King Solomon, who assumed the throne of the kingdom of Israel after the death of his father King David, was renowned for his great wealth no less than for his great wisdom. But as always with the Bible, scholars have a field day arguing over the account’s historical accuracy. On one count, at least—the story of King Solomon’s mines—archaeologists think they have evidence that the story was more than a legend.
An excavation led by Thomas Levy of the University of California, San Diego, and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology has unearthed what they identify as an ancient center for copper production at Khirbat en-Nahas. Located in the lowlands of a desolate, arid region south of the Dead Sea in what was once the Kingdom of Edom, which the Old Testament describes as a foe of Israel, it is now the Faynan district of Jordan. As they are reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, radiocarbon analysis dates the site as from the 10th century BCE, when David and Solomon would have ruled and about 300 years earlier than scholars thought. It is by no means certain that Solomon (or David) controlled the mines, but at least the dates now match.
Earlier work by Levy and Najjar, The New York Times reported in 2006, “len[t] credence to biblical accounts of the rivalry between Edom and the Israelites in what was then known as Judah. . . . [T]his supported the tradition that Judah itself had by the time of David and Solomon, in the early 10th century, emerged as a kingdom with ambition and the means of fighting off the Edomites.”
The current work finds that metallurgic activity at the site spiked during the 9th century BCE, which is in agreement with the idea of the strength and power of the Edomites. Biblical archeologists have been torn over whether the Edomites were sufficiently organized by the 10th to 9th centuries BCE to threaten the neighboring Israelites. But with the new excavations, said Levy, “we have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in 10th and 9th centuries BCE and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible narratives related to this period.”
Ancient Egyptian artifacts—a scarab and an amulet—were found in a layer of the dig that coincided with a serious disruption in copper production, at the end of the 10th century BCE. That was also the time when Pharaoh Sheshonq I, whom the Bible calls Shishak, mounted a military campaign after Solomon’s death to crush economic activity in the area.
“We can’t believe everything ancient writings tell us,” Levy said. “But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible.” It remains to be seen whether other scholars in the notoriously disputatious field of biblical archaeology agree, of course, but for now Levy and his team are pressing on. They hope to figure out who actually controlled the copper industry at Khirbat en-Nahas: David and Solomon, or Edomite leaders?