Monday, July 12, 2021

"Jerubbaal" on a jug

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: Qiryat Gat 3 Millennia-Old Inscription May Name Biblical Judge Gideon (Jewish Press).
For the first time, an inscription from the time of the Biblical Judges, and even relating to the Book of Judges, has been recovered from excavations at Khirbat er-Ra‘i, near Qiryat Gat. The rare inscription bears the name ‘Yerubbaal’ in alphabetic script and dates from around 1,100 BCE. It was written in ink on a pottery vessel and found inside a storage pit that was dug into the ground and lined with stones.


I doubt that this jug belonged to the Gideon of the Book of Judges, assuming there was such a person. But this discovery does show that the name, which is applied only to him in the Bible, does roughly fit into the chronological and geographical context in which the Book of Judges places it.

In the Bible it appears only in Judges 6-9 and in 1 Samuel 12:11. It appears in bowdlerized form as Jerubboshet - "The shame strives" in 2 Samuel 11:21.

Jonathan son of King Saul had a son with the similar name Meribbaal, "Baal is striving." It too is bowdlerized into Mephiboshet, something like "one who spreads shame," in 2 Samuel, especially chapter 9, but in the correct form survives in 1 Chronicles 8:34. In general, Israelite names containing "Baal" got the "shame" treatment from later scribes.

The name Jerubbaal means "Baal strives." Judges presents it as a nickname of Gideon which disrespects Baal. It was always more likely that it was a perfectly good Canaanite name in honor of Baal. This inscription confirms the latter view.

In fact, I suspect Jeribai, the name of one of David's mghty men, in 1 Chronicles 11:46 is a nickname abbreviation of (otherwise unattested) Yeribiah, "YHWH strives." Likewise the name "Jarib" in 1 Chronicles 4:24 (cf. Ezra 8:16, 10:18). A god "striving" was a good thing.

The names Meribbaal and Ishbaal (e.g., 2 Samuel 2:8//1 Chronicles 8:33) may even indicate that Israel's God YHWH was sometimes known informally as Baal, "the Lord," in early Israel. If so, Jerubbaal may have been a normal Israelite name. The fact that we found it on an extremely rare inscription from the period of Judges implies that it was pretty common.

Cross-file under Onomastics.

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