The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa
Authors: Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar GanorA copy of the article can be purchased here (JSTOR).
An account of the find is available from BAR.
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 bee 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 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 person 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-Shemesh.
(13/6/15) 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.
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 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.
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:
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 Q 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.
Whatever, the 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.
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 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 ostracon: line 2 has sha-pa-t.a "judged” and shi-pi-t.i “judgements”) . Unfortunately there are not sufficient of them to determine that.
Yes, the trouble is that there are not enough letters, and not enough of the letters that are there.
And the struggle with the ostracon from the same 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.
Isaiah 34.9 "burning (b`r) pitch (zepet)". Any clues here?