A collection of seals from the late First Temple Period have been discovered in the City of David excavations. Some of these seals which shed light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem bear ancient Hebrew inscriptions as well as additional new findings and will be on display to the public at the annual City of David archaeology conference.
The seals known as bullae from which the Hebrew word “bul” meaning stamp is derived are made from clay and in ancient times were used as seals for letters. If a letter arrived with the seal broken it was a sign that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. The material used was similar to that used for pottery and were found well preserved as a result of the fire and attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.
Complete seal bearing the name Achiav ben Menachem. Photo Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority.
According to directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, 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 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE – the seals bear the names of clerks in early Hebrew script. This gives knowledge about the developed administrative systems in the city as well as about the residents and those who served in the civil service.
Biblical names are found on some of the seals, one of them is particularly interesting as it has the name of “Achiav ben Menachem”. Menachem was a king of Israel and Achiav although not mentioned in the Bible but resembles that of Achav (Ahab) who was and infamous king of Israel from the tales of the prophet Elijah.
The excavation directors explained that these names are part of the evidence that after the exile of the ten Tribes of Israel, refugees arrived in Jerusalem from the kingdom in the north and found their way into senior positions into Jerusalem’s administration.