An inscription with the name Ishba'al son of Beda on a 10th century BCE jar (found at Kh. Qeiyafa)

An inscription with the name Ishba’al son of Beda on a 10th century BCE jar (found at Kh. Qeiyafa)

Finding an ancient inscription is an archaeologist’s dream.  An inscription usually comes in the form of lettering stratched in the pre-fired surface of a pot jar, or even jar handle.  1,000s of years later, archaeologists find it as something called an ostracan (a piece of broken pottery).  Finding an inscription that matches the Biblical record is even more exciting.  For instance, 17 ostraca (plural) were found at Lachish in 1935.  One of them (the so-called Lachish Letter #4) matches up perfectly with the conditions described by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 34:7) about Lachish and Azekah being the the only Judean cities left during the Babylonian invasion of Judah.  And remember, archaeology (including ostraca) does not need to “prove” the Bible as historically accurate, but rather can be used to affirm the Bible’s historicity.  With or without ostraca, the Bible can stand on its own!

Kh. Qeiyafa

Kh. Qeiyafa

But like putting the pieces of a puzzle together, an archaeological team recently reconstructed a large Iron Age I (1,200 – 1,000 BC) pot from various pottery sherds found in the excavation of 2012.  What the reconstruction revealed was a complete deciphering of an exciting inscription that mentioned a name of an individual living in the 10th century BC.  This was, incidentally, the second inscription found at Qeiyafa (what are the odds of this?), the first being a pre-Hebrew script found in 2008.  It challenged those who study ancient epigraphy. Why?  The text of this inscription included variations and left-to-right orientation (Hebrew is read from right to left), perhaps signaling a pre-Hebrew script deriving from early alphabetic rather than the standardized Phoenician script.

But this second inscription (pictured above) revealed the name of “Ishba’al son of Beda.”  Unlike the inscription found in 2008, this one featured Canaanite letters.  The centimeter-high script retains some of pictographic elements, unlike later proto-Hebrew writings.  According to Professor Yosef Garfinkel (of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University) and Saar Ganor (of the Israel Antiquities Authority), this was the first time an inscription with the name Ishba’al had been discovered.  Garfinkel states, “It is interesting to note that the name Ishbaʽal appears in the Bible, and now also in the archaeological record, only during the reign of King David, in the first half of the tenth century BCE. This name was not used later in the First Temple period.

Professor Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University points to the Ishba’al inscription found in 2012 during excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

Professor Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University points to the Ishba’al inscription found in 2012 during excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

What is very intriguing is that a person with the name Ishba’al is mentioned in the 1 Chronicles ((1 Chr. 8:33; 9:39) as the son of King Saul and referred to in 2 Samuel ((2 Sam. 4:5-7) as Ishboshet, a rival to King David for rule over the Israelite kingdom.  According to Dr. Mitka Ratzaby Golub, an expert on biblical-era names at the Hebrew University who studied the inscription, “the name Ishba’al likely meant ‘man of Ba’al,’ the ancient Semitic storm god. Among Judeans, personal names evoking Ba’al fell out of fashion after the 10th century, but not so among their Israelite cousins to the north.  It’s interesting that also in the Bible you find people with the name Ba’al only up till the end of the United Monarchy. Then it disappears entirely.  Beda, however, doesn’t appear in any inscriptions or texts from the ancient Near East, Golub said, leaving its meaning and origin uncertain.”

Dr. Haggai Misgav (in the Times for Israel article) added however, “While there is no connection between the biblical figure and the one mentioned in the inscription, it showed that the name was popular during the early Israelite period. The use of a Canaanite script at Judean site such as Khirbet Qeiyafa reflected a cultural exchange between the two peoples.

For the complete article on this amazing find, click HERE.

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