Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

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Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (NaThaNiYaHuW) examines the Eshbaal inscription in his office.


The Old Testament has always been difficult to date, but most scholars believed that it was roughly as old as ABaRiY (aka Hebrew) writing itself. As such, the oldest books of the Bible were believed to date back to around the 6th century B.C. An inscription unearthed at Khirbet Qeiyafa near the Elah Valley, however, blew that theory out of the water. The piece of pottery was only about six inches long, and the script on it baffled translators at first. A closer look, however, revealed that the language was actually an ancient form of ABaRiY from nearly 400 years before the language was even believed to have been invented. Gershon Galil, the man who finally cracked the ancient code, stated that the verbs used in the inscription “were characteristic of ABaRiY and rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text are also specific to ABaRiY and are written differently in other local languages.” The text itself was fascinating to biblical scholars as well because it mirrored Bible verses such as Psalms 72:3 and ShaMuWTh 23:3 (Exodus) despite being nearly four centuries older than the Bible was previously believed to have been. 

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The letters are large and clear, similar in size and evenly spaced, written by a skilled hand in Canaanite script. A short, straight vertical line (a word divider) appears between each pair of words. The new incised inscription reads from right to left, unlike the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon, which was apparently written from left to right. Accordingly, some letters on the new inscription face the opposite direction, one of the features that characterize the Canaanite script and differentiate it from the Phoenician script. The new inscription differs from all the other late Canaanite inscriptions known to date: the letters are clear, evenly spaced and standardized in stance, and the words are clearly separated. As a result, it was easy to decipher the preserved part of the inscription. The skilled hand points to the existence of trained scribes alongside people with poor writing ability. This new inscription marks a transitional stage between the simple writing system used for 800 years in non-elite circles and the official, standardized Phoenician script of kingdoms and states.

The Eshbaal son of Beda inscription after restoration.

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In the Bible, Eshbaal (H792 AShaBAL) was the second king of YaShaRAL (Israel), the son of King ShauWL (Saul) and a rival of DuWiYD (David) in 1 Chronicles 8:33. The meaning of the name AShaBAL is "man of BaAL". BaAL is a Canaanite ALaHiYM and means "lord / master", or title also attached to other deities.

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Unlike Chronicles, the book of ShaMuWAL (Samuel) uses the name Ishbosheth (H378 AiYSha-BaShaT which means "man of shame") for the same king Eshbaal in 2 Sam 2:10. Reflecting a negative attitude to the Canaanite god BaAL, the author / editor of ShaMuWAL censored the original name and replaced BaAL with the word Bosheth (BaShaT "shame"). Other examples of the replacement of BaAL in biblical names are the names of Gideon to Jerubbaal (YaRaBAL) in Judg 6:32 and Jerubbesheth (YaRaBaShaT) in 2 Sam 11:21. The names of Jonathan's son - Meribbaal (MaRiYaB BaAL) in 1 Chr 9:40 and Mephibosheth (MaPhiYaBaShaT) in 2 Sam 4:4. The names of David's son - Beeliada (BaALiYaDA "BaAL knows") in 1 Chr 14:7 and Eliada (ALiYaDA "AL knows") in 2 Sam 5:16 and 1 Chr 3:8. Moreover, it has been suggested that three other individuals bore the name Eshbaal, but that the element BaAL in their name was replaced and the final form became Jashobeam. These individuals are: David's mighty man (1 Chr 11:11), the Korahite who joined DuWiYD at Ziklag (1 Chr 12:7) and the head of David's first course (1 Chr 27:2). All of these names occur in the context of DuWiYD's period or earlier, and the Bible mentions no other name with the element BaAL in YaShaRAL (Israel) or YaHuWDaH (Judah) in later periods. Likewise, the name Eshbaal is not found on any of the hundreds of inscriptions and over a thousand seals and seal impressions known from ancient YaShaRAL, dated between the 9th and 6th century BCE and recording over 2,000 names. Personal names with the element BaAL, uncovered in excavations in contexts of the 9th to 6th century BCE, occur in YaShaRAL, Philistia, Ammon and Phoenicia but are absent from YaHuWDaH.

We can clearly see onomastic layers in ancient Israel. In the 10th century BCE the name Eshbaal was common and is recorded for one biblical king and three other biblical individuals. In the following centuries, however, the personal name Eshbaal or any other personal name with the element BaAL disappears from the biblical text. Similarly, Eshbaal occurs in the current inscription, dated to the 10th century (the time of King DuWiYD), but is absent from ancient inscriptions dated between the 9th and 6th century BCE. Names with the element BaAL are also absent from ancient inscriptions from YaHuWDaH between the 9th to 6th centuries BCE. The correlation between the chronological distribution of personal names in the biblical tradition and that of names in ancient inscriptions indicates that the biblical text preserves authentic traditions relating to the period of King DuWiYD.