June 17, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Biblical Name Found on Pottery

An iron-age pot at a fortress south of Jerusalem is inscribed with the name of King Saul’s successor at the time of David.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is becoming more of an archaeological hotspot as findings from the excavations are being published. It’s becoming clear this was an important outpost at the time of King Saul, King David and King Solomon, supporting the descriptions in the Old Testament that the first monarchs of Judah and Israel were indeed capable of administering a far-flung kingdom. Not many years ago, Bible skeptics denied that these kings were more than local tribal chieftans (4/24/12).

Now, for the first time, the name Esh-baal (Biblical Ish-bosheth), the same name as that of King Saul’s son and rival of King David, has been found in an inscription on a pottery jug. The story was announced by the Biblical Archaeology Society which says,

The Biblical name Eshbaal has been found for the first time in an ancient inscription. Incised before firing on a 3,000-year-old pithos (large ceramic storage jar), the inscription was discovered at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel. Researchers Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor have published their study of this inscription in a forthcoming issue of the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR).

The Eshbaal inscription reads “[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ˹bn˺ | bdʿ” (“ʾIšbaʿal son of Bedaʿ”) and was written from right to left in the Canaanite alphabetic script. The name ʾšbʿl, commonly translated as ʾIšbaʿal (or Esh-Baʿal—“man of Baʿal”), is known from the Bible. Eshbaal was the second king of Israel, King Saul’s son and a rival of King David (1 Chronicles 8:33; in 2 Samuel 2–4, this king is called Ish-Bosheth). The name Bedaʿ, however, is unique.

It is not clear, therefore, whether the name refers to Saul’s son or some other man with the same name. However, this name dates from the period of David, because shortly after the -baal ending fell out of favor. The author of II Samuel may have emended the earlier names with -bosheth (shame) to avoid honoring the Canaanite fertility god, although “baal” sometimes just means “lord” and was used in honor of the God of Israel sometimes. Thus, Ishbaal (or Eshbaal) is rendered Ishbosheth in II Samuel, and Jonathan’s son Merib-baal became Mephibosheth (see Luke Chandler blog). The original name Ish-baal is retained in I Chronicles.

Inscriptions from this period are very rare. An ostracon found at the site in 2008 was a sensation—the earliest Iron Age inscription ever found in Israel (1/07/10).

This new inscription marks a transitional stage between the writing system used for 800 years and the official, standardized Phoenician script used by kingdoms and states in Canaan by at least the 10th century B.C.E.

Radiocarbon shows the jug dating from approx. 1020-980 BC.  King David reigned from about 1010-970 BC. The fact that the text was written in clay in large, clear letters before firing indicates it was the work of a trained scribe. This is another clue to the administrative reach of the early Judean monarchy. Khirbet Qeiyafa is adjacent to the Elah Valley where David killed Goliath.


The Times of Israel calls it a “once in a lifetime” discovery. See also Israel National News.  Live Science’s article ends:

“Until about five years ago we knew of no inscriptions dating to the tenth century BCE from the Kingdom of Judah. In recent years four inscriptions have been published: two from Khirbet Qeiyafa, one from Jerusalem and one from Bet Shemesh,” Garfinkel and Ganor said in the IAA statement. “This completely changes our understanding of the distribution of writing in the Kingdom of Judah, and it is now clear that writing was far more widespread than previously thought.

Other Biblical Archaeology News

In the City of David outside the current southern wall in Jerusalem, Eilat Mazar has continued excavating. She claims now to have uncovered Solomon’s palace wall. The Israel Video Network posted a video by CBN where Mazar describes the find of large walls with Phoenician decor, carved ivory ornaments and royal seals she believes point to Solomon’s reign.

To the north, excavators at Khirbet al-Maqatir uncovered another cistern. The site is believed to be the Biblical fort of Ai defeated by Joshua. A video by Scott Stripling shows the discovery.

The current issue of Creation Magazine clears up confusion about the identity and role of King Belshazzar spoken of in the Book of Daniel.

Bible Places Blog is a good place to keep up on the latest discoveries in Biblical archaeology. Another news site is Bible History Daily. Facebook users can also engage in the conversation by joining the Bible Archaeology group.

The Bible always wins out in the end, doesn’t it? Over a century ago, Robert Anderson wrote a book called Daniel in the Critics’ Den. Even now, the Lord has ways of shutting the mouths of lions and critics.


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