Persian Period Bullae Found

From Persian period after — as biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe — Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Persian Period Bulla

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

After King Nebuchadnezzar II attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C.E., the Jews were exiled in Babylon for some 50 years. At that time, according to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible, Cyrus the Great became King of Persia and enabled the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple.

Few artifacts have been found from the Persian period, roughly 536 B.C.E. to 333 B.C.E. On Tuesday, June 29th, 2020, The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of two more. In the Givati Parking Lot excavation, IAA and Tel Aviv University archaeologists found a bulla (seal) and a seal impression on reused pottery sherds. The excavation was led by Tel Aviv University Professor Yuval Gadot and Dr. Shiftah Yalev of the IAA.

Givati Parking Lot Excavations

The Givati Parking Lot Excavation Site. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

The bullae (seals) provide important evidence. “The finding of the stamp and seal impression in the City of David indicates that despite the city’s dire situation after the destruction, efforts were made to restore the administrative authorities to normal.” Jerusalem continued to serve an important bureaucratic role in the Persian period.

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Recipients would be confident that a container or document that reached them with the seal undisturbed had not been tampered with. The double seal impression was on a large enough piece of clay that it probably sealed something larger than a document, such as a jar. It shows a person sitting on a chair, in a Babylonian-style design, believed to depict a king, with symbols of gods Nabu and Marduk. Dr. Eilat Mazar discovered a similar bulla from the Persian period on the eastern slope of the City of David.

Persian Period Seal

Photo: Shai Halevy, Israel Antiquities Authority

The seal, on a large pottery shard, is engraved with linear inscriptions. The Israel Antiquities Authority describes it as potentially pseudo-epigraphic, with drawings that resemble letters.

As the researchers explain, “Discovering the new findings on the western slope of the City of David adds much information about the city’s structure during the period of the Return to Zion.” As excavations continue, they will continue to learn more about this era and enrich our understanding of the world described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

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Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature? King Hezekiah is one of the most important kings in the history of Israel. While scholars debate the historicity and literary embellishment of the reigns of David and Solomon, the reign of Hezekiah witnessed the defining event that engendered the tradition of Jerusalem as the inviolable city of God—an event corroborated by the extra-Biblical account inscribed on the Sennacherib Prisms. Despite the conflicting details, Sennacherib’s inability to destroy Jerusalem confirmed both Hezekiah and Jerusalem as God’s chosen.

Commander of the Fortress? One of the most enigmatic archaeological discoveries of the past century is a limestone seal excavated at Tel Arad by Yohanan Aharoni in 1967. It has never been fully published, which may be partially due to the difficulty of not knowing exactly what it represents! In his preliminary publication, Aharoni suggested that the seal might depict the blueprint, a sketch, of the fortress of Arad itself. And this is the explanation that visitors will find today when they visit the Israel Museum and read its label: “Seal, possibly bearing the plan of the fortress of Arad.”

Reactivating Remembrance: Interactive Inscriptions from Mt. Gerizim What went on in ancient sanctuaries? In spite of the information we get from texts such as the Hebrew Bible, from inscriptions and iconography, and from archaeology, we know precious little about what “ordinary people” did when they visited a temple in ancient Palestine. Yet we do have some clues. The dedicatory inscriptions from the Yahweh temple on Mt. Gerizim help us envision what a visit to an ancient sanctuary may have entailed.

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