Givati Parking Lot Dig Unearths Rare Seal of Woman

Bible and archaeology news

elihana-bat-gael-seal-reversed

Discovered in the Givati Parking Lot excavations in Jerusalem’s City of David, this First Temple period seal belonged to a woman named Elihana bat Gael. Seal inscriptions were written in reverse; this image has been mirrored to facilitate the reading of the seal. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Mirrored image courtesy of Christopher Rollston.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently announced the discovery of two First Temple period seals from the Givati Parking Lot excavations in Jerusalem’s City of David. One seal belonged to a woman named Elihana bat Gael (“Elihana daughter of Gael”), and the other belonged to a man named Sa‘aryahu (or Sa‘adyahu) ben Shabenyahu (“Sa‘aryahu [or Sa‘adyahu] son of Shabenyahu”).* Ancient Near Eastern seals that belonged to women are rare.

After nine years of excavation in the Givati Parking Lot, the archaeological team, led by Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, reached First Temple period strata. The team found within a building that may have been an administrative center the two First Temple period seals, which are composed of semi-precious stone.

In a blog post assessing the Givati Parking Lot seals, epigrapher Christopher Rollston, Associate Professor of Northwest Semitic languages and literatures at the George Washington University, notes that the inscriptions were written in the standard Old Hebrew script. While the IAA press release suggests that the seals date to 600 B.C.E., Rollston argues based on the inscription style that the seals date to the late eighth–early seventh century B.C.E.

Israel Museum curators have called “Gabriel’s Revelation” the most important document found in the area since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Read the original English publication of “Gabriel’s Revelation” along with Israel Knohl's BAR article that made scholars around the world reconsider links between ancient Jewish and Christian messianism in the free eBook Gabriel’s Revelation.

saaryahu-ben-shabenyahu-seal-reversed

The other First Temple period seal found in the Givati Parking Lot excavations belonged to a man named Sa‘aryahu (or Sa‘adyahu) ben Shabenyahu. Seal inscriptions were written in reverse; this image has been mirrored to facilitate the reading of the seal. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Mirrored image courtesy of Christopher Rollston.

In the ancient Near East, seals played an important role in economic transactions and legal activities. Seals usually bore inscriptions in reverse so that when the seal was pressed into a wet lump of clay—forming a bulla—the inscription could be read correctly. The stamped bulla would hold together strings wrapped around documents and served as both the owner’s signature and as a means of authenticating the documents it held together.

Christopher Rollston explains that seals belonging to women are so rarely found because “ancient Near Eastern societies (including that of the Iron Age Levant) were patriarchal. For this reason, men were normally responsible for most of the agreements that would require the sealing of documents.”

In the IAA press release, epigrapher Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem offers insight into who Elihana bat Gael may have been:

“Most of the women’s seals that are known to us bear the name of the father rather than that of the husband. Here, as in other cases, this might indicate the relatively elevated status of Elihana, which depended on her original family, and not on her husband’s family. It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence even after her marriage and therefore her father’s name was retained; however, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period.”
 


 
Update, March 17, 2016: This Bible History Daily feature has been updated with corrections and additional information provided by Dr. Christopher Rollston.—Ed.
 

 

Notes:

* There is debate about the reading of the second seal: Is the fourth letter of the first register a resh or a dalet? Therefore, is the name Sa‘aryahu or Sa‘adyahu written on the seal? For more, read “A Woman’s Seal and a Man’s Seal from First Temple Jerusalem Excavations” by Christopher Rollston in Rollston Epigraphy.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light

Israelite Clay Bullae

Jeremiah, Prophet of the Bible, Brought Back to Life

History of Bethlehem Documented by First Temple Period Bulla from the City of David

The Oldest Hebrew Script and Language
 


 
Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2016? Find out >>
 

 

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  1. Robert says

    The Lady’s name is ‘Alyanah bat Ga’al (not Elihana bat Gael) and the gentleman’s name is Sa’adyahu ben Shebanyahu (not Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu)

  2. Arttai says

    Thanks. Sounds more right.


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