This is not a fringe issue, but a theory read by hundreds of thousands through the books of Israel Finkelstein, an Israeli archaeologist who, unfortunately, has a gift for writing for the masses. It is too bad that other archaeologists are not equally gifted in this area and that Finkelstein has had undue attention to his theories. You can see the many titles by Finkelstein on amazon, such as The Bible Unearthed, The Quest for the Historical Israel, and David and Solomon.
I spent a sad two weeks in Israel struggling over Finkelstein’s theory in 2006. Truthfully, I had overly optimistic notions about how archaeology “proves” the Bible at that point. Finkelstein’s book and my visits to sites and museums (purely as a tourist–I am not implying I am an archaeologist) was an eye-opening entree into the complexities of history. And at that time, my faith was not very strong.
Also, it should be noted that Finkelstein is actually rather tame compared to the far worse school of historians known as the minimalists: Philip Davies, Niels Peter Lemche, John Van Seters, Thomas L. Thompson, and Keith Whitelam. In various writings these scholars involve themselves in Middle Eastern politics, using history and the results of archaeology to serve the propaganda of the Muslim detractors of Israel, claiming that Israel originated in the Persian period (the time of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah).
NEW EVIDENCE AND DOUBTS ABOUT DOUBTS: Finkelstein depicted the biblical history of a powerful David and Solomon, with Jerusalem established as a capital, as a fiction. David was no more than a bandit leader and Jerusalem a tiny hill settlement.
But the new evidence from Khirbet Qeiyafa, an ancient town near the valley of Elah, about 25 miles from Jerusalem, reinforces the biblical history. The work is being done by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel (Hebrew University) and Mr. Saar Ganor (Israel Antiquities Authority). You can see information about their work at http://qeiyafa.huji.ac.il/
John Hobbins, one of the most read biblio-bloggers, discusses the evidence of Khirbet Qeiyafa in a series of posts on his Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog. He says:
No matter how you slice and dice it, Iron Age Khirbet Qeiyafa poses a challenge to the notion, propounded by Finkelstein among others, that David and Solomon’s realm was a minute territorial domain limited to a swath of the central highlands with a population of a few thousand and a cow town for a capital (Jerusalem).
The problem is that the pottery and other material remains clearly point to Khirbet Qeiyafa being part of a territorial domain governed by Jerusalem. And Khirbet Qriyafa joins a similar Iron Age town, Khirbet ed-Dawwara, as another example of public building and significant growth of towns during the time of David.
Hobbins further says:
If KQ poses a challenge to Finkelstein’s chief theses, it buries those of the minimalists. Israel in Transition Volume 2, edited by Lester Grabbe with contributions by Philip Davies, Niels Peter Lemche, and John Van Seters, is due to hit the bookstores in September. One cannot help looking forward to its contents with singular anticipation. In my view, the Davies-Lemche-Van Seters-Thompson approach is equivalent to whistling in the dark. They can hope against hope that nothing turns up that discredits their conclusions. I can’t help thinking: it already has.
You can see more of John Hobbins posts on this topic here: http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/