Man of God, Man of Embarrassment

Credit:, Judah, Shephelah

In Leviticus 26, God warns the nation of Israel “Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.” One of those gods that God would be warning about is the Canaanite god Baal, whose name features in an inscription at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is a hilltop archaeological site along the border of the Shephelah, the Judean foothills, and Philistia, the southern coastal region of Canaan. The town was occupied for a brief period in the Iron Age, between the 11th and 10th centuries BCE.

Excavators working the site uncovered a broken jar with an inscription along its neck. The inscription was written in the early Canaanite script, which was determined by the position of the letters in the inscription. The letters appear to be read from right to left, as Hebrew is today. This was not always the case, as the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon was written from left to right, and it is unclear when the Canaanite script was exclusively written in a right to left direction.

The first words in the inscription spell Ishba’al son of Beda, or alternatively, Eshba’al son of Beda. The other letters on the inscription are unclear and no firm determination can be made as to their meaning.

The name Ishba’al or Eshba’al is notable as the name of King Saul’s son in the Bible. In 2 Samuel, King Saul’s son Ish-bosheth challenges David for rule over the tribes of Israel before being killed by his servants. However, in 1 Chronicles 8, this son is named Eshba’al.

The name Ishba’al/Eshba’al is also notable for being a theophoric name, a personal name containing the name of a god, in this case Baal. In 1 Chronicles 8, Saul’s son carries the name Ba’al, but in 2 Samuel, he is referred to as Ish-bosheth, meaning ‘a man of embarrassment.’ This moniker may be an attempt to denigrate a name containing the name of a foreign god.

Theophoric names containing Ba’al appear in inscriptions in the areas surrounding the southern Kingdom of Judah, in the regions of Ammon, Israel and Phoenicia (northern Israel and Lebanon), throughout the Iron Age II, lasting from the 10th-6th century BCE. However, in the Bible and in the archaeological record, after the 10th century, those living in Kingdom of Judah cease to give names that contain Ba’al within them. Thus the inhabitants of Judah appear to be deliberately avoiding the use of a name of god about which they were warned in Leviticus 26.

The image above is of standing stones at Qeiyafa, indicative of cultic activity. The following link contains an image of the Ishba’al inscription: