In recent months, excavators have discovered dozens of seals and seal impressions dating back to the First Temple period in Jerusalem. Many of these finds contain biblical-type names written in ancient Hebrew text.
The seals support the theory that Iron Age Jerusalem was the major administrative capital of the Judean Kingdom. These latest discoveries also shed light on the bureaucracy and high officials of ancient Jerusalem.
Seals Preserved by Fire
The seals, referred to as “bullae” in Hebrew, are small pieces of clay utilized to seal letters in ancient times. If a seal arrived at its destination intact, the addressee could trust the content hadn’t been read or tampered with.
In 586 B.C.E, the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, set it on fire, and deported the Judean leadership to Babylon. While the letters didn’t survive the fire, the clay seals did. In fact, the fire served as a preservation technique.
The excavated seals attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.
According to Joe Uziel, the director of the excavation, “Earlier seals, from seals from the 9th century B.C.E. and possibly the first part of the 8th century B.C.E., were pictographic.”
However, from the late 8th century B.C.E until Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 B.C.E., seals began bearing the names of the officials sealing documents. Because Jerusalem was the capital of the Judean monarchy, the officials were part of the Judean administrative system. Looking at the seal impressions, Uziel says, many of the officials had names that can be “very strongly attributed to Judean culture.”
Like modern times, some of the officials seemed to have been named for local celebrities such as kings of the era. Interestingly, some of the officials were named for monarchs from the Northern Kingdom of Israel rather than for Judean ones. Numerous names on the seals contained a theophoric element. Therefore, part of the name consists of the name of the god of the culture.
For example, Ishbaal was a popular Canaanite name in ancient times. Baal was the god of the Canaanites. The theophoric element ancient Jews elected to add to names was “yahu”. For instance, in Hebrew, King Hezekiah’s name is Hezkiyahu. The use of “yahu” was found numerous times in the excavated seals.
One intriguing seal contains the name Achiav ben Menachem. This name seems to encompass two kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. While Achiav doesn’t appear in the Bible, it resembles Achav — the Hebrew name for Ahab. According to the Bible, Ahab was the seventh king of Israel since Jeroboam I. He took over the throne when his father Omri died. Ahab’s wife was Jezebel of Sidon.
The Bible indicates Jezebel was a controlling force in Ahab’s life. She endeavored to spread idol worship of the god Baal in the Northern Kingdom. After reigning for 22 years, Ahab was succeeded by his son Ahaziah after his death.
Menachem and Shallum were captains in the king of Israel’s, Zechariah’s, army. Shallum conspired against and murdered Zechariah in the Northern Kingdom’s capital of Samaria. Refusing to recognize the murderous Shallum as the new king of Israel, Menachem marched from Tirzah to Samaria, a distance of about six miles.
After assassinating Shallum a mere month into his reign, Menachem set himself up as king. The Assyrians first entered Israel during Menachem’s 10-year reign, and destroyed the Northern Kingdom in 732 B.C.E.
After dying from natural causes, Menachem was succeeded by his son Pekahiah.
Archaeologists doubt the name Achiav ben Menachem refers to a king. It is believed to post-date the monarchy by generations. However, Uziel feels “there was influence of Israelite kingdom in Judah, including with the officials of Judah.”
After the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, many Israelites seemed to have fled south to Judah. They’re thought to have moved into the existing Judean cities including Jerusalem. Perhaps, some of the Israelite refugees later secured senior positions in the Southern Kingdom’s administration.
Since the excavation ended about a month ago, excavators have been frantically studying and classifying the discoveries. The findings bolster the collection of other seals and administration artifacts found in Jerusalem. They provide skeptics with yet more evidence of a strong Jewish history in Jerusalem.
~ 1776 Christian