Eilat Mazar: The Family of Temech Has Returned Home

Seal Controversy: From Temech to Shlomit Introduction

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According to the Book of Nehemiah, the Temech family, who served as “Nethinim,” or temple servants, were sent into the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE and went back to work with the return of Nehemiah to Jerusalem. Now a black stone seal bearing the family’s name has been unearthed in the City of David Excavations, Area G. This magnificent seal was found in stratified layers of debris which were uncovered during the third excavation season of Dr. Eilat Mazar on behalf of the Shalem Center and The Ir David Foundation and conducted under the academic auspices of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

On the top layer, a tower, built during the time of Nehemiah, was in a state of disrepair and ready to collapse. Dr. Mazar and her team carefully dismantled the tower (in order to reconstruct it) and excavated the layers below, which had been sealed for centuries. The tower, and the city wall that is adjacent to it, were erected very quickly along the eastern ridge of the top of the City of David as part of the renovation project of the walls of Jerusalem initiated by Nehemiah in the 5th century BCE. The Persian King Artaxerxes I (465 – 424 BCE) awarded Nehemiah the position of governor of Judah to return to Jerusalem and repair the walls that were left in ruins since the destruction of the First Temple.

The Book of Nehemiah describes in detail the construction process whereby Nehemiah proved his high skill in organization by putting many groups of builders alongside one another, working on consecutive segments along the whole length of the wall. They worked quickly in order to complete the work as soon as possible—all the while harassed and under the threat of hostility from the surrounding enemies. The renovation of the city wall and its gates were completed within an amazingly short time, 52 days. Nehemiah’s wall project became a symbol of determination and motivation on behalf of the returning Jewish exiles: “The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon.” [Nehemiah 4:17]

The shape of the seal is elliptical, 2.1 x 1.8 cm. On the surface is a scene engraved with two bearded priests, standing on either side of an incense alter, their hands raised forward in a position of worship. On top of the altar appears a crescent moon, the symbol of the god Sin, the chief Babylonian god. Under this scene, inscribed are the Hebrew letters ( ? ? ? temech), possibly the name of a family of temple servants, Nethinim, who were among the returned exiles: “These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city [Nehemiah 7:6]. . . .. The Nethinim [Nehemiah 7:46]. . . The children of Tamah. . . ” [Nehemiah 7:55].

From the seal impression, we see that the name appears as a mirror image, which is a known phenomenon from other seals of this period. It can be suggested that the seal was bought in Babylon and made commercially by a local craftsman portraying a common and popular cultic scene engraved on it. Therefore, a large smooth space on the bottom of the seal was designated for a name to be added, be it long or short. The very fact that this cultic scene relates in origin to the Babylonian cosmic chief god Sin who was viewed as “the king of the gods in heaven and on earth.” seemed not to have disturbed the Jews that used it on their own seal.

The engraving itself seems to have been done quite carelessly. The letters bend towards the left and the letter ? (m) appears as a mirror image. Perhaps this suggests that the engraving of the letters was done in Babylon by a Babylonian workman who was used to writing cuneiform letters from left to right. The writing of the name was probably made at the request of the buyer and his instructions were followed without much skill in writing the Hebrew letters.

Perhaps it is not by chance that the seal of one of the members of the Temech family was discovered in our excavations that is located only dozens of meters away from the Opel area, where the “Nethinim” lived at the time of Nehemiah: “. . . Moreover the Nethinim dwelt in Ophel. . . .”[Nehemiah 3:26].

The seal of the Temekh family gives us a direct connection between archaeology and the Biblical sources. It is tangible evidence that relates to a known family mentioned in the Bible. One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the Biblical source as seen by this archaeological find.

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