New Discovery in Old Jerusalem Supports Biblical History
A new discovery of an ancient stone seal or bulla helps confirm Biblical history for the period of the Return to Zion from Babylonia.
This is a picture with an inscription in the Old Hebrew alphabet [similar to Canaanite]. The three-lettered inscription says: Temekh or, unvoweled: TMKh. The Temekh family is mentioned in a Biblical book as servants in the Temple in the First Temple period [Book of Nehemiah, 7:46, 7:55] --up to the Babylonian Exile when they were exiled to Babylonia-- and as having returned to Zion, that is, to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel [Nehemiah 7:6]. Curiously, the illustration on the bulla shows two priests at an altar with the symbol of the Babylonian god Sin above it [see Jerusalem Post, 1-17-2008]. So we have a bulla found in Jerusalem, in the City of David area, now outside and south of the walls of the Old City, with an inscription in the Old Hebrew alphabet of the name of a family known as Temple servants in a Biblical book, plus a Babylonian symbol. The object was found in an area known to have been the center of worship and administration.
The caption to the photo is somewhat misleading. It says that the seal belonged to "a servant in the First Temple." It would be more correct to say that it belonged to a member of a family that had served the First Temple. The Temekh family likely renewed their service in the Temple [that is, the Second Temple] after the Return to Zion. The Babylonian symbol on the seal indicates that it likely belonged to someone who had come back from Babylonia to Jerusalem. The Temple that was restored after the Return is known as the Second Temple. The presence of a Babylonian symbol may indicate a syncretistic religious attitude on the part of the seal's owner.
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Other experts have studied the inscription on this seal stamp and have reached the conclusion that the inscription should be read Shlomit, also a name known in the Bible from the same time period --the Return to Zion-- as had been previously ascribed to it. This is a woman's personal name, not a family name. The archeologist whose team discovered the seal stamp, Eilat Mazar, has accepted the new reading. Her error was caused by reading the inscription from right to left, which is usual in Hebrew. However, this is a stamp which produces a mirror image impression of itself on the material that it is pressed on, and therefore it should be read left to right. See Solomonia's discussion and links [here]. A woman named Shlomit was the daughter of Zerubabel --a grandson of the last independent king of Judah-- who led Jews coming back from Babylonia to Zion [see I Chronicles 3:19 דברי הימים א]. An archeologist and epigrapher [expert in inscriptions], Ryan Byrne, dates the seal stamp to the First Temple Period:
Byrne suggested that a date in the late seventh or early sixth century was more probable, noting that scene was typical of the Iron Age Levant. . . . [Jerusalem Post, 2-4-2008; updated on JPost website on 2-5-2008].- - - - - - - - - - - - -end of updating- - - - - - - -
There have been several significant discoveries in that area [City of David] where excavations have been going on for some 18 years, more or less. Several names of persons and families known in Biblical books referring to the late First Temple Period have turned up on these finds, particularly bullae. Here is our earlier report [search for City of David on this post] on one of them. Here is more about discoveries in the City of David [search for City of David on this post].
The City of David area, south of the Temple Mount, was the original Jerusalem built on a narrow ridge with the Qidron Stream or Creek on its eastern side. The ridge comes down from the Temple Mount --originally called Mount Zion, now sometimes called Mount Moriah, and not to be confused with today's Mount Zion which takes its name from the Byzantine church of Nea Sion [= New Zion] now in ruins adjacent to today's Zion Gate. The original Mount Zion became the Temple Mount. The original Jerusalem was the Jebusite city on the ridge described above and now called City of David, since David made his capital there, having transferred it from Hebron, his first capital. The ridge making up the City of David comes down from the Temple Mount to the Pool of Shilo'ah, where the ridge ends.
Bullae, seals, and coins are especially helpful in making connections with ancient events and persons, since these objects are 1) more likely to be well preserved than buildings and other structures; 2) often carry inscriptions mentioning persons and events that may be known from written records that have come down to modern man; 3) often bear symbols and illustrations that also identify them with particular places, cultures, events and persons. The inscriptions on these objects can also supply information about the language, its forms and vocabulary used at the time of their creation.
Here are three books that supply more information --with photographs and drawings-- on seals, bullae, and coins from Israel and nearby areas that sometimes present the names of persons and families known in the Bible.
Nahman Avigad, Hebrew Bullae from the Time of Jeremiah: Remnants of a Burnt Archive (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society 1986).
Y [Yaakov] Meshorer, TestiMoney (Jerusalem: Israel Museum 2000). This book covers a longer historical period than Avigad's book, and contains photos and drawings of artifacts of Jewish, Roman, Greek, and Christian provenance.
Ruth Hestrin and Mikhal Dayagi-Mendels, Seals from the First Temple Times: Hebrew, Ammonite, Moabite, Phoenician, and Aramaic (Jerusalem: Israel Museum 1978). This book, full of photos and scientific annotations on actual findings, is available in English and Hebrew editions. I have translated the English title used here from the Hebrew:
רות הסטרין ומיכל דייגי-מנדלס, חותמות מימי בית ראשון: עבריים, עמוניים, מואביים, פיניקיים וארמיים
(Jerusalem: Israel Museum 1978).
I am using the Hebrew edition and am not entirely sure of the English title as published by the Museum.
UPDATING 2-12-2008 --announcement of this discovery from the sponsors, Shalem Center:
"First Temple Seal Discovered in Shalem City of David Excavations
"A black stone seal, bearing the name "Shlomit" has been found in the Area G section of the third phase of the City of David excavations by Shalem Senior Fellow Dr. Eilat Mazar. The unexpected find was reported on the front page of the Jerusalem Post on January 17, and was then thought to bear the name "Temech." Further scholarly review determined that the correct reading is more likely “Shlomit” and may possibly refer to the daughter of Zerubbabel, a grandson of King Jehoachin and leader of the first band of Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity. According to Mazar, the seal which contains Babylonian cultic images was produced in Babylon between 538-445 BCE and belonged to a woman of stature."
Click here for more details from Shalem.
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