A 3100 year old inscription from the time of the biblical Judges was uncovered at Khirbat er-Ra‘i, near Kiryat Gat. The rare inscription bears the name “Jerubbalal” and was discovered written on a pottery vessel found inside a storage pit dug into the ground. Archaeologists date the finding to the time of the Judges, around 1,100 BCE.
The site is located at the Shahariya forest of the KKL-JNF, very close to Ancient Gat, or modern day Kiryat Gat.
Photo credit: Emil Alajdem; Israel Antiquities Authority
The inscription was found on the outside of a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one liter. Its possible the vessel may have contained a precious liquid such as oil, perfume or medicine. Apparently, the jug’s owner wrote his name on the outside of the jug to assert his ownership. According to Professor Garfinkel and Ganor, “The name Jerubbaal is familiar from biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash. Gideon is first mentioned as combatting idolatry by breaking the altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole. In biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops. According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod. In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon. In any event, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the biblical Judges.”
Photo credit: Dafna Gazit – Israel Antiquities Authority
Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology. Only a handful of inscriptions found in the past bear a number of unrelated letters. This is the first time that the name Jerubbaal has ever been found outside the Bible in an archaeological context – in a stratum dated to around 1,100 BCE, the period of the Judges.
“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” say the archaeologists. “The name Jerubbaal only appears in
the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it has also been discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period. In a similar manner, the
name Ishbaal, which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, has been found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa. The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”
The Jerubbaal inscription also contributes to our understanding of the spread of alphabetic script in the transition from the Canaanite period to the Israelite period. The alphabet was developed by the Canaanites under Egyptian influence in around 1,800 BCE, during the Middle Bronze Age. In the Late Bronze Age (1,550–1,150 BCE), only a few such inscriptions are known of in Israel, most from Tel Lachish near present-day Moshav Lachish. The Canaanite city of Lachish was probably the center where the tradition of writing the alphabet was maintained and preserved. Canaanite Lachish was destroyed in around 1,150 BCE and remained abandoned for about two centuries. Until now, there was considerable uncertainty as to where the tradition of alphabetic script was preserved after the fall of Lachish.
The newly-discovered inscription shows that the script was preserved at Khirbat er-Ra‘i — roughly 4 km from Lachish and the largest site in the area at the time of the Judges — during the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite and Judahite cultures. Additional inscriptions, from the time of the monarchy (tenth century BCE onwards), have been found in the Shephelah, including two from Khirbat Qeiyafa and others from Tel es-Safi (Tel Tzafit) and Tel Bet Shemesh.
Author: Israel Antiquities Authority