Inscription with link to Book of Judges discovered in Israel

The Jerubbaal inscription, written in ink on a pottery vessel.(Photo: Dafna Gazit/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A rare inscription dating to the time of the biblical judges has been uncovered in southern Israel. 

The 3,100-year-old inscription is of 'Jerubbaal', another name for the judge and prophet Gideon, whose victory over the Midianites is recorded in the Book of Judges. 

Professors Yossef Garfinkel and Sa'ar Ganor, lead archaeologists, said, "The name Jerubbaal is familiar from biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash.

"Gideon is first mentioned as combatting idolatry by breaking the altar to Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole. In biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.

"According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma'ayan Harod. In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.

"In any event, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the biblical Judges."

The inscription was written in ink on a jug and is believed by archaeologists to indicate personal possession of the object.

It was found by archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Macquarie University, Sydney, during excavations at Kiryat Gat. 

"The name of the Judge Gideon ben Yoash was Jerubbaal, but we cannot tell whether he owned the vessel on which the inscription is written in ink," they said. 

The jug could hold around 1 litre and may have contained a precious liquid like oil, perfume or medicine. 

It dates to around around 1,100 BCE and was found inside a storage pit that was dug into the ground and lined with stones.

The discovery has excited the archaeologists because it is the first time that the name Jerubbaal has ever been found outside the Bible in an archaeological context – and in a layer of earth dated to around 1,100 BCE, the period of the Judges.

According to the team, inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology, with only a handful found in the past and bearing a number of unrelated letters.

"As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David," the team said.

"The name Jerubbaal only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it has also been discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.

"In a similar manner, the name Ishbaal, which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, has been found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.

"The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations."