The Tel Dan inscription: the meaning of ביתדוד, “House of David”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

This post outlines the arguments of George Athas on the famous “House of David” lexeme that appears in the published version of his 1999 doctoral dissertation, The Tel Dan Inscription: A Reappraisal and a New Interpretation (2003).

Athas believes that the critical word often translated as House of David is in fact a geographical place-name and probably a reference to Jerusalem. I will cover Athas’s historical commentary in which he discusses the relevance of the expression as evidence for a historical Davidic dynasty in a future post. I have not covered every detail of Athas’ comments, omitting some subordinate arguments such as a proposed translation that introduces a cookhouse into the inscription, or where an argument against a particular amended text in Amos 8:14 is rejected because it breaks the parallelism in the verse.  On the other hand, I have expanded some details, such as journal names and biblical quotations. Do let me know if you notice any errors in the Hebrew/Aramaic letters. The Tel Dan is an Aramaic inscription.

To begin with, here is a translation by George Athas of fragment A in which the apparent “House of David” appears, along with line numbering:

A1 [. . . .]you will rule ov[er ]
A2 [and because of the p]iou[s acts] of my father, may [?] go up [ ]
A3 and my father will repose. May he go to [ at every]
A4 ancient [h]earth on the ground of El-Bay[tel am]
A5 I, so Hadad would go before me [ the day-]
A6 -s of my reign, and I would slay a kin[g] and [ thousands of cha-]
A7 -riots and thousands of horsemen [ ]
A8 the king of Israel, and [I] killed [him kin-]
A9 -g of Bayt-Dawid. And [the] name [of ]
A10 their land to [ ]
A11 another and to [ Jehoash r-]
A12 -eigned over Is[rael I laid]
A13 siege to [Samaria ]

There are two fragments, A and B. Athas discusses the evidence for placing the B fragment below fragment A (e.g. the evidence that the scribe did not have to stretch when engraving B as he did with the letters in A, and the breakdown of the text’s alignment if B is placed alongside A). This changes how scholars interpret the possible overall message on the monument, but does not affect the meaning of the apparent “House of David” reference.

ביתדוד – the controversy

Biran and Naveh first proposed the theory that this should be interpreted as “House of David” – that is, referring to the “dynastic name of the kingdom of Judah”. (‘An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan’, Israel Exploration Journal 43 (1993), pp. 81-98. Continue reading “The Tel Dan inscription: the meaning of ביתדוד, “House of David””