A rare inscription dating back to the time of King David, discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Valley of Elah outside of Beit Shemesh, was displayed for the first time in Jerusalem on Tuesday by the Israel Antiquities Authority.
According to the IAA, shards of a 3,000-year-old ceramic jar were first unearthed in 2012 during excavations carried out by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University and the IAA’s Saar Ganor.
Letters written in ancient Canaanite script were discernible on several of the shards, sparking the curiosity of the researchers.
Subsequent intensive restoration work conducted in the IAA’s Artifacts Treatment Department, during which hundreds of pottery shards were glued together to form a whole jar, determined that it was inscribed the words “Eshba’al Ben Bada’.”
“This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country,” Garfinkle said, noting that Eshba’al Ben Shaul ruled over Israel at the same time as David, and is mentioned in the Bible.
“Eshba’al was murdered by assassins and decapitated, and his head was brought to David in Hebron (II Samuel, Chaps. 3-4),” he said. “It is interesting to note that the name Eshba’al appears in the Bible, and now also in the archaeological record, only during the reign of King David, in the first half of the 10th century BCE.”
Garfinkle continued, “This name was not used later in the First Temple period. The correlation between the biblical tradition and the archaeological finds indicates this was a common name only during that period.”
Moreover, he said the name Beda’ is unique, and does not occur in ancient inscriptions, or in the biblical tradition.
Ganor added that during that time there appeared to be a reluctance to use the name Eshba’al, which was reminiscent of the Canaanite storm god, Ba’al.
“The original name was therefore changed to Ish-Bashat, but the original name of Eshba’al was preserved in the Book of Chronicles,” he explained. “Thus, for example, the name of the warlord Gideon Ben Joash was also changed from Jerrubaal to Jerubesheth.”
Khirbet Qeiyafa is identified with the biblical city of Sha’arayim, the archeologists said.
Meanwhile, Shwartz added that during several seasons of excavations overseen by Garfinkel and Ganor, a fortified city, two gates, a palace and storerooms, dwellings and cultic rooms were also exposed there.
“The city dates from the time of David, that is, the late 11th and early 10th centuries BCE,” she said.
“Unique artifacts that were previously unknown were discovered at the site. For example, in 2008, the world’s earliest Hebrew inscription was uncovered there. Now, another inscription from the same period is being published from the site.”
Garfinkle and Ganor said until approximately five years ago, no inscriptions dating to the 10th century BCE from the Kingdom of Judah were known to exist.
In recent years, four inscriptions have been published: two from Khirbet Qeiyafa, one from Jerusalem, and one from Bet Shemesh, Garfinkle noted.
“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,” he said.
“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.”