Apologetics, Archaeology
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Who was ‘Eshba’al Ben Beda’?


Archaeologists working at the site of the ancient city of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Central Israel have uncovered a ceramic jug with the name ‘Eshba’al Ben Beda’ written on it in Canaanite script.

The broken jar, discovered in 2012, took nearly three years to piece back together. Israel Antiquities Authority released the finding on June 16, 2015. The jar estimated to be 3,000 years old was in use during King David’s reign.

Only powerful people had their names etched on pottery as writing was limited to the ruling or priestly caste. This suggests that a man of much importance in Judah used the jar to either store olive oil or wine. Archaeologist believed he probably owned significant agricultural estates. (The name ‘Eshba’al’ inscribed on an ancient jar. Israel Antiquities Authority. Photo: DailyMail)However, the name is also bit controversial due to its cultic overtones. It literally means “man of Baal, son of Beda.”

Baal was a Phoenician storm god and a major cultic deity of that day. It was the prophets of Baal that the prophet Elijah challenged on Mt Carmel to see whose God could light an altar on fire (1 Kings 18:25-30). Since Baal was often pictured holding a lightening bolt in his hand, this should be an easy task for such a god.

After the prophets of Baal failed, Elijah soaked the altar in water and called upon the true God, Jehovah, Who poured fire from heaven consuming the sacrifice.

The name, Eshba’al was popular during this time, but its usage was rare among the Israelis because of its association with Baal. This is the first time the name was found used by a Jew outside the Bible, where we find the name given to one man of importance.

The Bible says that King Saul named his fourth son Eshba’al (1 Chronicles 8:33). This may have reflected Saul’s deteriorating spiritual condition. The Bible mentions several times that an evil spirit came upon Saul (1 Samuel 16:13-14) that was obviously influencing him in a negative way.

After the Philistines killed Saul and his three sons in battle, Eshba’al as the sole heir was briefly declared the King of Israel (2 Samuel 3:8-9). At some point, he changed his name to Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2:8). It is uncertain why this happened. Perhaps by breaking the tie with Baal, he was hoping to curry Jehovah’s favor in the several year civil war with King David that followed after David was anointed the King of Judah.

David eventually defeated the forces loyal to Eshba’al and became the King of Israel. Eshba’al in turn was killed by two of his officers. When the assassins delivered Eshba’al’s head to David hoping to appease him, the king had the men put to death (2 Samuel 4:5-12).

In light of the intrigue associated with the name, many are curious about who Eshba’al Ben Beda was?

The assasination of Eshba'al from the Maciejowski Bible.

The assassination of Eshba’al from the Maciejowski Bible.

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