A rare inscription from the time of King David was discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafain the Valley of Elah.
Sherds of a 3,000-year-old ceramic jar were discovered in 2012 in excavations carried out there by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Letters written in ancient Canaanite script could be discerned on several of the sherds.
Intensive restoration work conducted in the laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority Artifacts Treatment Department, during which hundreds of pottery sherds were glued together to form a whole jar, solved the riddle – the jar was incised with the inscription: Eshbaʽal Ben Badaʽ. Dr. Mitka Golub and Dr. Haggai Misgav were among the team of researchers involved in deciphering the text.
According to Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the IAA, “This is the first time that the name Eshbaʽal has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country. Eshbaʽal Ben Shaul, who ruled over Israel at the same time as David, is known from the Bible. Eshbaʽal was murdered by assassins and decapitated. His head was brought to David in Hebron” (II Samuel, Chaps. 3-4).
It should be noted that the name Eshbaʽal appears in the Bible only during the reign of King David, in the first half of the 10th c. BCE. “This name was not used later in the First Temple period”, Garfinkel explains adding that “The correlation between the biblical tradition and the archaeological finds indicates this was a common name only during that period. The name Bedaʽ is unique and does not occur in ancient inscriptions or in the biblical tradition.”
According to the researchers, the fact that the name Eshbaʽal was incised on a jar suggests that he was an important person. He was apparently the owner of a large agricultural estate the products of which were transported in jars inscribed with his name. This is clear evidence of social stratification and the emergence of an established economic class at the time of the Kingdom of Judah.
Garfinkel and Ganor add, “In II Samuel there was apparently reluctance to use the name Eshbaʽal, which was reminiscent of the Canaanite storm god Baʽal, and the original name was therefore changed to Ish-Bashat, but the original name of Eshbaʽal was preserved in the Book of Chronicles. Thus, for example, the name of the warlord Gideon Ben Joash was also changed from Jerrubaal to Jerubesheth.”
Khirbet Qeiyafais identified with the biblical city Shaʽarayim. During several seasons of excavations directed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor, a fortified city, two gates, a palace and storerooms, dwellings and cultic rooms were revealed there. The city dates from the time of David, that is, the late 11th and early 10th c. BCE. Unique artifacts were discovered at the site. For example, in 2008 the world’s earliest Hebrew inscription came to light.
According to Garfinkel and Ganor,”Until about five years ago we knew of no inscriptions dating to the 10th c. 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. 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. It seems that the organization of the kingdom required a cadre of clerks and writers and their activity is also manifested in the appearance of inscriptions.”