Biblical inscriptions are rare indeed. Complete texts are almost non-existent. We are not surprised to find that the House of David inscription, pieces of which were found in excavations of the Biblical city of Dan in the 1990′s by Prof. Avraham Biran, of the Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem, is broken and fragmentary. None of the thirteen lines of text found so far is complete. It is the task of scholars who study those texts to try to figure out – and, sometimes, to guess – what the writer was trying to say.

The situation is particularly puzzling because the text deals with people we know from the Bible.  Here is what the lines in question (lines 7-9) say; the parts in brackets are missing from the broken inscription but filled in by scholarly guesswork. Hazael writes, “[I killed Yeho]ram son of [Ahab] King of Israel and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the house of David.”

We have one name of only two final Aramaic letters, – “ram” and another name of only four final letters –“iahu” . The rest is guesswork. The scholars, in this case Prof. Biran, have filled in the rest of the names: Yehoram and Ahaziahu. These kings fit the picture because they reigned at the time that Hazael was making war against the country. The timing is correct.

The problem is that the Bible records the death of these two kings in an entirely different way. And the matter is further complicated because one of the kings is sometimes called “Jehoram”, and at other times, “Joram” in the Bible. In any event, II Kings: nine reports the death of these two kings at the hands of Jehu, rebel commander in the Gilead, who overthrew Jehoram (Joram) the son of King Ahab who ruled Israel, and killed Ahaziah, the king of Judah (“of the house of David”), soon after.  The prophet Hosea (Hosea 1:4-5) seems to confirm this tradition that Jehu did away with the dynasty of Ahab in Israel.

How can Hazael claim credit for killing the two kings when the Bible says Jehu did it? Perhaps Hazael saw Jehu as his agent, and perhaps Jehu was indeed being supported in his rebellion by the Arameans of Damascus. Or perhaps is was not Hazael at all but Ben Hadad, his predecessor. We do not have enough historical evidence to decide finally, but this small puzzle illustrates the problem of deciphering ancient writings.

Author:  Walter Zanger