IN DAVID'S TOMB?
by Doug Ward
In the last years of his reign over
The Bible records that God blessed David's efforts with great success. In particular, David was able to gather an abundant supply of raw materials for the project. In I Chron. 22:14, David told Solomon,
``I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the Lord a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone.''
The margin of the New International Version, using a conversion factor of seventy-five pounds per talent, estimates that a hundred thousand talents of gold is equivalent to 3750 tons-a formidable treasure indeed! Later David announced a special donation of three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver, and the people of Israel contributed another five thousand talents of gold and ten thousand talents of silver (I Chron. 29:1-9).
Historian Flavius Josephus, writing over a thousand years later in the late
first century A.D., had much to say about David's wealth. In his book Antiquities
of the Jews he retold the narratives of the Hebrew scriptures,
aiming to dispel negative stereotypes about the Jews and impress a Gentile
Josephus also recounted details and traditions that are not mentioned in the Bible. His description of David's burial implies that David had amassed much more wealth than was needed for the construction and furnishing of the temple:
``He was buried by his son Solomon, in Jerusalem, with great magnificence, and with all the other funeral pomp which kings used to be buried with; moreover, he had great and immense wealth buried with him, the vastness of which may be easily conjectured at by what I shall now say; for a thousand and three hundred years afterward Hyrcanus the high priest, when he was besieged by Antiochus, that was called the Pious, the son of Demetrius, and was desirous of giving him money to get him to raise the siege and draw off his army, and having no other method of compassing the money, opened one room of David's sepulcher, and took out three thousand talents, and gave part of that sum to Antiochus; and by this means caused the siege to be raised, as we have informed the reader elsewhere. Nay, after him, and that many years, Herod the king opened another room, and took away a great deal of money, and yet neither of them came at the coffins of the kings themselves, for their bodies were buried under the earth so artfully, that they did not appear to even those that entered into their monuments. But so much shall suffice us to have said concerning these matters'' (Antiquities 7.15.3).
Josephus was clearly incorrect about one detail in the above paragraph. John
Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean
priest-king who ruled from about 134-104 B.C., lived only 900 years after David
rather than 1300. But could the bulk of Josephus' story be accurate? And if so,
does some portion of David's ``treasure'' still lie buried somewhere under the
Questions like these will only be answered for certain when Jesus Christ
returns, unless some amazing archaeological discoveries occur in the meantime.
Still, it is interesting to speculate about the extent and eventual fate of
David's riches. In the forthcoming book In Search of: King David's Lost Tomb
and Treasure, independent researcher Gary Arvidson
argues that Josephus's statements are consistent with the available biblical
and historical evidence, and that part of David's ancient wealth could very
well still be awaiting some future team of archaeologists. Let's examine Arvidson's case for the continued presence of buried
The Plausibility of Josephus's Account
Arvidson advances several arguments in
favor of the possibility that great wealth was buried with David. First, it
must be pointed out that in a number of instances, details in the writings of
Josephus have proven to be correct. One recent example involves Josephus's
story that Sanballat, a governor of
Second, given the large amounts of gold and silver collected for the temple
(I Chron. ;
29:1-9), it is reasonable to believe that there was a surplus. The temple was
very richly furnished-for example, the inside of the
Third, if there was a surplus in the amount of gold and silver collected, it
is likely that David had a good estimate of how much would be left over. I Chron. 28:11-19 emphasizes the
care with which David planned the temple, right down to the quantities of gold
required for each of the various temple furnishings. Knowing the approximate
size of the surplus, David might then have instructed Solomon to place some set
amount of the treasure in his tomb. Such a plan is consistent with what the
Bible tells us about David's character and motivations. Unlike other ancient
kings who liked to make an ostentatious display of their wealth, David
collected his gold and silver in order to glorify God. He knew that God was the
Source and real Owner of his wealth (I Chron.
29:10-16), and he also had some knowledge of the great role that his
descendants and his nation were to play in God's plan for humanity (2
Sam.7:18-29). It is therefore easy to imagine David, with his great concern for
the future of
Taking all of these factors into account, Arvidson concludes that Josephus's story is worthy of our consideration.
Are the Tomb and Gold Still There?
But if David was buried with great wealth, as Josephus claimed, what are the chances that David's tomb remains intact and waiting to be found? And if David's tomb has not been destroyed, how likely is it that some of his wealth is still contained there? Arvidson also addresses these questions in some detail. Looking carefully at the biblical and historical record, he suggests several factors that may have combined to protect David's tomb from potential raiders.
After David's death, Solomon built the beautiful temple as David had
planned. The construction of the temple, which is described in I Kings 6-7 and
2 Chron. 3-4, required seven years (I Kings 6:38).
The interior of the temple, including floor and ceiling, was overlaid with gold
(I Kings -30). Solomon also
built a magnificent palace filled with golden articles, including a throne
``inlaid with ivory and overlaid with pure gold'' (2 Chron.
). So much wealth poured into the
Over the next four hundred years, much of the gold and silver accumulated
during Solomon's time probably found its way into the coffers of foreign
rulers. Wealth from the temple treasury and royal palace was taken by or given
to the kings of surrounding countries during the reigns of Rehoboam
(I Kings -26), Asa (I Kings ),
Joash (2 Kings ),
Amaziah (2 Kings ),
Ahaz (2 Kings 16:8), and Hezekiah (2 Kings -16). Finally, in about 597 B.C.,
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took what was left from the temple and palace (2
Kings 24:13). Eleven years later, he destroyed
Josephus also reported that Herod the Great, one hundred years after Hyrcanus in the late first century B.C., took further wealth from the tomb. More details of Herod's activities appear in Book 16 of the Antiquities:
``As for Herod, he had spent vast sums about the cities, both without and within his own kingdom; and as he had before heard that Hyrcanus, who had been king before him, had opened David's sepulcher, and taken out of it three thousand talents of silver, and that there was a much greater number left behind, and indeed enough to suffice all his wants, he had a great while an intention to make the attempt; and at this time he opened that sepulcher by night, and went into it, and endeavored that it should not be at all known in the city, but took only his most faithful friends with him. As for any money, he found none, as Hyrcanus had done, but that furniture of gold, and those precious goods that were laid up there; all which he took away. However, he had a great desire to make a more diligent search, and to go farther in, even as far as the very bodies of David and Solomon; where two of his guards were slain, by a flame that burst out upon those that went in, as the report was. So he was terribly affrighted, and went out, and built a propitiatory monument of that fright he had been in; and this of white stone, at the mouth of the sepulcher, and that at great expense also'' (Antiquities 16.7.1).
This startling account, reminiscent of movies like Raiders
of the Lost
``Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling'' (I Sam. 25:29).
Although these words apply primarily to God's protection of David during David's lifetime, one wonders whether the fate of Herod's guards might constitute an additional ``hurling away'' of the enemies of David.
There is no way to tell how much wealth remained in David's tomb after
Herod's abortive nocturnal raid. From the words of the apostle
Peter's Pentecost sermon, it appears that the location of the tomb was still
well-known a generation after Herod's death (Acts ). The next potential threat to the tomb occurred when
the armies of
In the Tosefta, a rabbinic work compiled in the third century A.D., there is an indication that David's tomb survived the Roman invasion and remained intact in the early second century. Reference is made to the tomb in a discussion of what should be done about a burial site that is surrounded by a growing town:
should be cleared away, except the sepulchre of a
king and the sepulchre of a prophet. Rabbi Akiba says: `Even the sepulchre
of a king and the sepulchre of a prophet should be
cleared away.' He was told: `But there was at
Rabbi Akiba (c.50 A.D.-c. 135 A.D.), the teacher
quoted in the above paragraph, was an important Jewish leader of the early
second century. When the Roman Emperor Hadrian made plans to erect a pagan
temple on the site of the
There is a cryptic reference to the ``tomb of Solomon'' in an account of the Bar Kochba Revolt written by the Roman historian Dio Cassius (164-235 A.D.). Dio Cassius claimed that the Jews had received a bad omen about the outcome of the rebellion:
``Thus nearly the whole of
Dio Cassius did not elaborate on what exactly
happened to Solomon's tomb. It is certainly possible, though, that the
extensive quarrying involved in the leveling of
On the other hand, if the kings' burial place survived Hadrian's intrusion,
then it could still be intact today, because knowledge of its location was lost
after the construction of Aelia Capitolina.
Hundreds of years later, a new tradition developed about the location of
David's tomb, but this medieval tradition is now known to be false. In
particular, it places David's tomb in a portion of
In summary, a number of factors may have served to preserve David's tomb and a portion of its wealth, including (1) direct divine intervention; (2) the continued presence of easily accessible wealth above ground; and eventually (3) a lack of reliable knowledge about its location.
These are exciting times for students of biblical archaeology.
It seems that every year, new discoveries shed light on the biblical record and
give further testimony to its reliability. For instance, ninth-century B.C.
inscriptions including the words ``house of David'' and ``king of
It would be wonderful to have more direct ancient evidence about David. Gary
Arvidson's dream is that modern tools like geophysical
diffraction tomography might help archaeologists detect the burial place of
1This charge appears, for example, in the works of the Roman writers Juvenal and Martial-see the book Josephus's Interpretation of the Bible by Louis H. Feldman, University of California Press, 1998, pp. 93, 543.
2Curiously, though, his retelling of I Chron. 22 divides the amounts of gold and silver mentioned in verse 14 by ten. In Antiquities 7.14.2, David informs Solomon that ``there are already ten thousand talents of gold, and a hundred thousand talents of silver collected together.''
3See the article ``A Hill and its King'' by David B. Green in The Jerusalem Report, 2000.
4See the article ``Does the Bible Exaggerate King Solomon's Golden Wealth?'' by Alan R. Millard in Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1989, pp. 20-34.
reconstruction of an ancient Roman Colosseum
inscription indicates that booty from
6See the article
``Has David Been Found in
File translated from