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Ancient Clay Seals Shed Light on Israel's First Temple Period

09-05-2017
me 'Achiav ben Menachem' - Photo, Eliyahu Yanai, City of David
me 'Achiav ben Menachem' - Photo, Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

JERUSALEM, Israel – Dozens of ancient seals dating to the First Temple period will be on display to the public for the first time this week at the annual archaeological conference at the City of David National Park in Jerusalem.

The well-preserved clay seals, used by the sender to officially close up letters, survived the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 BC.

The seals, known in Hebrew as bullae, from which the word "bul" (stamp) comes, showed the recipient if the letter had been opened. A broken seal indicated it had been opened before arriving at its destination.

Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, who co-directed the excavation, said the images on the seals sometimes indicated the sender and other times what he or she was sending.

"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," they said in an IAA press release.

"The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures," they explained. "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."

From the reign of King Hezekiah around 700 BC to the Babylonian destruction in 586 BC, archaeologists found inscriptions of the clerks' names in ancient Hebrew.

"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," they said.

The researchers found biblical Hebrew names, such as Pinchas, that are still used today.

One seal inscribed with the name "Achiav ben Menachem," relates to the Kingdom of Israel.

"Menachem was a king of Israel," they said. "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," they explained.

"It was used both in Judea during the latter days of the First Temple, as reflected in Jeremiah and on the seal, and also after the destruction in the Babylonian exile and up until the Second Temple period, as seen in the writings of Flavius Josephus," they continued.

"These names are part of the evidence that after 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," they said.

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