Ancient Clay Seals Discovered in the City of David shed light on the Government | City Of David

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A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in...
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Ancient Clay Seals shed light on the Government

A collection of seals, some of which bear ancient Hebrew inscriptions, will be displayed to the public along with additional new findings at the City of David’s Megalim Institute Annual Archaeological Conference taking place this week.

A collection of dozens of seals, dated to the days of the Judean kingdom prior to the Babylonian destruction, was unearthed during excavations by the Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park, in the area of the walls of Jerusalem, which is operated by the ELAD (El Ir David) Foundation.

The seals or bullae (from which the Hebrew word “bul”, for stamp, is derived) are small pieces of silt which served as seals for letters in ancient times. A letter arriving with its seal broken was a sign that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. Although letters did not survive the devastating fire which consumed Jerusalem at its destruction, the seals, which were made of the abovementioned material, similar to ceramic, were actually well preserved thanks to the fire, and testify to the existence of the letters and their senders.

Seal bearing the name “Pinchas”. Photography: Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority.

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Antiquities Authority, “In thenumerousexcavations at the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of the city in the First Temple period. The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures; it appears that instead of writing the names of the clerks, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was signing. In later stages of the period – from the time of King Hezekiah (around 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE - the seals bear the names of important government figures in early Hebrew script. Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service.

Complete seal bearing the name “Achiav ben Menachem”. Photography: Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority.

Some of the seals bear biblical names, several of which are still in use today, such as Pinchas. One particularly interesting seal mentions a man by the name of “Achiav ben Menachem,” two names known in the context of the Kingdom of Israel. Menachem was a king of Israel, and while Achiav does not appear in the Bible, his name resembles that of Achav (Ahab) – the infamous king of Israel from the tales of the prophet Elijah.  Though the spelling of the name differs somewhat, it appears to be the same name. The version of the name which appears on the seal discovered – Achav – appears as well in the Book of Jeremiah in the Septuagint, as well as in Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 15:7-8).

 

Chalaf and Uziel add that the appearance of the name Achiav is interesting for two pimary reasons. First, because it serves as furthertestimony to the names which are familiar to us from the Bible during the Kingdom of Israel, and which appear in Judea during the period following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. “These names are part of the evidence of the fact that after the exile of the Tribes of Israel, refugees arrived in Jerusalem from the northern kingdom, and they were assimilated into senior positions in Jerusalem’s administration,” explains Dr. Uziel.

The second reason for the interest stirred among researchers regarding the seals is the fact that the two names which appear on the seal-Achiav and Menachem-were names of Kings of Israel. Though Achav (Ahab) is portrayed as a negative figure in the Bible, the name continues to be in use, with variant spellings, both in Judea in the latter days of the First Temple, as reflected in Jeremiah and on the seal, and also after the destruction, duringin the Babylonian exile and up until the Second Temple period, as seen in the writings of Flavius Josephus.

The various stamps, along with other archaeological findings discovered in the recent excavations, will be exhibited to the public for the first time at the 18th Annual City of David Archeological Conference held by the Megalim Institute, on September 7th at the City of David National Park.

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