The Jerubba‘al Inscription

“on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal” (Judges 6:32).

Archaeologists excavating at a site called Khirbet al-Ra‘i, a site located about 4 km west of Tel Lachish, have found an ancient jug with an inscription written in Proto-Canaanite. A palaeographic study of the inscription reveals that the writing is consistent with the archaeological context of the site, thus the inscription is dated to the late twelfth or early eleventh century BCE, the period of the biblical judges.

Photograph of the inscription
by Dafna Gazit, the Israel Antiquities Authority

Drawing of the inscription
by Olga Dobovsky

Archaeologists found three fragments of the jar which contain a total of eight letters. On two fragments of the jar, archaeologists were able to read the name of an individual named Yrb‘l. This name is identical to the name Gideon received after he demolished the altar of Baal. His father called him, Jerubba‘al.

Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the LORD had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night. When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. So they said to one another, “Who has done this?” After searching and inquiring, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.” Then the townspeople said to Joash, “Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it.” But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal (Judges 6:27-32).

The name Jerubbaal is compounded with the name of the Canaanite god Baal. Theophoric names compounded with the name of the Canaanite god Baal were common in Israel in eleventh–tenth centuries BCE. Saul’s son was named Ishbaal (2 Samuel 2:8). Jonathan’s son was named Meribbaal (1 Chronicles 8:34). One of David’s warriors was named Baaliah (1 Chonicles 12:6).

Although it is possible to identify the name that appears on this jug with the Jerubbaal that appears in the book of Judges, the archaeologists involved in reading the inscription have concluded that the name on the jar may refer to another individual named Jerubbaal and not the Gideon mentioned in the book of Judges.

The authors of the article explain the reason not to identify the Jerubb‘al of the inscription as the Jerubba‘al of the book of Judges:

“The personal name Jerubba‘al is attested in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Judg 6:31–32). Note that while in the Hebrew Bible the patronymic Yw’š (Yoash) is present, no patronymic appears on the Khirbet al-Ra‘i inscription. It would be tempting to posit that this inscription is that of the biblical figure. After all, the chronological framework for this figure is the period of the Judges, and so a time frame for him in the twelfth or eleventh century BCE (the date of the inscription) is entirely plausible. Nevertheless . . . for the identification of a figure from the Bible and the epigraphic record to be compelling, the presence of a patronymic, title, or epithet (etc.) is necessary, even when the putative biblical and archaeological time frames seem to correspond fairly nicely” (Rollston et al. 2021:9).

However, Yosef Garfinkel, one of the archaeologists involved in the study of the inscription, said that although there is a long distance between the site Khirbet al-Ra‘i in the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, “the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”

Garfinkel agrees that the discovery of this inscription is very important to biblical studies because is shows that the name Jerubbaal was a common name in use during the time of the biblical judges. In addition, the inscription suggests that names that appear in the Bible were names of individuals who lived at the same time the biblical events were taking place.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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Bibliography

Christopher Rollston, Yosef Garfinkel, Kyle H. Keimer,Gillan Davis and Saar Ganor, 2021. “The Jerubba‘al Inscription from Khirbet al-Ra‘i: A Proto-Canaanite (Early Alphabetic) Inscription.” Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology 2: 1–15.

You can download a PDF copy of the article. Click here to download the article.

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