Van der Veen Responds to Byrne

Seal Controversy: From Temech to Shlomit Introduction

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I would like to thank Ryan for his interesting analysis of the letters. I do not however necessarily agree with all his conclusions. First of all, I don’t think it is correct to start with unprovenanced parallels. As I showed in my PhD thesis on inscribed official seals from the late Iron Age in Israel and Jordan (Bristol University 2005, forthcoming in AOAT), it would be wiser to start with evidence that comes from clearly stratified archaeological contexts (i.e. after it has been established with some degree of certainty that the seals and bullae were retrieved from their primary contexts—this can only be done by careful comparison with evidence from other strata at contemporary sites within the same and nearby regions (the comparative material must include all kinds of finds, to see if the assemblage as a whole fits the overall picture).

Rather than starting with unprovenanced bullae from the N. Avigad Volume, one should start with the provenanced bullae from the City of David, Stratum 10. It is not at all certain that the other bullae come from the City of David at all (other sites have been suggested such as Tell Beit Mirsim and Kh. el-Qom). Also it is important not to use ostraca for comparison. Letters engraved in stone seals are not the same as those written with ink on ostraca. As Andrew Vaughn has clearly shown in his fine BASOR article (1999), neither shin nor lamed and taw belong to the most characteristic letters of the late 8th-6th centuries BC. On the other hand, the stance of taw on Eilat Mazar’s new seal reveals Aramaic features and hence would seem to point at a dated nearer the 6th-5th centuries BC. Also the imagery of the altar flanked by priests would seem to be more at home in the period of ca. 600-400 BC. Neo-Babylonian type seals (even the most common types with the standing priest in front of the signs of Marduk and Nabu) are very rarely found in stratigraphical contexts in Israel (on this see for instance: E. Stern, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, Vol. 2, 2001, pp. 332ff., esp. p. 335 “…it can be concluded that Babylonian seals, both epigraphic and nonepigraphic began to arrive in Palestine in the late 7th and early 6th centuries BCE; however the majority of the Palestine finds dates to the Persian period..”; for parallels see: e.g. one specimen from Tell Jemmeh dated stratigraphically to the late 6th cent. BC).

Some stratified parallels can be found also in the new corpus of seals from Jordan by Othmar Keel and J¸rg Eggler (2006), e.g. p. 300-301, no. 14 (from Tall Mazar; Str. V was wrongly dated by the excavator to the 7th cent., its pottery assemblage clearly points to a date nearer to 600 BC and has close parallels even at the City of David, Str. 10); a similar seal was found at the same site in the Neo-Babylonian-Persian period cemetery: Keel/Eggler, no. 1). Babylonian type seals (also the more common types) were uncovered at various other Ammonite tombs (Amman, Meqabelein, Uthaniah etc. whose latest use dates to the Persian period).

Basing any date on unprovenanced specimens is really misleading and should be avoided. Unprovenanced material must be compared with the provenanced corpus and only then can be examined to be genuine and dated accordingly. Briefly, I do broadly agree with Eilat Mazar’s date for the seal, but may prefer to assign it more narrowly to the mid 6th-mid 5th cent. BC.

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