Biblical Name Eshbaal Found Outside of the Bible

Khirbet Qeiyafa excavators publish new Iron Age inscription


A 3,000-year-old inscription discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa references the Biblical name Eshbaal. This is the first time the name has been found in an ancient inscription. Photo: Tal Rogozin.

Ner was the father of Kish, Kish the father of Saul, and Saul the father of Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal.
—1 Chronicles 8:33

The Biblical name Eshbaal has been found for the first time in an ancient inscription. Incised before firing on a 3,000-year-old pithos (large ceramic storage jar), the inscription was discovered at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel. Researchers Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor have published their study of this inscription in a forthcoming issue of the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR).

The Eshbaal inscription reads “[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ˹bn˺ | bdʿ” (“ʾIšbaʿal son of Bedaʿ”) and was written from right to left in the Canaanite alphabetic script. The name ʾšbʿl, commonly translated as ʾIšbaʿal (or Esh-Baʿal—“man of Baʿal”), is known from the Bible. Eshbaal was the second king of Israel, King Saul’s son and a rival of King David (1 Chronicles 8:33; in 2 Samuel 2–4, this king is called Ish-Bosheth). The name Bedaʿ, however, is unique.

qeiyafa-mapRadiometric dating of the layer from which the Eshbaal inscription was unearthed dates the layer to c. 1020–980 B.C.E. The clarity and precision with which the inscription was written suggest, according to the researchers, that the inscription was the work of a skilled hand—perhaps a trained scribe.

“This new inscription marks a transitional stage between the writing system used for 800 years and the official, standardized Phoenician script used by kingdoms and states in Canaan by at least the 10th century B.C.E.,” the researchers wrote in their BASOR article.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

The Eshbaal inscription, along with five other inscriptions—two of which are also from Qeiyafa, offers evidence that the Canaanite script was used in the late 11th–10th centuries B.C.E. Included in this important corpus is the five-line Qeiyafa Ostracon, a prize find unearthed during the 2008 season at Khirbet Qeiyafa and possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.*


The famous Qeiyafa Ostracon. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy Yosef Garfinkel.

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were conducted from 2007 to 2013. Located about 18.5 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa was occupied during several periods: Late Chalcolithic, Middle Bronze, Iron, Persian-Hellenistic and Byzantine. Qeiyafa’s main phase of occupation was during the Iron Age, when there was a heavily fortified city boasting a casemate wall, two gates and monumental buildings.

In a Biblical Archaeology Review article, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil explain the importance of the Iron Age city at Qeiyafa:

The seven seasons of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa […] uncovered for the first time in the archaeology of the Holy Land a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. The date of this site (1020–980 B.C.E.) is confirmed by olive pits sent to Oxford University for radiocarbon dating.


Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities.

Read the BASOR article on the new Eshbaal inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2015? Find out >>



* Although the script of the Qeiyafa Ostracon is not Hebrew, its language could be Hebrew. This has been debated. Visit the BAS Scholar’s Study page Three Takes on the Oldest Hebrew Inscription for more.


More on Khirbet Qeiyafa in the BAS Library:

Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil, “An Ending and a Beginning: Why we’re leaving Qeiyafa and going to Lachish,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2013.

Hershel Shanks, “Newly Discovered: A Fortified City from King David’s Time,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2009.

Gerard Leval, “Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of Israelite Monarchy,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.

Christopher A. Rollston, “What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscription?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.

Yosef Garfinkel, “The Birth & Death of Biblical Minimalism,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2011.

“Strata: Exhibit Watch: Controversial Qeiyafa Comes to U.S. Museum,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2013.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


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  • DALLAS says

    It depends on the context of “ba’al.” The word, as a common noun, just means “master” or “owner” of something. For example, the “ba’al ha-bayit” is the “master of the house.”

    In the context of a personal name, however, in an era when names were often theophoric (having an embedded god name), “ba’al” is actually a proper noun, the name of the Cana’anite god, Baal, without much room for ambiguity. Substituting a euphemism for the name of “false god” would have been the pious, “religiously correct” practice, as we see in the biblical text.

  • Kurt says

    (Ish-boʹsheth) [meaning “Man of Shame”].

    Evidently the youngest of Saul’s sons, his successor to the throne. From the genealogical listings it appears that his name was also Eshbaal, meaning “Man of Baal.” (1Ch 8:33; 9:39) However, elsewhere, as in Second Samuel, he is called Ish-bosheth, a name in which “baal” is replaced by “bosheth.” (2Sa 2:10) This Hebrew word boʹsheth is found at Jeremiah 3:24 and is rendered “shameful thing.” (AS, AT, JP, NW, Ro, RS) In two other occurrences baʹʽal and boʹsheth are found parallel and in apposition, in which the one explains and identifies the other. (Jer 11:13; Ho 9:10) There are also other instances where individuals similarly had “bosheth” or a form of it substituted for “baal” in their names, as, for example, “Jerubbesheth” for “Jerubbaal” (2Sa 11:21; Jg 6:32) and “Mephibosheth” for “Merib-baal,” the latter being a nephew of Ish-bosheth.—2Sa 4:4; 1Ch 8:34; 9:40.

    The reason for these double names or substitutions is not known. One theory advanced by some scholars attempts to explain the dual names as an alteration made when the common noun “baal” (owner; master) became more exclusively identified with the distasteful fertility god of Canaan, Baal. However, in the same Bible book of Second Samuel, where the account of Ish-bosheth appears, King David himself is reported as naming a place of battle Baal-perazim (meaning “Owner of Breakings Through”), in honor of the Lord Jehovah, for as he said: “Jehovah has broken through my enemies.” (2Sa 5:20) Another view is that the name Ish-bosheth may have been prophetic of that individual’s shameful death and the calamitous termination of Saul’s dynasty.

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