In a thought provoking application of archaeological findings to the Biblical texts, Finkelstein & Silberman arrive at striking conclusions, some better-reasoned than others. The bottom line of "David & Solomon" is that the two were rather insignificant tribal chieftans ruling from a backwater hilltop village called Jerusalem, and that Saul was a somewhat more significant chieftan in the north country who became a big enough nuisance to Egypt that, with the help of Philistine mercenaries, they devastated his kingdom. David either helped in this devastation, or stood idly by while Saul was destroyed, but he definitely profited by Saul's misfortune.
Finklestein & Silberman credit the broad outline of David's and Saul's careers, but not the detail. They demonstrate that the political, economic, and social conditions of David's times correspond perfectly with the conditions described in the story of David's outlaw youth, and that Northern Israel was devastated about the time Saul and Jonathan would have been killed on Mount Gilboa. If the background of the Saul and David stories therefore correspond quite closely to archaeological findings, why should the detail be rejected out of hand? Given allowance for the "good old days" effect and the political need to cast David in the best light possible while casting Saul in the worst light possible, why can't the stories be considered at least as accurate as Herodotus, the "Father of History"? The scholarship of the 1960's posited that the story of David in Samuel consisted of an "early source" which was quite accurate overwritten by a "late source" which was concerned with polemic and apologetic. Current scholarship posits a multi-layered text similar to that described by Finkelstein & Silberman. As to the story of Solomon: They make an excellent case for the accomplishments of the Omrid dynasty and of Hezekiah and Mannassah being retrojected to the reign of Solomon.
The authors' greatest misstep comes in the chapter entitled "Challenging Goliath." They characterize the Philistine giant's armor as that of a 7th Century Greek hoplite. The giant's panoply might well correspond to the panoply of a Greek warrior from the Heroic Age, but not a hoplite. Hoplites were not individual warriors, but soldiers who fought in rank and in unison. Heroic Age Greek warriors engaged in single combat. Hoplites wore solid cuirasses, not mail. They carried only one thrusting spear, not two javelins. A hoplite's helmet was so constructed as to withstand a sling bullet to the forehead. On the other hand, the boar's tooth helmet of the Heroic Age would not. The hoplon (shield), from which the hoplite derived his name, was not carried by a shield bearer, but by the individual soldier. Hoplite warfare was in its infancy in the 7th Century, and hoplites weren't exported as mercenaries in any significant number until after the Peloponnesian War. Notice I didn't name the Philistine giant. "The Early Source," aka the earliest stratum of Samuel, didn't either, a datum overlooked or ignored by Finkelstein and Silberman. "The Late Source" aka later strata of Samuel, added in the detail of Goliath's name. There is absolutely no difficulty with the basic story of David gaining fame by killing a huge Philistine champion in single combat.
Finkelstein & Silberman's Classical Greek fixation does not end with hoplites. In Appendix 6, they try manfully to make David's Pelethites into Greek Peltasts. Peltasts didn't come onto the scene until the Peloponnesian War, long after David's time. There is a much simpler and more widely accepted explanation: they were Philistines.
Despite the missteps, the book was very good. The authors did an excellent job of comparing current archaeological findings with the Biblical text. I would like to have seen the authors spend a little more time comparing those findings to current textual criticism of the Biblical text.
A FOOTNOTE: Since writing this review, I have come across evidence suggesting that Greek mercenaries were exported to Egypt around the time of David & Goliath. Barry Strauss, in his new book "The Trojan War, A New History," reports the finding of an Egyptian painting from the 1300-1200's BCE which depicts a battle scene that includes two Greek warriors wearing boar's tooth helmets. This tends to confirm my argument that Goliath was more likely to have been a Heroic Age Greek warrior than he was to have been a Classical Age Greek hoplite.