Bible and archaeology news
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.
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.
* 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.
Sign up to receive our email newsletter and never miss an update.