2,800-Year-Old Vessel Has archaeologists Redrawing Maps of Ancient Israel

“[Yoav’s men] came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah; they threw up a siegemound against the city and it stood against the rampart. All the troops with Yoav were engaged in battering the wall.” II Samuel 20:15 (The Israel Bible™)

A clay jar discovered in an archaeological dig on the northern border has archaeologists reconsidering their notions of ancient Israel’s borders. All because of the name inscribed on the jar which, like the names of many Jews today, identified the long-dead owner as one who worshiped the God of Israel.

Last year, archaeologists digging at the Abel Beth-Maacah dig in northern Israel discovered a 2,800-year-old jar inscribed with  “LeBenayau,” meaning “Belongs to Benayau,” which researchers assume was the name of the owner of the vessel. 

Robert Mullins, a professor in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies at Azusa Pacific University in California who is co-director of excavations at Abel Beth Maacah, explained to Live Science that the name is ‘Yahwistic’, incorporating an abbreviated reference to the God of Israel. 

In the north, names mentioning Yahweh generally ended in Hebrew letters that can be translated as ‘yo’ or ‘yau,’” Mullins said in the interview, noting that this implies that the man worshiped ‘Yahweh’, one of the Biblical names of the God of Israel. This is, of course, still true today as many Biblical names are similarly Yahwistic.

If true, this would redraw the map of ancient Israel since historians did not previously believe the Northern Kingdom of Israel extended so far north in the 9-10th Centuries BCE. Abel Beth Maacah was a strategically located border town. The Aramean kingdom with its capital in Damascus lay to the east, the Phoenician city of Tyre was to the west, and the Israelite kingdom, with its capital in Samaria to the south.

In II Kings, the city is listed among those conquered by the king of Assyria.

In the days of King Pekach of Yisrael, King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-bethmaacah, Janoah, Kedesh, HazorGilad, Galilee, the entire region of Naftali; and he deported the inhabitants to Assyria. II Kings 15:29

“If the inscription is from the 8th century BCE. then it’s still important but not a big surprise, because we know that during that period, the Kingdom of Israel reached until [nearby] Dan,” Dr. Eran Arie, curator of the Iron Age and Persian Period at the Israel Museum, told the Times of Israel.

“But if it’s really from the 9th century BCE, it reopens questions on the connection of this area to Israel and may force us to rethink some of our conclusions. This is not a bad thing: it’s always important to adjust our interpretation when new evidence emerges.”

The jar was found with four others, all crushed, in the partially excavated remains of an Iron Age building. Another of the jars contained residue that may come from wine, with a grape pit sitting beside it. Researchers are still studying the jars but they believe that the vessels contained wine.

 “[Benayo] may have been a winegrower,” Mullins said, noting that the land around Abel Beth Maacah is ideal for wine production. 

The archaeological site, located on the northern border of Israel about one mile south of the town of Metulla, is mentioned in the Bible.

Ben-hadad responded to King Asa’s request; he sent his army commanders against the towns of Yisrael and captured Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, as well as all the land of Naftali. I Kings 15:20

Excavations at Abel Beth Maacah are carried out jointly between Azusa Pacific University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The other two co-directors are Naama Yahalom-Mack and Nava Panitz-Cohen, both researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.