Saturday, June 13, 2015



The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa 
Authors: Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor 
A copy of the article can be purchased here (JSTOR).
An account of the find is available from BAR.
A photographic history of the reconstruction of the jar.
A study of the Eshbaal inscription.

At long last we are allowed to gaze at another inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa, beside the important ostracon (but there is still one that is being tantalizingly kept under wraps).
   As we can see from the Tal Rogozin photograph, even though the broken jar has been painstakingly  reconstructed, important pieces containing parts of the text are missing.
   It appears that there are fourteen letters, and half of them are incomplete characters; but in the middle of the inscription we can read fairly securely(from right to left):
   ' Sh B ` L (Aleph, Shin, Beth, `Ayin, Lamed)
This looks like a personal name, and if  ʾIšbaʿal is the correct rendering of the word (as in the title of the article) then it is masculine, meaning  "Man of Ba`al" (though this is certainly not certain).
    This happens to be the name of one of King Saul's sons, who had his own kingdom after his father's death. But the late scribes of the Bible had him as Ishbosheth (Man of shame): 2 Samuel  2 (11x). The Chronicler was allowed to call him 'Eshba`al (1 Chr  8.33,  and 9.39) : "Ner begat Qish ... begat Sha'ul... begat ... 'Eshba`al".  Accordingly, 'Eshba`al was the son of King  Saul.
     But this Qeiyafa  'ShB`L apparently  styles himself  B[N]  BD`. 
    Is BD` another name of Saul? Is it really a personal name?

The first scholar  to propose (publicly) a complete interpretation of the text is Gershon Galil, transmitted through Jim West:
"In my opinion the correct reading of the second Qeiyafa inscription is:
KPRT 'SHB`L BN BD'[M] = The expiation of Ishba’al son of bdʿ[m]."
   I don’t see how we can know “the correct reading” when only half of the letters are complete, and in any case only the writer really knew what his message meant. Nevertheless, we must try.
   "Expiation" sounds a bit abstract for [K] [P] [R] [T] (all four letters are incomplete). 
We could suppose that  kprt refers to the contents of the pot: bitumen? henna? copra (coconut oil from India)?
   Maybe the expiation was achieved by smashing the jar; or it was  a victim of the rampaging destroyers of the town; but some other storage jars in the same spot were still intact.

(3/7/15 postscript) Gershon Galil has added more fuel to his atonement fire, by adducing twelve pithoi from Kuntillet `Ajrud (ca 800 BCE); each bears the letter 'Aleph, presumed to be an abbreviation. He suggests it stands for 'asham, "guilt-offering". This was usually a ram ('eyl, also beginning with 'Aleph, but not something that would fit easily into a jar); this was to be brought to the priests at the sanctuary (Leviticus 19.20-22, in connection with making atonement (yes, the verb is kpr) for sinful carnal knowledge of a betrothed slave-woman.
   The place where the jar was found (Room B of Building C11, 6x5 m) apparently had no roof, and with its central hearth and water-basin, it could have been a sanctuary for performing sacrifices. (A cultic chamber, with a standing stone, has been excavated elsewhere in Area C.)
   The sequence ' Sh B ` L , if read as 'Eshba`al, could mean "fire of the Lord"; and if the Lord is not human but divine,  he is not necessarily the weather god Ba`al Hadad, but Yahweh.  Christopher Rollston  (in his first account of this inscription) refers us to a Benjaminite in the service of King David with the personal name “Ba‘alyah” (1 Chr 12:5/6), a name that means “Yahweh is Ba‘al  (or "Yah is Lord").

(3/7/15) In this regard, Ryan Chew (see his attached comment) has asked whether the supposed BN sequence ("son of") might actually be BG. Let's play with this possibility.
   Below (that is, at an earlier time) I suggest that the final sequence (BD`) could be interpreted as "house of knowledge", referring to this Room B; and BG could be understood as begaw, "within" or "inside". Hence we have: "the fire of Ba`al within the house of knowledge".
   However, the reading BN can be defended: what looks like a G (an angle) is more likely to be the top part of a Nun, as represented on the Gerbaal arrowhead, and in the new inscription from Beth-Shemehs (it is N on its side, that is, like Z). 

 (13/6/2015)  I had thought the choice of 'I$ba`al, with the vowel -i (as seen in the title of the BASOR article) was premature, when the form 'eshba`al offers other possibilities.
   The presence of a hearth in the room where the storage jar was discovered suggests that it might be 'e$ b`l, "fire of Ba`al", and the container held fuel (oil?) or air-freshener (pitch?!) for this fire-place. Or does the basin in the room suggest the jar was for water? 
   The form 'I$ba`al seems to be confirmed in Ugaritic documents, showing initial 'i. But 'i$ as 'man' has not been found at Ugarit, has it? Also, "fire" is '$t ('ishat) in Ugaritic, but 'e$ in Hebrew.
   The idea of the name meaning not "Baal's man" but "Baal is" or "There is a Baal" or " Baal is really someone" is appealing; but in early Israel? Yes, since Ba`al could refer to Yah/Yahweh in those days, as already noted, above.

(10/8/2015) Allow me to add a posthumous comment from William Foxwell Albright (1891-1971),
Archaeology and the Religion of Israel, Baltimore, 1968 edn.
'One of Saul's sons was called "Esh-Baal" (Baal exists)' (p. 113)
'The usual translation, "Man of Baal," is linguistically difficult, and must, in my opinion, be replaced by the rendering in the text [Baal exists]. Note that in the Baal Epic of Ugarit the resurrection of Baal is greeted with the triumphant words, "And I know that triumphant Baal lives (h.y), that the Prince, lord of the earth, exists ('it, which would be 'ish in later Canaanite)." Moreover, there are several passages in the Bible where 'ish or 'esh is employed instead of classical yesh.' (p.207, n.62)

   Can Gershon tell us how his hypothetical [M] helps with the unknown name BD` ?
The answer is actually provided in the BASOR article (p.230): it might be an abbreviation of bd`m, and this could mean "in the hand (bd) of the divine uncle (`m)"; or "in the hand of D`m" (a  West Semitic deity, new to me).
   Alternatively, it is a hypocoristic  (abbreviated) theophoric name with the deity's name dropped: "[God] has created" (the root BD` occurs in Arabic: produce, invent).
  Here's a thought: I have long maintained that the letters of the protoalphabet could be used as logograms; Beth represents a house (bayt) and could stand for "house" here,  followed by d`; hence "house of knowledge", preceded by "son of", that is, a student of that school.
   Looking at that D again: it could have had a stem, which has been lost in the break; it would then be R, like the 6th letter in line 4 on the ostracon, or the second character in line 5. This is "stretching" it, literally and figuratively, but we are now looking at a word BR`. This could be "house of evil", but also a personal name. There is Bera` (King of Sodom, Gen 14.2), and four instances of Beri`â, one of whom belonged to the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chron 8.13), as did King Saul.
    In the current square Hebrew script , Resh and Dalet are easily confused (both are basically a right angle) but at this stage, in the Iron Age, it is Q and R that cause us grief. And the fourth letter here has a stem and a missing circle (Q?) or triangle (R?)
   So, the first word could be KPQT or KPRT; and since the P is represented only by a single horizontal stroke, a telegraph-pole Samek could be constructed. KS is found at the start of inscriptions with the meaning "cup"(written on bowls), but that does not seem applicable here.
    But KSRT and KSQT are possible as restored readings.

   However, let's explore some possibilities for the extremely uncertain reading  kprt.
   The final letter is only half there, but it is probably T (a cross, +). It could mark the plural of a feminine noun, or singular -at (construct state).
   As a toponym it might be Kepirâ, one of the Gibeonite towns (Joshua 9.17). This is worth considering, as a place name is a likely word to appear as the source of the pot or its contents; and Gibeon is not far north of Khirbet Qeiyafa. If the H on the end of the Hebrew form indicates an original -at ending, then it would fit the presumed KPRT nicely.
   As a substance it could be koper, henna, though its plural is in -im, and likewise koper, bitumen. (Isaiah 34.9 "burning (b`r) pitch (zepet)". Any clues here?)
   As an object it could be a kepor (m), a bowl, or a kepir (m), a copper vessel, but it is neither.
   As an idea it could come from the root kpr, cover, make expiation, and we immediately think of Yom kippur, the Day of Atonement; and yet this word always appears as kippurim in the Bible. Another term with the same connection is, yet again, koper (m), ransom
   There is one KPR noun that would fit kprt, and that is  kaporet (f), a mysterious word, said to mean the cover or lid of the Ark of the Covenant, and then "the mercy seat" where a propitiatory rite was performed on Atonement Day.
   It could be a verb: "Thou hast atoned, O Eshbaal". Incidentally, that is how I see the beginning of the Qeiyafa ostracon: "Thou hast cursed" ('LT). But that was on an ostracon; a sermon or oracle would probably not be engraved on a storage jar.
   Actually, the first three letters of the supposed KPRT only have tiny remnants of their originals.
   We must draw a veil over the possibility of  kepir, young lion, which would raise the spectre of the Lion of Judah (cp Gn 49.9).
   Another thought: if the final T (constructed from a remaining right angle) was in fact  M, KPRM would suit kippurim, 'atonement'. QED
   However, it needs to be said that the drawings made by Ada Yardeni (figs 15, 16, 17) are plausible in their reconstructing of the text. Here is one of them:

   Nevertheless, the three remaining strokes of the first reconstructed letter (K but possibly a horizontal Shin, though Shin is vertical in the following personal name) could accommodate the YYN (wine) that Gershon Galil proposed for filling the gap on the Jerusalem pithos inscription.

 Notice the strokes separating the words. They are horizontal when we read the text vertically, from top to bottom. But, reading from right to left, with the jar upright, these are vertical bars.
    In my experience of Semitic writing, I have heard that a text can be written vertically though it is intended to be read horizontally. Aaron Demsky thinks the Q1 ostracon should be read vertically. That would mean that the text is set out in columns, but this seems unlikely, because all the letters with upright stems are now reclining. We have this problem when we attempt to read the inscriptions on arrowheads": which way up?
    I wonder whether the scribe in this case had the (wet) pot standing or reclining.
The idea of writing "ad stomachum" (written vertically but for reading horizontally) came to me from my Syriac studies, but we can ask whether it was practiced in ancient Israel.
    In the case of the Qeiyafa jar: vertical reading gives the Phoenician stances of 'A B D, and `ayin (!), but Shin (3) becomes M; the upright vertical stem of the Q/R settles the matter (as also the [K] and [P] !): read me horizontally, the text declares.
    The word-separators are a surprise, in that the Qeiyafa ostracon (as far as I can see, and I study it every day!) has no word-separating spaces, dots, or bars (though some of the dots have been understood as punctuation, meaning pause-marks).
    However, divider-strokes are found on the Qubur el-Walayda bowl (shu mi ba `i li | 'i ya 'i li | ma kh-, L > R);
 and also on the Gath (Safi) inscription ('lwt | wlt,  L < R)
    (Both could be Philistine, but the language is "the lip of Kana`an" in the QW text, which also has a baal name.)
   You may have noticed my hypothesis about a "neo-syllabary" in Early Iron Age Israel and Palestine (Philistia), whereby the stances and shapes of the letters can indicate syllables (-i, -a, -u).

    As a general rule:
   syllabic inscriptions run from left to right (Q ostracon, QW, Izbet Sartah and its abagadary);   
   simple consonantal texts go from right to left (Tel Zayit stone abgdary, Gezer calendar).
    There can be no doubt about reading this Q2 inscription from right to left (the direction that became standard for West Semitic writing, including Arabic), since the name '$b`l gives a clear indication.  
I now have to consider the question whether the letters are used syllabically (as I feel sure they are on the Q ostracon, where line 2 has sha-pa-t.a "judged” and shi-pi-t.i “judgements”) . Unfortunately there are not sufficient characters here on Q2 to determine that.
Yes, the trouble is that there are not enough letters, and not enough of the letters that are there (in  damaged states).
What I can say is this, at least: none of the visible letters has the -i form, as found in the Phoenician alphabet that was subsequently adopted in Israel; there is a dot in the `ayin; 'aleph is in its original ox-head stance; Shin is vertical, not horizontal; likewise Beth, with its early house-form; Daleth is not triangular; but the reconstructed K and P correspond to ki  and pi on the Q ostracon, and this might arouse caution in accepting them.
And the struggle with the ostracon from the same archaeological site continues:

May I remind readers that I treat all the essays that are published on my websites as tentative explorations, and I may alter them at any time with additions or deletions or corrections.
I am sorry that I have to talk aloud on the web to disseminate my ideas, but the fact is that I have officially passed my expiry date (b.1936) and time is running out.

9/9/2016  Let's set up a hypothetical scenario .
 This open but enclosed space was a sacred place, and it was called "the House of Knowledge" (B d`) because its devotees entered into trance states and achieved mystical knowledge there. The fortress and palace was the home of Prince Eshbaal (not King David). It had been built or rebuilt by King Saul, his father,  as an outpost for surveillance over the Philistines of Gath and Ekron. Its name was apparently Sha`araim, which could mean 'two gates', and this is actually a feature of this walled town. After the death of Saul and Jonathan at the battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, David ruled over Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-4) in Hebron (situated between Gaza and the Dead Sea); and General Abner installed Eshbaal (a surviving son of Saul) as King of Israel in Mahanaim (2 Sam 2:8-10); he was 40 years old and he reigned for two years.The name Mahanaim, meaning 'two camps', suggests that this was Qeiyafa, which had two camps in the Elah Valley for the battle between Philistia and Israel in which David won the day by felling Goliath (2 Sam 17). However, Mahanaim is East of Mount Gilboa, in Gilead, over the Jordan and north of the Dead Sea, far away from David and the Philistines. Nevertheless, he could have inhabited the Qeiyafa palace during the time when Saul was pursuing David. If Eshbaal had a mystical side, we might recall that his father Saul was "also among the prophets" (1 Sam 10:9-13) and even practised necromancy (1 Sam 28:5ff).

Still pondering over kprt: it can mean "henna bush" (Ugaritic), and perhaps that is what was in the jar. Would a man want to own such a shrub? Henna is an orange dye for use on the body (from the hair down to the toes).  Or does this "cyprus flower", which grows wild in Israel, act here as a decorative indoor plant? Henna certainly has  a place in the Song of Songs: a cluster in a vineyard (1:14); in the secret garden with pomegranates, nard, saffron, cinnamon (4:13); and out in the fields (henna rather than villages, kprym, 7:12).


Ryan Chew said...

Do such names ever pop up without patronymics? If we didn't assume that the word after Ishbaal was bn, would you jump to the conclusion that that was a nun, not a gimel? Are there any Semitic roots bg? Ishbaal bg bd'

Maybe that's even more gibberishy than merely trying to figure out bd', but I thought I'd ask.

Ryan Chew said...

Thanks. I had actually come back to look for a reply in comments a couple times, and decided maybe my question was just daft. I just found your mention in the post update.

It all makes you want to dig a bit more. I wonder how much of the context around the find has already been excavated. It's surprising (well, to someone who has never been on a dig before) that so many of these shards survived in the size they did, while other whole sections were ground to dust. Can't help but wonder whether there's still a shard kicked into a corner that might flesh out kprt or even extend the inscription a bit at the start.

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