But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.'”
And so Saul does become the first king, and he is anointed by Samuel with divine authority.
(It is interesting to compare the custom of anointment with the sixteenth century concept of a ‘Divine Right of Kings’. It is upon this Biblical precedent that England’s James I, for instance, claimed absolute power. It is also the basis of present British custom by which the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns the monarch. And it is of linguistic interest that the word ‘messiah’ – ‘mashiach’ in Hebrew – simply means ‘anointed one’.)
In the Biblical account, the bodies of Saul and Jonathan are hung by the Philistines on the walls of Beth Shean, on the Jordan river to the south of the Sea of Galilee. The remains of that Canaanite-Philistine fortress still stand on the acropolis high above the excavation of the Byzantine city.
In the Books of Kings and Chronicles, succeeding kings of the united Jewish kingdom, and then the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, rule in a state of tension with the Prophets. The Prophets demand righteousness and submission to the Law; property rights for the citizens and the protection of widows and orphans.
The early city of Jerusalem, captured by King David from the Jebusites in about 1000 BCE, and known as the “City of David”, was excavated by Kathleen Kenyon between 1961 and 1967, with the details recorded in her Digging Up Jerusalem in 1974. It stands on a steep hill to the south of the Temple Mount in the midst of the Arab village of Silwan (“Siloam”). In the precipitous valley beneath it gushes the Gihon spring, diverted into a water tunnel constructed by King Hezekiah after the Assyrian invasion of 722 BCE, which discharges into the Pool of Siloam, next to a monastery at the foot of the hill.
All that remains of Solomon’s Temple is the retaining wall which supports the Temple Mount, with architectural features suggesting a vanished bridge, and the remains of ancient residential areas excavated in the vicinity. Excavation on the Mount itself, with the Dome of the Rock and the El Aqsa Mosque, is of course forbidden.
It has also been suggested that the massive “Solomonic” gates uncovered at Meggido, Gezer and Dan, verify the Biblical descriptions of King Solomon’s fortresses.
The capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel was constructed by King Omri in 880 BCE on the hill of Samaria, later named Sebastia, near the city of Nablus (originally Neapolis) on the West Bank. The royal citadel has been uncovered, revealing the splendid court of Ahab and Jezebel, with numerous artefacts, including delicate imported ivories.
The Moabite Stele, discovered in 1868, which now stands in the Louvre, carries an inscription of thirty-four lines. The text commemorates the defeat inflicted on the kingdom of Israel after the death of Ahab, shortly before 842 BC. The stele was erected at Dibân, capital of Moab, in modern Jordan near the Dead Sea, by “Mesha, son of Kamoshyat, King of Moab.”
And of course the Assyrian bas-relief in the British Museum depicting the capture of Lachish, south-west of Jerusalem, in 701 BCE, fits precisely with Isaiah’s description of Hezekiah’s negotiation with the Assyrians after that event.