He was not onsite at the time of its discovery. A phone call alerted him to the news. They told him that they might be onto something, a small clay object bearing an inscription was found. “So I got in my car and drove to the excavation site immediately”, recalls archaeologist Eli Shukrun, who led the Western Wall excavation at the time.
After arriving onsite, he rolled the mysterious object in the palm of his hand. It was made of clay with an inscription in ancient Aramaic – two lines. The object was baked and still held some coloring. The effort put into its creation means it was definitely made with a specific purpose in mind.
The object was found during the sifting of dirt, dating back to the year 1 BCE, that was extracted from the water drainage tunnel beneath the Second Temple Stepped Stone Road, stretching from the Shiloah Pool up to Temple Mount. To be more exact, the dirt was found in the top northern section of the tunnel that tightly passes by the Temple Mount.
One side of the object is shaped like a seal with an enigmatic inscription, and some kind of “handle” on the other, so that one may hold it, “like a ticket”, Eli explains.
The decoded seal revealed an ancient Aramaic text with six letters inscribed on it, spelling out the words, “Deka Leyah” or “Pure for God.” The seal dates back to the Second Temple period as it was not only found in the water drainage tunnel of the Stepped Road, but the spoken language during the Second Temple Period was Aramaic.
As with most artifacts with a possible Biblical significance, Eli and the team turned to ancient texts for some answers.
The Mishnaic tractate Shekalim deals with this subject.
“Ben Azzai says: There were five and on them was inscribed in Aramaic… (Shekalim 5:3).
An aramaic inscription on a seal? Yes. Check
If any wished for drink-offerings, he would go to Yohanan who was over the seals and give him money and receive from him a seal; He would then go to Ahiyah who was over the drink offerings and give him the seal and from him receive drink offerings. (Shekalim 5:4)
Seals used as a token or ticket? Yes. Check .
The small clay object, resembling an ancient entry pass, suddenly opened up a portal to the past, giving us a small glimpse into Temple protocol. And of all the messages and inscriptions one could wish to find in an excavation like this, to help us understand and appreciate the significance and magnanimity of the Temple, this little seal definitely hits the mark.
More and more of these “portals to the past” are being opened through the archaeological excavations at the City of David. Through these excavations the Bible not only vividly comes to life, but these portals simultaneously gives us a glimpse to the future – a time when restored Jerusalem will stand again as a beacon of light and hope to the nations – a praise to the earth (Isaiah 62:7).
You can now take an active part in these key excavations.
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- SUPPORT crucial excavations at the City of David
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