In a truly remarkable find, an ancient vessel over 3000 years old has been unearthed with Hebrew script on it… spelling a name which is very exciting for those who love Bible!
Experts estimate that it is from the time of the biblical Judges, approximately 1100 BC.
The vessel would have held about a liter of liquid and was found in an excavation at Horbat al-Ra’i, near Kiryat Gat, with an inked inscription spelling out a moniker given to Gideon: Jerubbaal.
Contending with idols
Gideon was first called Jerubbaal in Judges 6, after he had bravely torn down the altar of Baal during the night. The townsfolk were furious and demanded that Gideon’s father hand him over, but Gideon’s father, Joash, defended him:
The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”
So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.” (Judges 6:30-32)
So Jerubbaal basically means the one who strives against Baal, and this was Gideon’s nickname. But was it really his jug?
Tantalizing questions – and answers
Of course it’s impossible to know for sure if the vase really belonged to the Gideon we know and love who whipped the Midianites against ridiculous odds, but the timing is certainly correct. This in itself is quite remarkable as it is very rare to find script like this from that era.
Professor Yossef Garfinkel and Sa‘ar Ganor directed the excavations on behalf of the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Israel Antiquities Authority, and Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. They suggest that, “due to the considerable distance between the Judean Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may be related to another Jerubbaal and not biblical Gideon,” but could not rule out the possibility that it really did belong to Gideon son of Joash. In addition, experts say that the inscription contributes greatly to our understanding of how the alphabetic script spread during the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite period. The vessel is an exciting find not only in that it may have belonged to Gideon, but also because it provides a full name rather than just individual letters as have been previously found only a handful of occasions before. According to the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology,
“This inscription, together with similar inscriptions from Beth-Shemesh and Khirbet Qeiyafa, contributes to a better understanding of the distribution of theophoric names with the element ba‘al in the eleventh–tenth centuries BCE in Judah.”2
The Times of Israel reports that it was written in “Early Alphabetic/Canaanite script, evidence of which has been found throughout Egypt and the Levant. First finds including paleo-Hebrew script come much later, dating to the 9th century BCE.” The newly discovered inscription “serves as a textual bridge for the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite and Judahite cultures”, according to the archaeologists. “Some even argued that the alphabet was unknown in the region, that there were no scribes, and that the Bible must therefore have been written much later,” polymath independent epigrapher and historian Michael Langlois explains.3 Now we have proof otherwise.
Gideon: Man of the hour
The discovery assures us that Jerubbaal really was a name in use in the land at the time of Gideon, and that the biblical text really was written when we thought it was. Who knew that someone writing in ink on a pot 3000 years ago would have caused so much excitement all this time later?
And as is so often the case, this discovery comes at a very timely moment, as the story it tells is of great relevance. The character of Gideon has much to say to us right now.
Jerubbaal’s original name, Gideon, means “One who hews”. His name was significant in his story because the Angel of the Lord appeared to him while he was hewing wheat, separating the wheat from the chaff… but hiding in a wine press so he wouldn’t get caught by the Midianites. Isn’t that remarkable, when we think of what he went on to do with God? How God had him weed out the “wheat” from the “chaff” in his army through different tests in Judges chapter eight and then through Gideon, God also hewed Israel’s enemies. This is a time of sifting and separation, of finding that faithful remnant and growing in courage for what lies ahead. Our odds might not look great as those true followers of Jesus are increasingly in the minority as the sifting continues, but we know the end of the story.
What then shall we say in view of these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
- Israel Antiques Authority
- Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, The Jerubba‘al Inscription from Khirbet al-Ra‘i:A Proto-Canaanite (Early Alphabetic) Inscription
- Times of Israel, Five-letter inscription inked 3,100 years ago may be name of biblical judge, July 2021
Picture: Israel Antiques Authority