Ancient Clay Seals shed light on the Government and Administrators of Biblical Jerusalem

A story of Jerusalem’s protection of the Ten Tribe refugees

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A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in the City of David excavations, shed light on the administration of ancient Jerusalem
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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.

Location where seals were found
Location where seals were found

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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.

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

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Antiquities Authority, “In the numerous excavations 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.”

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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).

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

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Chalaf and Uziel add that the appearance of the name Achiav is interesting for two pimary reasons. First, because it serves as further testimony 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.

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The second reason for the interest stirred among researchers is that the intact seal found during the excavations bore the Israelite name “Ahiav ben Menahem,” an amalgamation, albeit with one small change in spelling, of the names of two Israelite kings, Ahav and Menahem. The name of the notorious king Ahab, whose wife Jezebel allegedly aided the king to follow the ways of idolatry, was found on a seal discovered in the Judaean settlement at Lachish, written as Ahav. As a name, it is found in variant forms in Assyrian, and in the Elephantine Aramaic documents it is found as “Ahiav.” In Greek, in the Greek writings of Josephus Flavius, there appears an Ahiav, as well as in the Septuagint. In the Greek translation of the Bible, the king is referred to as “Aha’av,” whereas a prophet mentioned in Jeremiah 29:21 is “Ahiav.”

 

Ancient Biblical Jerusalem is rising, shaking off her dust just as the prophet Isaiah foresaw. You can now become an active part in the unearthing of these valuable Biblical treasures.

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Watch Joe Uziel from the Israeli Antiquities Authority explaining the finds:

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