Ancient Yahweh Worshipper's Jar Bears Hebrew Script in Biblical City

Written in ink the writing on this jar says that it belongs to a man whose name can be translated as “Benayo” or “Benayau.” The jar dates back more than 2,800 years to the ninth century B.C.
The Hebrew writing on this jar says that it belongs to a man whose name can be translated as "Benayo" or "Benayau." (Image credit: Courtesy of the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, Israel Antiquities Authority / Shai Halevi)

A 2,800-year-old jar inscribed in Hebrew with the Yahwistic name "Benayo" has been discovered at Abel Beth Maacah, a site in northern Israel that is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible. 

Since Benayo (or Benayau) is a Yahwistic name (it incorporates part of Yahweh's name), the man likely worshipped Yahweh, the god of Israel. In the north, names mentioning Yahweh generally ended in Hebrew letters that can be translated as "yo" or "yau," said 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.

Related: From Jesus' Time: The Most Interesting Biblical Discoveries

The jar was found next to several other jars in a room that has been only partly excavated. One of the other jars contains residue that may come from wine, with a grape pit sitting beside it. Though more research is needed to confirm the status of the jars, it's possible that all the vessels contained wine and Benayo "may have been a wine grower," Mullins said. He noted that the land around Abel Beth Maacah is ideal for wine production. 

Archaeologists will resume excavations this summer, investigating more of the room during these efforts. Mullins said he hopes to find more jars with writing on them.

Biblical city

For the past few years, archaeologists have been excavating the site of Abel Beth Maacah, with previous archeological finds including a tiny sculpture dating back to the ninth century B.C. that may depict a biblical king. While the sculpture dates to the same century as the jar with Hebrew writing, the two artifacts were found in different parts of the city. 

Archaeologists can't be sure who controlled Abel Beth Maacah during the ninth century B.C. The site was located near the borders of three different kingdoms — Israel, Tyre and Aram-Damascus — and control of the site may have changed over time. 

Abel Beth Maacah appears to have been abandoned during the eighth century B.C., archaeologists found. At that time, the Hebrew Bible claims that the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III conquered Abel Beth Maacah and several other cities in the region. While archaeologists have found no evidence that the city was violently destroyed, they haven't found much evidence of human habitation either. 

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. 

Originally published on Live Science.

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Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.