While most of us have learned that Hebrew writing originated somewhere between 6th and 7th century, new finding are going to rival that claim. In Elah Valley, archaeologists have dug out pot that belongs to Iron Age between the period ca. 1020 BCE and 980 BCE. What really makes this 3000 years old jar stand out is its Canaanite script inscription which reads the name of the rival of King David. Thus, the writing predates the popular belief about the date of origin of Hebrew writings by nearly 300 years!
Archaeologists now strongly believe that rulers of the Kingdom of Judah, which supposedly sat at Palestine’s south, maintained a whole bunch of writers and clerks. According to historians, there were a total of 12 Jewish tribes of which two were the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. These two tribes, broke apart from the rest 10 in an attempt of creating their own states.
Judah’s second king was King David. It was during his rule that Eshba’al Ben Shaul ruled Israel. But Shaul was assassinated and this gave King David the opportunity to rule over Israel’s northern Jewish state. Eshba’al Ben Shaul was King David’s rival and the 3000-year-old jar that was dug up from Khirbet Qeiyafais of Elah Valley had the name of Eshba’al inscribed on it. Raised Canaanite letters were used for the inscription.
Many scholars who held the view that Hebrew writing began only in 6th or 7th century BCE, they also believed that Old Testament was also written somewhere around that time. The Old Testament contained stories that belonged to periods long before 6th or 7th century BCE, which led the experts to believe that those stories were passed down verbally through generations.
The vessel, jar or pot, whatever you prefer calling it was dug up in pieces, literally hundreds of pieces. These pieces when put together revealed the name of Eshba’al. However, the full name that was inscribed was Eshba’al Ben Bada. The research team that deciphered the text included the scholars Dr. Haggai Misgav and Dr. Mitka Golub.
Professor Yosef Garfinkel from Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology and Israeli Antiquities Authority’s Saar Ganor stated that the jar was the first archaeological dig in the country that had the name Eshba’al inscribed. They stated that Eshba’al Ben Shaul is a name that appeared in Bible and according to Bible, he ruled during the same time as King David but was later assassinated and decapitated by assassins who brought his head to King David in Hebron. Garfinkel and Ganor stated that the name Eshba’al appeared in Bible and also on the 3000 years old jar that belonged to the period of King David’s rule (i.e. first half of 10th century), making the archaeological find an important piece of artifact.
According to Garfinkel and Ganor, the name Eshba’al was not in use during the First Temple Period however, the correlation between the archaeological dig and Biblical traditions indicate that Eshba’al was indeed a common name during that period. They however point out that ‘Beda’ was uncommon with appearances neither in Biblical traditions or archaeological digs.
This led researchers to believe that Eshba’al Ben Beda was prominent and important person during the period because his name of inscribed on pottery. Scholars assume that Beda was an owner of an agricultural estate. They say that whatever was produced in his state was shipped in jars that had his name inscribed on them. This essentially boils down to the fact that during first half of 10th century, social stratification was there and even trade and commerce was present.
Scholars think that the Khirbet Qeiyafais was once the Biblical city of Sha’arayim and it was under Ganor’s and Garfinkel’s direction and vigilance that Khirbet Qeiyafais was chosen as a dig site. Over several dig seasons, a fortified city was eventually dug out along with a palace, two gates, cultic rooms and storerooms.