Old Testament judge Gideon's name found on pottery relics

A rare 3,100-year-old artefact has been uncovered that links with the prominent Old Testament figure of Gideon, recorded in the book of Judges.  

The artefact – three clay fragments of a small pottery jug – has a partial inscription in brown ink on the outside.

Written by the hands of a trained scribe, what can be read is five letters; one indicates the name ‘Jerubbaal’, another name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash. (Judges 6:31-32)  

This discovery is the first time that that Gideon-related name has been found outside the Bible’s pages and in the Holy Lands region, where the ancient events of the book of Judges took place. 

“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” said study co-authors Yosef Garfinkel and Sa‘ar Ganor, archaeologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a statement.

“The name Jerubbaal only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it has also been discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.”

Without a precise date, scholarly consensus suggests events recorded in the book of Judges occurred between about 1200 and 1020 BC. Notably, this setting of the biblical story of Gideon aligns with the archaeological context and palaeographic dating of the artefact.  

The pieces of pottery were found in a level of an archaeological site – Khirbet al-Ra’I, four kilometres west of Tel Lachish, in the Judean foothills – dated to the late 12th and early 11th century BC.

The site offers views of Mount Hebron and Jerusalem in the east, and the coastal region to the west. It has been excavated annually for the past six years, for three-six weeks, by Joseph B. Silver and the Nathan and Lily Silver Foundation.

Additional support has been provided by Aron Levy and the Roger and Susan Hertog Center of Archaeological Research of Jerusalem and Judah.    

While the team is unsure whether the pottery connects directly with the biblical figure (‘Jerubbaal ‘is thought to be a popular name in this time period), it remains a significant indicator of the historical accuracy of the book of Judges.  

Part of the Old Testament’s history books, Judges tells the story of the Israelites between their arrival in Canaan and Saul’s establishment of the Kingdom of Israel.

According to the Israel Innovation Authority, this find contributes to the understanding of the spread of alphabetic script in the transition from the Canaanite to the Israelite period. 

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