Book Review: King David’s Lost Tomb & Treasure,
by Gary Arvidson, 2002, 424 pages, www.greatkings.org.
Is There Buried Treasure In King David’s Tomb?
n the last years of his reign over Israel, King David made plans for his nation’s future. He had a burning desire to prepare for the construction of the great temple that was to be built by Solomon, his son and successor to the throne. His “extensive preparations” (I Chronicles 22:5, NIV) included designing the temple and its furnishings according to God’s instructions (I Chronicles 28:11-19); collecting materials for the temple, including gold and silver (I Chronicles 22:14, 29:1-9); and organizing the duties of the priests and Levites who would serve there (I Chronicles 23-26).
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 Chronicles 22:14 (NIV), 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! (At $300/oz, this would be worth $36 billion.) 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 Chronicles 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 audience with Israel’s wisdom and illustrious history. One misconception that Josephus hoped to correct was the charge that Israel was a “nation of beggars.”1
He therefore took every possible opportunity to highlight examples of wealthy biblical heroes, noting for example that King David “excelled all other kings in riches” and “left behind him greater wealth than any other king, either of the Hebrews or, of other nations, ever did” (Antiquities of the Jews, 13.8.4; 7.15.2).2
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 city of Jerusalem?
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 his new 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 treasure in Jerusalem.
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 Samaria in the fifth century B.C., built a temple on Mount Gerizim that was similar to the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Antiquities 11.8.2). In 1995, Israeli archaeologist Yitzhak Magen found evidence of such a temple.3
Second, given the large amounts of gold and silver collected for the temple (I Chronicles 22:14, 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 Most Holy Place was “overlaid . . . with six hundred talents of fine gold” (II Chronicles 3:8) — but those six hundred talents are still a small fraction of the one hundred thousand talents mentioned in I Chronicles 22:14 (or even of the ten thousand talents in Josephus’s version). And for those who might argue that the amounts of gold and silver mentioned in I Chronicles 22:14 are exaggerated, it should be pointed out that these amounts are not unreasonably large compared to those reported in other accounts of ancient treasure. For example, Greek historians estimated the amount of gold captured from the Persians by Alexander the Great at almost 7000 tons!4
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 Chronicles 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 Chronicles 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 (II Samuel 7:18-29). It is therefore easy to imagine David, with his great concern for the future of Israel, deciding to follow the principle stated in Proverbs 13:22, “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children . . .” by having his surplus wealth buried with him for the needs of future generations.
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 II Chronicles 3-4, required seven years (I Kings 6:38). The interior of the temple, including floor and ceiling, was overlaid with gold (I Kings 6:21-30). Solomon also built a magnificent palace filled with golden articles, including a throne “inlaid with ivory and overlaid with pure gold” (II Chronicles 9:17). So much wealth poured into the kingdom of Israel during Solomon’s time that silver was “as common in Jerusalem as stones” (I Kings 10:27).
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 14:25-26), Asa (I Kings 15:18), Joash (II Kings 12:18), Amaziah (II Kings 14:14), Ahaz (II Kings 16:8), and Hezekiah (II Kings 18:13-16). Finally, in about 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took what was left from the temple and palace (II Kings 24:13). Eleven years later, he destroyed Jerusalem (II Kings 25:8-10), burning down the temple and other important buildings. The Bible makes no mention, however, of the burial place of the kings of Judah being raided or disturbed. There was apparently enough wealth above ground to satisfy foreign invaders, allowing David’s tomb to remain “out of sight, out of mind” for the time being. The riches of Solomon and his successors may have thus served to protect any treasure that was buried with David.
During the Second Temple period, Judea was dominated and fought over by foreign empires — the Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, and Romans. Silver and gold were often used to secure the favor of these powers (see for example I Macc. 11:24, 15:18, 26, 31, 35). In the time of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who reigned from 175-164 B.C., corrupt men obtained the high priesthood with bribes, even going so far as to steal and sell some of the temple furnishings (II Macc. 4). Then in about 169 B.C., Antiochus attacked Jerusalem. He profaned the temple and also looted it, carrying away more golden treasures (I Macc. 1:20-24; II Macc. 5:15-21). Amidst the power struggles and intrigues of this period in Judea’s history, it is not surprising that John Hyrcanus would be finally forced to dip into the riches of David’s tomb, as Josephus stated several times (Antiquities 7.15.3, 13.8.4, 16.7.1).
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 Ark, suggests that God directly intervened to guard David’s tomb. Arvidson notes one parallel situation recorded in the Bible: When Moses died, God made sure that the location of his body remained unknown (Deuteronomy 34:6). Since David is such a key figure in God’s plan, it is not surprising that his tomb might have been specially protected. Arvidson also points out that Abigail once told David,
“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 Samuel 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 2:29). The next potential threat to the tomb occurred when the armies of Rome destroyed Jerusalem, including the Second Temple, in 70 A.D. The Romans took great riches from the temple, as memorialized on the Arch of Titus in Rome.5 There is no record that any of these riches came from David’s tomb, however. Again, there may have been enough riches above ground to satisfy the invaders.
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:
“All sepulchres 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 Jerusalem the Sepulchres of the House of David and the Sepulchre of Huldah the prophetess and nobody ever touched them.’ To which he replied: ‘Do you adduce these as evidence? There was a tunnel in them, through which the uncleanness went forth to the Valley of Kidron’,” (Baba Bathra 1:11-12).
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 Jerusalem temple ruins, Akiba helped organize the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-135 A.D.) and was later put to death for his role in the rebellion. After the revolt had been put down by the Romans, Hadrian went ahead with his plans to rebuild Jerusalem. The remains of the old city were leveled, and the new pagan city of Aelia Capitolina was erected in its place. Jews were forbidden to enter the new city.
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 Judea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities,” (Annals, Book 5, 69.14).
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 Jerusalem and the construction of Aelia Capitolina could have damaged the burial place of the kings of Judah.
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 Jerusalem that was definitely not part of the old city of David.
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 (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 Israel” were found at Tel Dan in northern Galilee in 1993. These inscriptions constitute the oldest known attestation to David’s existence. More recently, an even older possible reference to David has been found in Egypt.6
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 Judah’s kings somewhere underneath the approximately fifteen acres of the city of David. To further promote the search, he plans to publish a second book giving more information about the tomb’s possible location. But whether or not David’s tomb is ever found, Arvidson is to be commended for making this fascinating story accessible to a wide audience.
— written by Doug Ward, Ph.D.
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 Chronicles 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 online at http://www.jrep.com/Arts/Article-9.html.
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.
5A recent reconstruction of an ancient Roman Coliseum inscription indicates that booty from Jerusalem may have played a major role in funding the building of the Coliseum. See the article “Financing the Coliseum” by Louis H. Feldman in Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2001.
6See the article “Has David Been Found in Egypt?” in Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan./Feb. 1999, pp. 34-35.
Comments by Richard C. Nickels
Mr. Arvidson’s book is fascinating. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 4, page 498, says, “. . . treasures were said to have been buried with David.” Think of the significance of finding David’s tomb and treasure, which may include his handwritten copy of the Bible (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), his shield, and the spear of Goliath! Amos 9:11 says, “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old.”
Arvidson believes that the location of the ancient Temple is not the commonly accepted site now known as the Dome of the Rock, but south of that, over the Gihon Springs in the City of David. He says the Dome of the Rock, where a Muslim mosque sits today, is the location of the old Fort Antonia, where a 5,000-member Roman Legion was stationed, which overlooked the Temple. His view, a slightly modified version of Dr. Ernest L. Martin’s thesis, presents the startling idea that the “Western (Wailing) Wall” where the Jews pray today, is actually not the wall of the Temple, but merely the wall of the Roman Antonia Fortress. The actual Temple site, to the south, may not be in contested territory. This means that a Temple could be built without disturbing the Muslim “holy” site.
In Search of: King David’s Lost Tomb and Treasure, by Gary Arvidson, 424 pp., $16 plus $2 postage from Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849. W