The Royal Purple of David and Solomon

3,000-year-old dyed fabric found at Timnah, from the time of the biblical Kings.

Purple-clad David anointed king by Samuel.

Purple-clad David anointed king by Samuel. Dura Europos Synagogue, 3rd Century C.E.

Purple dye, made from Mediterranean mollusks that live more than 200 miles away from Timnah, gives textiles the royal purple color that is often referred to in the Bible. For the first time in the Levant, remnants of the dyed fabrics have been found. Radiocarbon dating confirms that the fabrics were from 1,000 B.C.E., roughly contemporaneous with biblical Kings David and Solomon.

Fragment of the rare purple fabric.

Fragment of the rare purple fabric. Credit Dafna Gazit IAA

As Dr. Naama Sukenik explains, “In antiquity, purple attire was associated with the nobility, with priests, and of course with royalty. The gorgeous shade of the purple, the fact that it does not fade, and the difficulty in producing the dye, which is found in minute quantities in the body of mollusks, all made it the most highly valued of the dyes, which often cost more than gold…. Now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of the dyed fabrics themselves, preserved for some 3000 years.”

Scholars believe that the gland from the mollusk produces purple when used without exposure to light, and a light blue with light exposure. The blue (tekhelet) had significance to the ancient Israelites, and David, Solomon, and Jesus were all described in the Bible as having worn purple (argaman) clothing.

The results were announced in January, 2021 by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the full study has been released on Plos One. Researchers from Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University, and Bar Ilan University collaborated on the work. (Dr. Naama Sukenik, Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef, Prof. Zohar Amar, Dr. David Iluz, Dr. Alexander Varvak, and Dr. Orit Shamir.)

Slaves Hill

Slaves Hill, Timnah, where the fabric was found

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The Search for Biblical Blue by Ari Greenspan

Even as the first freezing drop of water trickled beneath our wetsuits, we knew that this dive would be historic. We checked our scuba equipment one last time, and then slowly descended into the deep blue waters off the ancient Mediterranean port of Akko, in northern Israel. Our goal: to find the small snail used in ancient times to produce tekhelet, the brilliant blue dye prized in the Bible—but lost to the modern world.


Blurred Lines: The Enigma of Iron Age Timnah by Mahri Leonard-Fleckman

Tel Batash in the Shephelah is a bewildering and fascinating archaeological site. Excavations there have revealed an Iron Age city that scholars have identified as biblical Timnah. Yet this identification doesn’t tell us who the people were in Timnah or how to delineate them from others. Neither textual nor archaeological sources seem to provide clear answers.


Assessing David & Solomon: From the Hypothetical to the Improbable to the Absurd by Michael D. Coogan

David son of Jesse—warrior, king, poet, sinner—has fascinated writers, artists and scholars for more than three millennia. More space is devoted to him and compositions attributed to him than to any other human being in the Hebrew Bible except Moses. In the last five years, eminent scholars such as Baruch Halpern and Steven McKenzie have turned their attention to David, as has the poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Now archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and writer Neil Silberman have written an engaging, yet flawed book focusing on David and his son Solomon.

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