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Al Jib jar handles

Sketch of the Al Jib Gibeon inscription number 61
The "Pool of Gibeon", where the inscriptions were found

The Al Jib jar handles are over 60 jar handles inscribed with names including the Semitic triliteral gb'n, discovered between 1956 and 1959 in excavations led by James B. Pritchard at the "great pool" (or step well) of the Palestinian town of Al Jib.[1] This excludes approximately 80 handles found in the same location with the LMLK seal inscription which has been found elsewhere across the region. The discovery was the largest number of inscriptions found anywhere in Palestine since the Samaria ostraca in 1908-10.[2]

The discovery was a landmark in biblical archaeology, as the handles were mostly found in a large pool matching the biblical description, with many having the inscription גבען (GBʻN). This was considered to have secured the identification of Al Jib with Biblical Gibeon; it has been described as "as strong a site identification... as anyone ever is likely to find in biblical archaeology".[3][4] The scholarly excitement which followed the discovery increased the perceived importance of Gibeon in the modern understanding of Biblical history, and led to confusion with other similar biblical place names.[5]

The jar handles were divided between the Jordan Archaeological Museum and the Penn Museum.[6]



The 1956 and 1957 excavations discovered in the debris 56 inscribed jar handles, 80 jar handles with LMLK seals, eight private seal impressions, and one inscribed weight.[7] Further inscribed handles were discovered later, bringing the total to above 60. All the inscribed handles were recovered from the top 7.6 meters of debris.

Many of the inscribed handles included names in the inscriptions; these compared against genealogical lists in the Book of Chronicles, and were concluded to include a mixture of Israelite and non-Israelite names.[1]

Most of the handles found show a standard inscription: gb'n gdr followed by one of the following proper names 'zryhw, 'amryhw, dml', hnnyhw nr', or šb'l. Sometimes a dot is used as word divider. The translation of the word gdr was debated by scholars; Pritchard proposed it to mean a walled vineyard enclosure, by comparison with Numbers 22: 24-25 and Isaiah 5:5.[7]


Pritchard described the first set of findings in 1956 as follows:[8]

The debris with which the pool had been filled contained the most important objects found during the 1956 season. Mud, stones, and pieces of broken pottery had washed down from the hill above after the city’s destruction about 600 B.C. As in other areas of the excavation all pottery was salvaged by workmen, put into carefully labeled baskets, washed, and examined at the tent. The pool alone yielded on the average a dozen baskets of broken fragments a day. After we had looked over what could be roughly estimated as 35,000 fragments of pottery, there appeared a broken jar handle carefully and clearly inscribed with the letters GB’N in the Hebrew script of the 8th-7th centuries B.C. and two unintelligible letters… A day later there came from another basket a piece of the same handle giving in Hebrew letters a man’s name... Some days later, also from the debris of the pool, came another “Gibeon” handle even better preserved and containing in addition to the name of the town the word gdd… All the inscribed material came from the debris which had washed down the hill into the pool. This sample of significant evidence is a token, we trust, of the wealth of interesting detail which awaits the excavator of the slope immediately above.

Pritchard described the larger set of discoveries in 1957 as follows:[2]

In the 1956 season at el-Jib we had the good fortune of finding four inscribed jar handles in the tons of debris which we took from half the area of the pool down to a depth of 10.50 meters. It was reasonable to suppose that the other half of the filling might contain as many Hebrew inscriptions. To our surprise, fifty-two more examples of inscriptions on the same type of jar handle appeared-the largest number of Hebrew inscriptions to appear from any Palestinian site since the discovery of ostraca at Samaria in 1908-1910… All but one of these new inscriptions came from about three meters of the debris of the pool (the levels of 4.45 to 7.60 meters below the rim of the pool)… The possibility of importation was soon dispelled in the 1957 season by the finding of twenty-four additional handles containing the name “Gibeon,” spelled out in good Hebrew. Following the place name there is usually the word gdr, which was misread in 1956 as gdd, and then a name of a person.

Relevance to place names in Palestine / Israel

Pritchard wrote in 1959 that of the thousands of ancient place names in Palestine known by name from the Hebrew Bible and historical sources, this was only the fourth that had then been connected using inscriptions found during archaeological excavations at the respective locations. The vast majority of place-name identifications (see list of modern names for biblical place names) are made upon their similarity to existing Palestinian Arabic place names, or else upon the assessment of other geographical information provided by the Biblical texts.[9] Since then, the Ekron Royal Dedicatory Inscription has been found with the name Ekron.


The discovery helped establish Pritchard's reputation; Prichard cataloged the finds in Hebrew Inscriptions and Stamps From Gibeon (1959), which also included the first in-depth discussion of concentric-circle incisions on jar handles associated with LMLK seals. He also published articles on their production of wine, the rock-cut wine cellars, and the engineered water conduits for water supply, and interpreted all this for a general audience in Gibeon: Where the Sun Stood Still (1962).


Primary sources

  • Editio princeps (1-56): Pritchard, J.B. (1959). Hebrew Inscriptions and Stamps from Gibeon. Museum Monographs - University of Pennsylvania. University Museum. University Museum, University of Pennsylvania. ISBN 978-0-598-09648-7.
  • (57-61) Pritchard, James B. “More Inscribed Jar Handles from El-Jîb.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 160, 1960, pp. 2–6,
  • Pritchard, James (1957). "DISCOVERY OF THE BIBLICAL GIBEON". Museum Bulletin. XXI (1): 3–26.
  • Pritchard, James (1958). "A Second Excavation at Gibeon". University Museum Bulletin. XXII: 13–24.
  • Pritchard, James (1959). "THE WINE INDUSTRY AT GIBEON: 1959 Discoveries". Expedition. 2 (1): 17–25.
  • Pritchard, J.B. (1962). Gibeon, Where the Sun Stood Still: The Discovery of the Biblical City. Princeton Studies on the Near East. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-4318-3. Retrieved 2022-04-20.
  • Frick, Frank S. (1974). "Another Inscribed Jar Handle from El-Jîb". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. University of Chicago Press. 213 (213): 46–48. doi:10.2307/1356082. ISSN 0003-097X. JSTOR 1356082. S2CID 163401297.

Secondary sources


  1. ^ a b Brooks, Simcha Shalom (2005). Saul and the Monarchy: A New Look. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 93. ISBN 9780754652045.
  2. ^ a b Pritchard 1958.
  3. ^ Arnold, P.M. (1990). Gibeah: The Search for a Biblical City. The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-567-41555-4. Retrieved 2022-04-20.
  4. ^ Pritchard, James B. (2015). "Gibeon's History in the Light of Excavation". Congress Volume Oxford 1959. Vetus Testamentum, Supplements. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-27530-0. The el-Jib = Gibeon equation, first suggested by VON TROILO in 1666 and later adopted by POCOCKE (1738), ROBINSON (1838), ALBRIGHT (1924), ABEL (1934), and others, was strongly contested during the thirty years before the discovery of the jar handles, principally on the basis of information preserved in the Onomasticon of Eusebius.
  5. ^ Arnold, P.M. (1990). Gibeah: The Search for a Biblical City. The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-567-41555-4. Retrieved 2022-04-20. At present, most scholars identify at least five גבע-root place- names in Benjaminite territory: Gibeah (also known as Gibeah of Benjamin or Gibeah of Saul), Gibeath Ha-Elohim, Gibeath Kiriath-Jearim, Geba (also known as Geba Benjamin) and Gibeon. Of these toponyms, only the name 'Gibeon' connects with certainty to a modern site: the village of el-Jib... The excavations which definitely identified el-Jib not only produced fascinating archaeological discoveries, but also drew much scholarly attention to Gibeon, its history, and its role in early Israel. Unfortunately, the scholarly excitement over that rare event — the discovery of a clear archaeological record of an interesting and important biblical city — tended to produce a certain understandable exaggeration regarding the importance of the city. A number of studies thus commit what one might humorously call the error of 'creeping Gibeonism', that is, the tendency both (a) to find reference to the city in every obscure text, and (b) to assume that the city dominated early Israel, possessing an importance otherwise unrecorded in biblical literature.
  6. ^ Pritchard 1962, p. 16.
  7. ^ a b Toombs & Pritchard 1960.
  8. ^ Pritchard 1957.
  9. ^ Pritchard, James B. (2015). "Gibeon's History in the Light of Excavation". Congress Volume Oxford 1959. Vetus Testamentum, Supplements. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-27530-0. ... identification of Gibeon with el-Jib has been made certain... The unusual circumstance of finding the ancient name of a city in the debris of occupation has occurred in only three other excavations in Palestine. An Egyptian stela of Seti I which was found at Beisan contains the name of Beth-shan; 3) the name Lachish appears in the text of one of the sixth-century letters found at Tell ed-Duweir; 4) and boundary stones found on the outskirts of Tell el-Jazari are inscribed with the name Gezer. 5) All other identifications of ancient sites are based either upon the assumption that the ancient name has preserved itself in the modern Arabic place name or upon geographic references in biblical or other ancient texts which are supported by the evidence of occupation during the periods to which the texts allude.
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Al Jib jar handles
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