian era, to identify this tribal chief as King David, who is presented to us in a number of guises—shepherd; rival to Saul and later Ishbosheth, one of Saul's surviving sons, for the Israelite leadership; an accomplished harpist; "a man of war"; the slayer of Goliath in an epic duel; and a coward who fled from the wrath of his son, Absalom. However, he is also said to have been a warrior king who established an empire that stretched from the Nile to the Euphrates. The Book of II Samuel tells us: "David smote also Hadadezer ... as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates . . . And David gat him a name [erected a stele] when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt . . ."(8:3 and 8:13). This account is repeated in I Chronicles: "And David smote Hadadezer ... as he went to establish his dominion by the river Euphrates" (18:3).
The story of the founding of an entire empire by David the mere tribal chief has posed some problems for scholars. It does not equate with the fact that he is said to have had an army of just a few hundred men. Nor is there evidence of any kind to support the view that an empire stretching from the Nile and the Euphrates was founded in the early years of the tenth century B.C. Indeed, no such empire can be said to have been created between the reign of Tuthmosis III in the fifteenth century B.C. and the second half of the sixth century B.C., when Cyrus of Persia conquered both Mesopotamia and Egypt. Scholars have therefore had to explain—or, rather, explain away— the empire story of David by saying that the biblical narrator simply invented it as an act of aggrandizement toward an important biblical figure.
However, amalgamating the stories of two Davids—one a warrior king who lived in the fifteenth century B.C., the other a tribal chief who lived five centuries later—should be seen as another facet of the attempt by old Testament editors (Jewish scribes living in Babylon between the sixth and third centuries B.C.) to conceal the fact that Tuthmosis III, not Abraham, was the father of Isaac, and therefore also the founding father of the 12 tribes of Israel. The first part of the Pharaoh's name, "Tuth" (or Thoth), becomes "Dwd" in Hebrew, the word used for "David" in the Bible.
The story of the epic duel between David and Goliath, inserted to enhance tribal David's reputation as a "man of war," is an adaptation of a much-admired Egyptian literary work, The Autobiography of Sinuhe, describing events that took place 1,000 years earlier, and it would certainly have been familiar to the Israelites from the earlier period of their Sojourn, the four generations they spent in Egypt during the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C.
Sinuhe was a courtier in the service of Nefru, daughter of Amenemhat I, the founder of the Twelfth Egyptian Dynasty in the twentieth century B.C. The form in which his autobiography is cast—the story of his sudden flight from Egypt, his wanderings, his battle with "a mighty Canaanite man" like Goliath and his eventual return to be buried in the land of his birth—makes it clear that it was inscribed originally in his actual tomb. Many copies of the story, which is recognized as being based on fact (see below), were found subsequently, dating from the twentieth century B.C. (when the events actually occurred) until as late as the Twenty-first Dynasty in the eleventh century B.C. It was a popular tale in ancient Egypt, taught as a literary example to students, and there can be no doubt that all educated persons in Egypt, no matter what their ethnic background, would have been familiar with its contents.
The similarities between the two accounts have been noted by many scholars. For example, William Kelly Simpson, the British Egyptologist, makes the point in his book The Literature of Ancient Egypt that the "account of the fight with the champion of Retenu has frequently been compared to the David and Goliath duel, for which it may have served as a literary prototype." Elsewhere* I have given a summary of the evidence indicating that this is the correct conclusion that The Autobiography of Sinuhe survived in the memories of the Israelites when Moses led their Exodus to the Promised Land in the fourteenth century B.C. to escape from the harsh oppression of their Egyptian masters. Later, in the sixth century B.C., the Hebrew scribes, writing the Book of Samuel during the Israelite 70-year exile in Babylonia—which had invaded Judaea and destroyed the Jerusalem Temple—and anxious to enhance the image of the tribal David in order to make it possible for readers to accept that it was he who established the great empire stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, included Sinuhe's encounter with a "mighty Canaanite man."
However, as we shall see in the next chapter, the most significant fact of all in establishing the identity of David is that the biblical account of his campaigns matches in precise detail the accounts of the battles fought by Tuthmosis III, whose details are to be found inscribed in the Annals, a 223-line document at the granite holy of holies the king built after his Year 40 (1439 B.C.) at Karnak (modern Luxor) in Upper Egypt, on the east bank of the Nile opposite the Valley of the Kings.
Tuthmosis III, the son of a concubine (Plate 2), came to the throne of Egypt under strange circumstances in 1490 B.C. The Eighteenth Dynasty had been founded nearly 100 years earlier when, after just over a century of rule over the Eastern Delta of Egypt by the invading Hyksos (Asiatic shepherds, with some Semitic and other elements among them, who subdued the territory around 1630 B.C. and set up their capital at a fortified city on the eastern borders of Egypt, which they named Avaris), the princes of Thebes united in the sixteenth century B.C. in a successful attempt to drive them out of the country. This victory resulted in the crowning of Ahmosis I (c. 1575-1550 B.C.), as the first ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty, which started what is known as the New Kingdom. In all, he spent 15 years battling to ensure that no part of Egypt remained under foreign control, including pursuit of the remnants of the Hyksos into the Gaza region.
*Jesus in the House of the Pharoahs.
Ahmosis I was followed by his son, Amenhotep I (c. 1550-1528 B.C.), who pushed further into Palestine and Syria in continuing campaigns against the Hyksos. He, in turn, was followed on the throne by Tuthmosis I (c. 1528-1510 B.C.), one of his generals, after the king had arranged for him to be married to the royal heiress and appointed him as his co-regent. Despite his relatively short reign, Tuthmosis I was the original founder of the Egyptian Empire. He marched into western Asia at the head of his army and reached the River Euphrates in the area between northern Syria and Mesopotamia, south of Anatolia. There they succeeded in crossing the river into the territory of Mitanni (the ancient kingdom of northern Mesopotamia) where Tuthmosis I erected a stele (which has not been found) commemorating his victory. At this time, however, the Egyptians were satisfied simply to crush their enemies and never tried to establish control over the vanquished territories.
After these events we enter a mysterious period in Egyptian history. The next ruler was the king's son, Tuthmosis II (c. 1510-1490 B.C.), born of a minor wife and not the Great Royal Wife (Queen Ahmose). To inherit the throne he married—as was the custom—his half sister, Hatshepsut, the heiress daughter of his father and Queen Ahmose. In his turn, Tuthmosis II chose his son, Tuthmosis III (c. 1490-1436 B.C.), by a concubine named Isis, to be his successor.
To ensure his son's right to the throne Tuthmosis II took the precaution of having him "adopted" by the state god Amun-Ra. The story of the god's choice of Tuthmosis III to be king is found in an inscription at Karnak, written long after he had come to the throne. It describes how the selection ceremony took place in the Temple of Amun at Thebes as the Ark of the state god was carried in procession: "On recognizing me, lo, he [the god] halted ... [I threw myself on] the pavement, I prostrated myself in his presence . . . Then they (the priests) [revealed] before the people the secrets in the hearts of the gods ..." At this point, the story describes how the young prince was whisked off to Heaven to be appointed king by Ra, the king of the gods: "Ra himself established me. I was dignified with the diadems which were upon his head, his serpent diadem, rested upon [my forehead]. ... I was sated with the counsels of the gods, like Horus ... at the house of my father, Amun-Ra."
Tuthmosis III, who had been given the throne name (i.e., that given at his coronation, different from the one given at birth; in fact, the king usually had four names) Menkheper-Ra ("established in the form of Ra"), was still a young boy, aged about five, when his father died. His "adoption" by
Amun-Ra as king would in the normal course of events have been confirmed by marriage to his half-sister, Neferure, a daughter born to Queen Hatshepsut shortly before the death of Tuthmosis II. This marriage did not take place—we do not know why. We do know, however, that her mother, Queen Hatshepsut, prevented the young king from ruling. Instead, she (his aunt-stepmother) appointed herself as his guardian, allowing him only to appear behind her in reliefs of the period.
Soon, as early as Tuthmosis Ill's Year 2 (1489 B.C.), she even took the step of sharing the kingship, posing and being dressed as a man. For as long as she lived she kept Tuthmosis III in the background and regarded her daughter, Neferure, as the real heiress and heir, "Lady of the Two Lands, mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt" (a title found on inscriptions of Hatshepsut). Her plans were frustrated, however, when Neferure died in Year 16 of the co-regency, and from this point onward Tuthmosis III gained increasing importance. He seems to have joined the Egyptian army as a young man, and there is evidence to suggest that he fought in the area of Gaza toward the end of the co-regency.
The chance for Tuthmosis III to rule Egypt on his own came in the middle of Year 22 (1469 B.C.) of the co-regency when Hatshepsut died. It seems that the first task he undertook was to deface many of the monuments erected to his aunt-stepmother: her reliefs were hacked out, her inscriptions erased, her cartouches (the oval rings containing names and titles of Egyptian rulers) obliterated, her obelisks walled up. So now, technically speaking, as he was neither the son of the Egyptian queen, nor had he married the heiress to inherit the throne, he ruled only by virtue of having been appointed by the state god Amun-Ra. Nor was Tuthmosis III the legal descendant of the earlier Ahmosside dynasty. From this time until the end of Amarna rule in Egypt—the rule of Akhenaten, Semenkhkare, Tutankhamun and Aye in the fourteenth century B.C.—it was the dynasty legitimized by the state god Amun-Ra and founded by Tuthmosis III that sat on the throne of Egypt.
The sarcophagus in the tomb of Tuthmosis III (No. 34 in the Valley of the Kings) was found to be empty when it was discovered. His mummy eventually came to light, together with 32 other royal mummies, hidden in a chamber, 3 meters wide and nearly 300 meters long, at the bottom of a narrow shaft dug in the slopes of the necropolis of western Thebes. They had lain there for more than 2,000 years, having been hidden by Egyptian priests who feared for their safety after many incidents of tomb-robbing.
Yet robbers did find their new hiding place. The mummy of Tuthmosis III had been torn from its coffin and suffered considerable damage as it was stripped of its jewels. The head, which had broken free from the body, showed that the king was almost completely bald at the time of his death apart from a few short white hairs behind the left ear. All four limbs had also become detached from the torso, the feet had become detached from the legs and both arms had been broken in two at the elbow:
before re-burial some renovation of the wrapping was necessary, and, as portions of the body became loose, the restorers, in order to give the mummy the necessary firmness, compressed it between four oar-shaped slips of wood . . . Happily, the face, which had been plastered over with pitch at the time of embalming, did not suffer at all from this rough treatment, and appeared intact when the protecting mask was removed.
The author of these words, Gaston Maspero, director-general of the Cairo Museum at the time (1896), went on to say: "His statues, although not representing him as a type of manly beauty, yet give him refined, intelligent features, but a comparison with the mummy shows that the artists have idealised their model." More recently (1959), another view of the king's appearance has been provided by the American scholar William C. Hayes:
Incontestably the greatest pharaoh ever to occupy the throne of Egypt, Tuthmosis III appears to have excelled not only as a warrior, a statesman and an administrator, but also as one of the most accomplished horsemen, archers and all-round athletes of his time . . . (Yet) physically he cannot have been very prepossessing. His mummy shows him to have been a stocky little man, under five feet four inches in height, and his portraits are almost unanimous in endowing him with the . . . most beaked of all the Tuthmosside noses.
His lack of stature and the physical appearance, which Hayes found not "very prepossessing," did not have a damaging effect on the domestic life of Tuthmosis III. His chief wife and the mother of his successor, Amenhotep II (c. 1436-1413 B.C.), was his half-sister, Meryt-Ra. Nothing much is known about her, but she was certainly not the heiress. In addition, he had at least three Asiatic wives, whose shared tomb was found in western Thebes, and a large harem.
We find no evidence of the relationship with the visiting Sarah that resulted in the birth of Isaac. Perhaps Egyptian scribes regarded it as an unimportant episode or as a great sin whose memory should not be preserved in official records in the same way that Hebrew scribes, while admitting the marriage, tried to obscure the identity of the father of the child born to it.
By the time that Tuthmosis III became sole ruler of Egypt in his Year 22 after the death of Hatshepsut, four decades had passed without a major Egyptian military campaign in western Asia. Now the situation changed completely. The King of Qadesh (a strong fortified city on the River Orontes in northern Syria) led a Syrio-Canaanite confederacy in a general rebellion against Egypt. In response, Tuthmosis III marched into western Asia to regain the territories between the Nile and Euphrates that had been conquered 40 years earlier by his grandfather, Tuthmosis I. In the next 20 years he led a total of 17 campaigns in western Asia, at the end of which Tuthmosis III (David) had earned himself the reputation of being the mightiest of all the kings of the ancient world—and had reestablished the empire that was the subject of the Lord's promises to Sarah's descendants, which are examined later in this book.
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