The City of David is often described as the urban core of ancient Jerusalem, which (possibly) already boasted walled fortifications from the Bronze Age. And this time archaeologists have been able to find seals (bullae) that date back to a fascinating epoch of the First Jewish Temple (also known as Solomon’s Temple), inside the perimeters of the National Park. In other words, the ancient seals, with some of them still bearing the actual names of officials, probably hark back to the period of the Judean kingdom prior to its destruction by the Babylonian empire.
Excavated recently by the researchers at Israel Antiquities Authority, these ancient seals basically entail pieces of clay that were used for sealing letters. So essentially, if the seal was broken, the letter was perceived to be already read. Suffice it to say, such letters didn’t survive the destruction wrought by the invasion of Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar II, circa 6th century BC, when the entire city of Jerusalem and its (possible) First Jewish Temple were razed to the ground. However, some of the clay seals, by virtue of their pottery-like compositions, survived the havoc and were ironically preserved by the fire that destroyed much of the city.
According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation –
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 sealing. In later stages of the period – from the time of King Hezekiah (around 700 BC) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC – the seals bear the names of clerks 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.
Interestingly enough, some of the seals do bear Biblical names, including ones that are still used today. As the Israel Antiquities Authority website makes it clear –
One particularly interesting seal mentions a man by the name of “Achiav ben Menachem.” These two names are known in the context of the Kingdom of Israel; Menachem was a king of Israel, while Achiav does not appear in the Bible, but 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).
And beyond just their familiarity, there is a historical context to these names. Chalaf and Uziel concluded –
These names are part of the evidence that after the exile of the Tribes of Israel, refugees arrived in Jerusalem from the northern kingdom, and found their way into senior positions in Jerusalem’s administration.
Lastly, in case one is interested, these ancient seals, along with some of the recent discoveries made inside the City of David, will be exhibited to the public for the first time at the 18th City of David research conference, on 7th of September at the City of David National Park.
Source: Israel Antiquities Authority / Images Credit: Clara Amit