An ancient jug dating back about 3,100 years that has the name of a biblical judge inscribed on it was unearthed in a very rare discovery. It was found during excavations at Khirbat er-Ra‘i which is close to Kiryat Gat in the Southern District of Israel.
The ancient vessel (dated between the 12th and 11th centuries BCE) contains the name Jerubbaal who was mentioned in the Book of Judges. While it can’t be known for sure if the name is definitively in reference to the biblical judge, it is still a very significant find as it is the first time ever that the name has been seen other than in the Bible. Furthermore, it is believed that whoever owned the vessel was the one who inscribed his name on it.
Professor Yosef Garfinkel and archeologist Sa‘ar Ganor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem went into further details regarding the name on the jug, “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 combating 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.”
It is possible that the inscription may refer to another person named Jerubbaal who was not a biblical judge but Garfinkel and Ganor explained that “…the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”
The site, which is close to another archaeological area where a center called Lachish was once located, has been excavated since 2015 and at first the researchers thought that they might find an ancient fortress but rather discovered six rooms that date back to around the 10th century BCE (it was thought to have been a small village). They did, however, find the vessel that contained the biblical judge’s name.
Based on the items found at the site, it is believed that it was once used as a Canaanite site but with a powerful Philistine influence. The jug contains five letters — yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, lamed – which was not part of the Hebrew alphabet and was instead from a different alphabet from years before as Garfinkel noted, “The alphabetic script was invented by the Canaanites and the Egyptian influence right about 1800 BCE,” adding, “They continued to use this script, which evolved from Egyptian Hieroglyphs in the Late Bronze Age [1500-1200 BCE] and Iron Age I [1200-1000 BCE]. The Hebrew and Phoenician scripts were developed only in the middle of the tenth century BCE.”
Pictures of the name inscribed onto the jug can be seen here.