2 Samuel 2:10 - Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David.
King Ish-Bosheth was the youngest of the sons of King Saul. His name means “Man of Shame” or “Man of Humiliation,” and he apparently lived down to that moniker because he was a weak king who reigned a short time in opposition to King David. His story can largely be found beginning in 2 Samuel 2 and ending with his murder at the hands of his guards in 2 Samuel 4. Ish-Bosheth, however, was known by other names. One of which was Eshba’al (1 Chron. 8:33, 1 Chron. 9:39) which means "fire of the idol."
Interestingly, the name Eshba'al came up in a recent Biblical dig. According to an article in Discovery News entitled "Rare Inscription Bearing Biblical Name Found in Israel," the name of Eshba'al was discovered on a 3,000 year old piece of pottery in the Valley of Elah.
A rare inscription showing a name shared with a biblical rival to King David has been found on a 3,000-year-old earthenware jar that was broken into shards, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Tuesday. Pieces of the large Iron Age jar were found in a 2012 excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Valley of Elah west of Jerusalem. This is where the biblical battle between young David and the giant Goliath took place. As hundreds of pottery fragments were glued together to form the whole pot, letters carved in the ancient script of the Canaanites, a biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel, were clearly visible. They read: Eshba’al Ben Bada’. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country,” Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement. The name recalls the biblical Eshba’al, a son of King Saul and a rival to King David for rule over the Israelite kingdom.
So, is this a jar that belonged to King Eshba’al, the son of Saul? Unfortunately, it probably isn’t because the name engraved is not “Eshba’al Ben Shaul” (which means Eshba’al, son of Saul), but rather Eshba’al Ben Beda (which means Eshba’al, son of Beda’). Nothing in the Bible or otherwise seems to suggest that Beda’ is an alternative name for Saul, so that makes it very unlikely that the Eshba’al whose name is engraved into the jar is the same as the Eshba’al named in the Bible.
To me, the article is fine to this point, but then it makes a rather disputable statement. It says, “Although it has no connection with the biblical character, the inscription shows that Eshba’al was a common name during the early Israelite period.” First, I am not certain that finding the name on one piece of pottery shows that it was a common name. Perhaps there were only two Eshba’als in all of the history of Israel, and archaeologists happen to have stumbled across a jar belonging to the only other Eshba’al in that long history. Of course, the odds of that happening are rather long, but it remains possible.
Still, let’s follow on the assumption that the odds are that we would not find a jar belonging to the only other Eshba’al in the history of Israel, but rather that the name Eshba’al appears on this jar because there were numerous Eshba’als making it more likely that we would find one of their jars. Arguably, if there were multiple Eshba’als at this time, there are at least two possible conclusions that can be drawn from this. First, the Biblical account is a fiction that merely drew on the common name Eshba’al as a son of Saul because it was a common name at the time and the author lacked enough imagination to pick another name. It would be like a 21st Century novelist naming a character in her novel “John Smith” – a name that many people have, but one which would raise eyebrows in a story because people would think it rather obvious. This appears to be a doubtful construct because the evidence is that Saul and David did exist, so there is no strong reason to doubt that Eshba'al wasn't really the name of Saul's son. So, those that doubt the existence of Biblical Kings Saul and David are unlikely to gain much traction by pursuing this conclusion.
A second more likely conclusion that can be drawn is that the reason there were several people named Eshba’al living at the time is because they were named after a famous Israelite who lived approximately 3000 years ago, i.e., 1000 BC. The practice of naming a baby after a great leader or other famous person is carried on today. A quick example, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez aka Selena was an extremely popular Mexican-American singer-songwriter who died tragically at the age of 23 in the early 1990s. The name Selena, for girls, was pretty standard fare during the 1970s and early 1980s. In the 1970s, less than 100 girls in one million were named Selena. But in the 1990s, after the singer-songwriter Selena had become popular and continuing when she was murdered in a way-too-young and way-too-sad manner, the name Selena became very popular reaching a height of more than 350 girls out of a million being named Selena. Even today, more than 200 babies a year are still named Selena (although many of those may possibly be named after the now-popular actress Selena Gomez -- but Selena Gomez was also named after Selena Quintanilla-Pérez aka Selena so arguably all of the girls named after Selena Gomez are still being named after the original Selena).
So, if the archaeologists are correct and the name Eshba’al was popular at the time in Israel, then the name was popular about the same time that David is thought to have ruled Israel, i.e., 1000 BC. If that’s the case isn’t it possible – maybe even likely – that the name gained its popularity because Eshba’al was really the king around that time and his murder helped to solidify his memory? In other words, can’t this be understood to be further evidence for the truth of the historical accounts in the Bible?