First Person: Banning Ba’al

As published in the March/April 2016 Biblical Archaeology Review

hershel-shanksWas the proper name Eshbaal—man of Ba’al—banned in Judah after King David’s time? A recent analysis suggests that it was.

Ba’al, meaning lord or master, was a common divine appellative in Canaan and neighboring areas during Biblical periods, most frequently referring to the storm god.

Very recently an inscription was uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa—a site already famous for a late 11th–10th-century B.C.E. inscription—about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. According to excavator Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, the site is probably an imposing fortress erected by King David facing the Philistines. The dim five-line inscription in ink on a piece of pottery found there has been widely discussed and variously interpreted—with some claiming it as one of the oldest Hebrew texts ever found.a

Very recently two additional inscriptions—far less known—have been recovered at Qeiyafa. Only one has been deciphered so far. A team of scholars is continuing to work on the other one.


Top: General view of the inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa. Photo: Tal Rogozin; Bottom: The inscription of ’Ishba’al, son of Beda‘, from Khirbet Qeiyafa, with existing parts of letters emphasized. Drawing by Ada Yardeni.

The deciphered one is short, but clear. It consists solely of a name: ’Ishba’al son of Beda‘.1

The name ’Ishba’al or, more commonly, Eshbaal, is well known from the Bible. It means “man of Ba’al.” (The name Beda‘ appears for the first time in this inscription.)

Dating to about 1000 B.C.E., the inscription reads from right to left and consists of whole and partially preserved letters incised into the clay pot before firing. It is in so-called “Canaanite” script, the earliest alphabetic script in the world that was probably developed by Canaanites who were influenced by the writing system of the ancient Egyptians. The skilled hand that inscribed the letters reflects a trained artisan (and at least a partially literate society): The letters are large, clear, evenly sized and evenly spaced.

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In the Bible various Ba’al names appear of people who lived in King David’s time or earlier (Jerubbaal [Judges 6:32], Meribbaal [1 Chronicles 9:40], etc.). But the Bible mentions no Ba’al names after this—neither Ba’al nor Eshbaal.

Ba’al names simply do not appear in the Bible after David’s time.

The archaeological situation is a bit, but not completely, different. We have more than a thousand seals and seal impressions (bullae) and hundreds of inscriptions from Israel and Judah from the post-David period (ninth–sixth centuries B.C.E.). The name Eshbaal is not to be found among these names. The situation with the name Ba’al is slightly different; it does occasionally appear in Israel—and of course in Philistia, Ammon and Phoenicia. But not in Judah!

It seems that Ba’al and Eshbaal were banned in David’s kingdom. One reason may have been that, at least officially, Judah was monotheistic. Thus, names constructed with a form of a foreign deity’s name—especially of Ba’al, who was Yahweh’s rival—would not have been considered kosher.

In addition, David’s predecessor and rival, King Saul, fathered a son named Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:332) who reigned for two years (2 Samuel 2:10)—another good reason to bar the name in David’s kingdom.

“First Person: Banning Ba’al” by Hershel Shanks originally appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2016.



a. Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil, “An Ending and a Beginning,” BAR, November/December 2013; Hershel Shanks, “Prize Find: Oldest Hebrew Inscription,” BAR, March/April 2010; Christopher A. Rollston, “What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscription?” BAR, May/June 2012; Gerard Leval, “Ancient Inscription Refers to Birth of Israelite Monarchy,” BAR, May/June 2012.

1. Y[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ⌜bn⌝ | bdʿ

2. “Ishbosheth” in the account in 2 Samuel 2–4.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Biblical Name Eshbaal Found Outside of the Bible
Three Takes on the Oldest Hebrew Inscription
Who Really Invented the Alphabet—Illiterate Miners or Educated Sophisticates?
The Phoenician Alphabet in Archaeology by Josephine Quinn


9 Responses

  1. Brandon Phillips says:

    And yet, “Baal” in Hebrew means “Master”. Just sayin’.

  2. Dana says:

    & maybe the site is not Israelite at all, just like many scholars have claimed before, and hence there is no dificulty with finding Baal antropomorphic names..

  3. dr. david tee says:

    This is another example of scholarly eisegesis. They do not uncover similar names from later periods and automatically assume something not in evidence. There are two good reasons why we do not find that name after David’s time– 1). no one wrote it down on material that survived to this day and 2) it may have simply fallen out of favor like so many names do in other eras.

    To assume a banning is poor scholarship and bad historical analysis

  4. Harout zambak says:

    Hello venerable responsible, how can I save the entire page as a PDF of the article,because I like it a lot

  5. David Olmsted says:

    Except that the proper translation of this text is:

    ____ to go out as a ruler tax, by my own hand (or the name Bida’u)

    Names do not a translation make. This is because names can be any letter pattern.

    This Alphabetic Akkadian translation is further supported by the excavator’s own recent observations that a significant number of jars from Kirbet Qeiyafa were being used for taxes. These “tax jars” are identified by having deep finger or thumb indentations on their handles. In fact, 40% of these tax jars were found in rooms by the southern gate, the same set of rooms where this inscribed jar was found. Another 38% were found in rooms by the western gate while the rest were found in various other rooms. (Kang and Garfinkel 2015)

    For more information see:

    Kang, H., Garfinkel, Y. (2015) Finger-impressed jar handles at Khirbet Qeiyafa: new light on administration in the Kingdom of Judah. Levant: The Journal of the Council for British Research in the Levant Volume 47, Issue 2, 2015

  6. DacidC says:

    New King, New rules, right? 😉

  7. Jeffrey Falick says:

    Why must this mean that post-Davidic Judah was “monotheistic”? Loyalty to YHWH was not necessarily monotheism. It’s a big leap to jump from being anti-Baal to embracing YHWH’s exclusivity as the only deity. The only deity for Judah? Undoubtedly. The only deity in their world. Not necessarily.

  8. Born Again Disciple of Jesus/Iesus/Iesous says:

    Concerning the claim that God’s name is “Yah-Weh” (An Syriac-Aramac modern composite invented in the late 1800s but Talmudic Rabbinic Kabbalists, two words joined to make one word), frankly this is dishonest linguistics seeing as how the words “Yah-Weh” is a hybridized literary composite word, in other words, it’s made up. To claim it’s the name of the God of the Holy Bible, is what the enemies of Jesus the Christ (Who’s God in the flesh) would claim. Even PhD. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg wouldn’t agree that “Yah-Weh” is the name of the God of the Holy Bible, for this in an invented name using 2 words of Aramaic for the “War ‘god’-man’ / “Thunder ‘god’-man / “Moon ‘god’-man” etc depending on which pagan or heathen culture is using the word. Even the Paleo-Hebrew word “YAH-reach(e)” for “Full Moon” reveals that “YAH” is NOT the name of God and it is utterly intellectual dishonesty in such linguistics to claim such, but such is expected from them who control the information on this. “Yah” / “Jah” / “Iah” / “i-Lah” are all corruptions of “IEH”/”YEH” as in “Iehoshua”. It becomes extremely frustrating to see such false linguistics being promoted in a bed of intellectual truth and deceit.

    Further evidence why the name “Yah-Weh” is NOT the name of God; of Samaria.htm

  9. mosheg6 says:

    I have written an article identifying the name Eshbaal son of Bda, as follows: Moshe Garsiel, “Who is Eshbaal Son of Bda Whose Name Incised on a Jar from Khirbet Qeifah?” in New Studies on Jerusalem, vol 21 (Ramat Gan: Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, Bar-Ilan University 2015), pp. 7* – 23* [English Section]. See also in
    Professor Moshe Garsiel
    Department of Bible
    Bar-Ilan University
    Ramat Gan

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