A rare inscription showing a name shared with a biblical rival to King David has been found on a 3,000-year-old earthenware jar that was broken into shards, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Tuesday.
Pieces of the large Iron Age jar were found in a 2012 excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Valley of Elah west of Jerusalem. This is where the biblical battle between young David and the giant Goliath took place.
As hundreds of pottery fragments were glued together to form the whole pot, letters carved in the ancient script of the Canaanites, a biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel, were clearly visible. They read: Eshba'al Ben Bada'.
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"This is the first time that the name Eshba'al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country," Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement.
The name recalls the biblical Eshba'al, a son of King Saul and a rival to King David for rule over the Israelite kingdom.
Eshba'al was murdered by former captains loyal to his late father a few years after he succeeded Saul as king of Israel. They stabbed him in the stomach, decapitated him, and brought his head to David at Hebron.
Although it has no connection with the biblical character, the inscription shows that Eshba'al was a common name during the early Israelite period.
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"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 tenth century B.C.," Garfinkel and Ganor said.
After the 11th and 10th centuries B.C., names bearing Ba'al fell out of favor among Judeans, as they were reminiscent of the Canaanite storm god Ba'al.
"The original name was therefore changed to Ish-Bashat," Garfinkel and Ganor said.
According to the researchers, the fact that the name Eshba'al was carved on a jar indicates he was an important person, possibly the owner of a large agricultural estate.
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Products grown there "were packed and transported in jars that bore his name," the IAA said.
Identified with the biblical city Sha'arayim, Khirbet Qeiyafa, the site where the jar was found has yielded a number of important findings.
During several seasons of excavations, remains of a fortified city, two gates, a palace, storerooms, dwellings and rooms of worship were unearthed there.
Unique findings included the discovery of the world's earliest Hebrew inscription.
"Until about five years ago we knew of no inscriptions dating to the 10th century B.C. from the Kingdom of Judah. In recent years, four inscriptions have been published," Garfinkel and Ganor said.
"It is now clear that writing was far more widespread than previously thought," they added.
What remains unclear is the last part of the inscription, bearing the name Beda'.
"The name is unique and does not occur in ancient inscriptions or in the biblical tradition," the researchers said.