The Tel Dan Stela and the
Kings of Aram and Israel
Non-Technical - maj 04, 2011 - by
Bryant G. Wood PhD
Share/recommend this article:
A people known as the Arameans lived in the
regions of Syria and Mesopotamia in
antiquity. They were a large group of
linguistically related peoples who spoke
dialects of a West Semitic language known as
Aramaic. Although not politically unified,
they developed powerful city-states that had
a strong cultural influence in the Near East
in the first millennium BC. The Aramaic
language, very similar to Hebrew, became the
official international language during the
Persian Period, ca. 539–332 BC, and
eventually replaced many of the local
languages of the area, including Hebrew. As
a result, in New Testament times the main
local language was Aramaic rather than
The nation of Israel was in conflict with
the Arameans for about 300 years, from the
time of David, ca. 1000 BC, until Assyria
annexed the Aramean city-states at the end
of the eighth century BC. Most of the
conflict was with the city-state of Damascus
that, under Hazael, dominated Israel in the
second half of the ninth century. A recently
discovered inscription, the Tel Dan Stela,
takes us back to those days.
and Significance of the Tel Dan Stela
The largest fragment of the Tel Dan Stela,
Fragment A, was discovered at Tel Dan in
northern Israel in July 1993 (Biran and
Naveh 1993; Wood 1993). Then, in June 1994,
two additional joining fragments, labeled
Fragment B, were found (Biran and Naveh
1995). Together, Fragments A and B represent
only a fraction of a much longer
inscription. The language is Aramaic and it
celebrates the victory of a king of Aram
over Israel and Judah. It is the first royal
inscription from the kingdom period to be
found in Israel.
Tel Dan Inscription, the first royal
inscription from the kingdom period to be
found in Israel. Fragment A (right) was
discovered in 1993 and Fragment B (left) was
discovered one year later. Dated to ca. 841
BC, the original inscription named at least
eight Biblical kings.
The most stunning aspect of the document is
the reference to Judah as the “House of
David.” For the first time, it was thought,
the name David appeared in an extra-Biblical
document. At about the same time, however,
two French scholars, André Lemaire (1994)
and Émile Puech (1994), independently
recognized the same phrase in the
which has been around for well over 100
years (Wood 1995). It now likely that the
name David is in a third inscription.
Egyptologist K.A. Kitchen believes that the
phrase “highland of David” appears in the
Shishak inscription in the Temple of Amun at
Karnak, Egypt (1997: 39–41). All this at a
time when a number of scholars were
challenging the existence of the United
Monarchy and a king name David!
Unfortunately, the beginning of the Tel Dan
Stela is missing. This is where the name of
the king who commissioned the memorial, and
the event which occasioned it, would have
been recorded. With the discovery of
Fragment B, however, we can assign the
stela’s place in history with near
certainty. Parts of the names of two kings
are preserved in Fragment B: Joram, son of
Ahab, king of Israel from 852 to 841 BC, and
Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, king of Judah (the
House of David) in 841 BC. With this new
information it is possible to assign the
stela to Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus, who
undoubtedly set it up in Dan to commemorate
his victory over Joram and Ahaziah at Ramoth-Gilead
in ca. 841 BC (2 Kgs 8:28–29).
In this article we will consider six kings
associated with the stele: the predecessor
of Hazael, (Ben-Hadad II), Hazael, Joram,
Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Jehu. Because of the
fragmentary nature of the stela, there are
gaps in the lines that allow a number of
interpretations. The translation below is
that of the original publishers of the
inscription, Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh
(1995). The numbers are the line numbers of
the inscription and the sections inside the
brackets are the restored portions.
1. [...] and cut [...]
2. [...] my father went up [against him
when] he fought at [...]
3. And my father lay down, he went to his
[ancestors] and the king of I[s-]
4. rael entered previously in my father’s
land. [And] Hadad made me king.
5. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I
departed from [the] seven [...-]
6. s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty
kin[gs], who harnessed thou[sands of cha-]
7. riots and thousands of horsemen. [I
killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab]
8. king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu
son of [Jehoram kin-]
9. g of the House of David. And I set [their
towns into ruins and turned]
10. their land into [desolation ...]
11. other [... and Jehu ru-]
12. led over Is[rael ... and I laid]
13. siege upon [...]
carving found at Arslan Tash, Syria. A cache
of ivories found at the Assyrian outpost of
Arslan Tash was undoubtedly booty taken from
Hazael’s palace in Damascus. The regal
figure depicted on this piece is probably
(Louvre Museum, Paris)
Hazael ruled for some 42 years, ca. 842–800
BC, and was the most powerful king of Aram.
He is referred to numerous times in the Old
Testament, as well as in contemporary
The fulfillment of Elisha’s prediction that
Hazael would bring harm to Israel began
shortly after he took the throne. He
defeated the combined armies of Israel and
Judah at Ramoth Gilead, 50 km (30 mi)
southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Hazael’s
boast in lines 9 and 10 that he “set [their
towns into ruins and turned] their land into
[desolation]” most likely refers to his
defeat of Israel and Judah at Ramoth Gilead.
Joram, king of Israel, was wounded in the
battle. Ahaziah, king of Judah, went to
visit Joram at Jezreel. It was at that time
that Jehu assassinated both Joram and
Ahaziah and became next king of the Northern
In lines 7 and 8 of the stela Hazael takes
credit for the deaths of Joram and Ahaziah.
Whether this was exaggeration, or Jehu
acting as Hazael’s agent, we cannot say. It
is interesting, however, that God commanded
Elijah to anoint Hazael king (1 Kgs 19:15),
a very unusual circumstance. God used Hazael
to accomplish His purposes in the history of
Israel and Judah.
For the next five years, ca. 841–836 BC,
Hazael was taken up with invasions by the
Assyrians, so did not bother Israel.
Shalmaneser III in his 18th year (ca. 841
BC) engaged Hazael at Mt Senir. He bragged
about killing 16,000 Aramean soldiers. He
also captured 1,121 chariots, 470 cavalry
horses, and Hazael’s camp. He besieged
Hazael in Damascus and cut down his gardens
(Oppenheim 1969: 280).
In Shalmaneser III’s 21st year (ca. 838 BC),
he conquered four of Hazael’s larger towns
(Oppenheim 1969: 280). An inscription on a
marble bead from Assur reads,
Booty of the temple of Sheru from the town
of Mallaha, the royal residence of Hazael of
Damascus (Oppenheim 1969: 281).
Two ivories, probably taken as booty by the
Assyrians, are inscribed on the back with a
dedication to “our lord Hazael” (Pitard
1997: 104; Ephal and Naveh 1989: 197).
After 836, Hazael continued his aggression
against Israel and Judah. During the reign
of Jehu (ca. 841–814 BC) he captured all of
the Israelite territory east of the Jordan
River (2 Kgs 10:32–33). In the 23rd year of
Joash, son of Ahaziah (2 Kgs 12:6, ca.
815–814 BC), Hazael captured Gath and
attacked Jerusalem (2 Kgs 12:17). Joash was
able to pay him off and save the royal city:
But Joash king of Judah took all the sacred
objects dedicated by his
fathers—Jehoshaphat, Jehoram and Ahaziah,
the kings of Judah—and the gifts he himself
had dedicated and all the gold found in the
treasuries of the temple of the Lord and of
the royal palace, and he sent them to Hazael
king of Aram, who then withdrew from
Jerusalem (2 Kgs 12:18).
Hazael was no doubt replenishing his coffers
following the raids by the Assyrians. Jehu’s
son Jehoahaz (ca. 814–798 BC) “did evil in
the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kgs 13:2). As a
the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and
for a long time He kept them under the power
of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad [III]
his son (2 Kgs 13:3; cf. 13:22).
The war against Hazael took its toll on
Israel’s army. It was reduced to 10,000
soldiers, 50 horsemen, and ten chariots (2
Kgs 13:7a). “The king of Aram had destroyed
the rest and made them like the dust at
threshing time” (2 Kgs 13:7b). Relief came
from the Lord, who “provided a deliverer for
Israel, and they escaped from the power of
Aram” (2 Kgs 13:5; cf. 13:23).
This deliverer was most likely the Assyrian
king Adadnirari III (ca. 810–783 BC), who
attacked Damascus in 806 (Oppenheim 1969:
281–82). Hazael died sometime around the
time Jehoash, son of Jehoahaz, took the
throne (ca. 798 BC, 2 Kgs 13:24).
Ivory carvings of winged figures found at
Arslan Tash, Syria. Scholars believe they
came from Hazael’s palace in Damascus and
were brought to Arslan Tash as booty.
(Louvre Museum, Paris; photo by Michael
Ahab, King of Israel
(ca. 874–853 BC)
Ahab’s name originally appeared on the stela
since Joram, his son, is listed in typical
Near Eastern fashion as [...Jo]ram son of
[...] in line 7. Ahab’s name, however, is
missing since it was on a portion of the
stela that did not survive. We have dealt
with Ahab in an earlier article in this
series (Wood 1996a), so we will not repeat
that information here, but move on to his
Joram, King of Israel (ca. 852-841 BC)
Following Ahab’s death, his son Ahaziah
ruled for two years, 853–852 BC. He died in
an accidental fall in the palace and left no
son, so his brother Joram became next king
of Israel (2 Kgs 1:2–17). The mention of
Joram in the Tel Dan Stela is the first
reference to this king outside the Bible.
Joram reigned for 12 years (2 Kgs 3:1).
Although he did evil in the eyes of the
Lord, he was not as bad as his father Ahab
and his mother Jezebel. The outstanding
event of his reign seems to be the removal
of the sacred stone of Baal that Ahab had
made (2 Kgs 3:2).
Joram was on good terms with the kings of
Judah. He teamed up with Jehoshaphat to put
down a revolt of Mesha, king of Moab, in ca.
846 BC (2 Kgs 3:4–27; Wood 1996b: 55–58).
The next king of Judah, Jehoram (848–841
BC), married Joram’s sister Athaliah (2 Kgs
8:18, 26). Her son Ahaziah became king of
Judah following Jehoram. In 841 BC Joram
joined forces with his nephew Ahaziah to
fight against Hazael at Ramoth Gilead. He
was wounded and went to Jezreel to recover
(2 Kgs 8:28–29).
Following his anointing by Elisha, Jehu went
to Jezreel to assassinate Joram. He shot him
in the back with an arrow as Joram was
fleeing (2 Kgs 9:14–24). Jehu ordered
Joram’s body to be thrown on the field of
Naboth to fulfill a prophecy he heard after
Naboth was murdered by Joram’s mother
Jezebel (2 Kgs 9:25–26).
Jehoram, King of Judah (ca. 848—841 BC)
Jehoram was originally named in the Tel Dan
Stela since Ahaziah’s father’s name was
given. However, the section of the stela
where his name appeared is missing. Jehoram
became king when he was 32 years old and
ruled for 8 years. He was one of the more
wicked kings of Judah.
When Jehoram became ruler, he killed all of
his brothers and other contenders for the
throne (2 Chr 21:4). He married Athaliah,
daughter of Ahab, and built high places on
the hills of Judah (2 Chr 21:6, 11). During
his reign the Edomites revolted. While
attempting to subdue them, Jehoram and his
commanders were surrounded. Fortunately, he
was able to break through at night and
escape to Jerusalem (2 Kgs 8:20–22).
Because of his wicked ways, Elijah the
prophet wrote Jehoram a condemning letter.
He told the king,
The Lord is about to strike your people,
your sons, your wives, and everything that
is yours, with a heavy blow (2 Chr 21:14).
Soon after, a coalition of Philistines and
Arabs overran the palace and carried off all
the goods of the palace, the king’s sons,
with the exception of Ahaziah the youngest,
and his wives.
Elijah also told Jehoram in the letter that
he would be smitten with a disease of the
bowels (2 Chr 21:15). After the palace was
ransacked Jehoram became ill with an
incurable disease of the bowels that lasted
two years (2 Chr 21:18–19a). Although he was
buried in the City of David, no fire was
made in his honor and he was not buried in
the tombs of the kings (2 Chr 21:19b–20).
King of the House of David (ca. 841 BC)
As with Jehoram, the mention of Ahaziah in
the Tel Dan Stela is the only reference we
have to this king outside the Bible. Ahaziah
came to the throne at the tender age of 22
and ruled for only one year. He was the
youngest son of Jehoram, the previous king
of Judah. The other sons had been carried
off by the Philistines and Arabs (2 Chr
Ahaziah followed the ways of his Israelite
mother Athaliah and “did evil in the eyes of
the Lord” (2 Chr 22:4a). The members of the
family of Ahab his grandfather became his
advisors (2 Chr 21:4b). They urged him to
join Joram in his fight against Hazael at
Ramoth Gilead which resulted in his
premature death (2 Chr 21:5).
While Joram was in Jezreel recovering from
the wound he received at Ramoth Gilead,
Ahaziah went to visit him. He was in the
company of Joram when Jehu struck him down.
Ahaziah fled, but was caught and put to
death by Jehu and his men (2 Kgs 9:27; 2 Chr
22:6–9). His body was brought back to
Jerusalem and he was buried “with his
fathers in his tomb in the city of David” (2
King of Israel (841—814 BC)
Jehu is another name that was on a portion
of the stela that is missing. The end of
line 11 and the beginning of line 12 refers
to another king of Israel following Joram:
“[X ru]led over Is[rael].” Since Jehu was
the next king of Israel following Joram, it
stands to reason that his name appeared
Jehu led a bloody purge of the royal
families of both Israel and Judah. Following
the assassination of Joram and Ahaziah (2
Kgs 9:24–27), he murdered the family and
officials of Ahab (2 Kgs 9:30–33; 10:11, 17)
and 42 of the royal family of Judah (2 Kgs
10:14). The purge did not end there. He
brought all the “prophets of Baal, all his
ministers and all his priests” (2 Kgs 10:19)
into the temple of Baal in Samaria and had
them executed (2 Kgs 10:25). This
effectively ended Baal worship in Israel.
But it did not end idolatry, for Jehu
continued “the worship of the golden calves
at Bethel and Dan” (2 Kgs 10:29).
During Jehu’s reign Israel lost territory
east of the Jordan to Hazael (2 Kgs
10:32–33). Jehu was also subject to Assyria
as attested by the Obelisk of Shalmaneser,
or the Black Obelisk as it is sometimes
called. This monument was discovered by
Englishman Sir Henry Layard in Calah, Iraq,
in 1846. It depicts Jehu prostrate before
the Assyrian king Shalmaneser, with
Israelite emissaries bearing tribute behind
picture of Jehu can be seen in this article).
The inscription reads,
The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri; I
received from him silver, gold, a golden
saplu bowl, a golden vase with pointed
bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets,
tin, a staff for a king, (and) wooden
puruhtu (Oppenheim 1969: 281).
This is the only surviving likeness of a
king of Israel or Judah. After ruling for 28
years, “Jehu rested with his fathers and was
buried in Samaria” (2 Kgs 10:35).
The Tel Dan Stela is extraordinary in that
it names eight Biblical kings: Ben-Hadad II,
Hazael, Joram, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram, David
and Jehu. It was most likely erected
following Hazael’s defeat of Joram and
Ahaziah at Ramoth Gilead in ca. 841 BC (2
Kgs 8:28–29). The occasion for the breaking
of the stela was probably when Jehoash, king
of Israel from 798 to 782, recaptured
Israelite territory previously taken by
Hazael (2 Kgs 13:24–25). It appears that the
monument stood in Dan near the city gate for
over four decades. It was a constant
reminder to the Israelites that they were
subject to the Arameans. When the tide of
political power shifted, the Israelites
gained the upper hand and the hated stela
was broken into many pieces, some of which
were reused as building material.
The importance of the Tel Dan Stela lies
not in its record of history, because the
Bible gives a much fuller account. Its
importance, rather, lies in the fact that it
is an independent, contemporary, witness to
the events of ca. 841 BC and the accuracy of
the Biblical record.
Biran, A., and Naveh, J.
1993 An Aramaic Stele Fragment
from Tel Dan. Israel Exploration Journal
1995 The Tel Dan Inscription: A
New Fragment. Israel Exploration Journal
Eph’al, I., and Naveh, J.
1989 Hazael’s Booty
Inscriptions. Israel Exploration Journal
1997 A Possible Mention of
David in the Late Tenth Century BCE, and
Deity *Dod as Dead as the Dodo? Journal
for the Study of the Old Testament 76:
1994 “House of David” Restored
in Moabite Inscription. Biblical
Archaeology Review 20.3:30–37.
1969 Babylonian and Assyrian
Historical Texts. Pp. 265–317 in Ancient
Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old
Testament, 3rd ed., ed. J.B. Pritchard.
Princeton NJ: Princeton University.
1997 Damascus. Pp. 103–106 in
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in
the Near East 2, ed. E.M. Myers. New
York: Oxford University.
1994 La stèle de Dan: Bar Hadad
II et la coalition des Omrides et de la
maison de David. Revue Biblique 101:
Wood, Bryant G.
1993 New Inscription Mentions
House of David.
Bible and Spade
1995 House of David Again!
Bible and Spade
Bible and Spade 9: 111–113.
King of Moab.
Bible and Spade 9: 55–64.
Perhaps the most thorough study of Hazael to
Younger, K. Lawson, Jr.
2005 “‘Haza'el, Son of a Nobody’:
Some Reflections in Light of Recent Study.”
Pp. 245-270 in Writing and Ancient Near
Eastern Society: Papers in Honour of Alan R.
Millard. Ed. P. Bienkowski, C. Mee, and E.
Slater. New York: T&T Clark.
A.D. Riddle - 2011-05-19 12:10:01
The Tel Dan Stela is not the first royal
inscription to be found in Israel (that
would be Seti I's Beth-Shean stelae,
although I might be mistaken).
- 2012-03-02 21:00:55
2012-03-07 16:45 Yes, Mr. Harding is quite
right. Since the Seti I stelae (actually,
there were two) are from the Judges period,
we could say that the Tel Dan Stela is the
first royal inscription to be found in
Israel from the kingdom period. We have made
this correction to the article. We do have,
however, three fragments of an Assyrian
inscription found at Ashdod, probably of
Sargon II or his general (Isaiah 20:1), but
unfortunately no names have survived on the
three fragments. In addition, a fragment of
a stela was found at Megiddo with the
cartouches of Shishak (1 Kings 11:40,
14:25–26; 2 Chr. 12:1–11), but no text was
Dr. Bryant Wood