Biblical Persimmon Depicted in Ancient Jerusalem Seal

Excavators uncover stamp seal with image of a persimmon and a dove

bilical persimmon sealin amethyst

Second Temple period stamp seal, bearing the image of a dove and the biblical persimmon plant.
Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David

Archaeologists at the City of David in Jerusalem recently discovered a 2,000-year-old seal carved with a depiction of the biblical persimmon plant alongside a dove. The seal was made from a tiny, semi-precious amethyst, less than half an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide. The biblical persimmon, also known as the Balm of Gilead, was a luxury product in the ancient world. This plant, which is unrelated to the persimmon fruit we know today, was used mainly in the production of perfumes, incense, and medicines. The plant’s sap is even listed in Exodus 30:34 as one of the spices used for incense within the Temple.

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The find was first reported by the City of David Archaeological Park, having been discovered along the base of the Western Wall. This 2,000-year-old depiction of the biblical persimmon is thought to be the oldest depiction discovered anywhere in the world. The stamp seal upon which the persimmon is carved was originally part of a ring, which has since been lost. The seal was found during excavations of the drainage system of the ancient pilgrim road that connected the Siloam Pool to the Temple Mount during the late Second Temple period. Given the persimmon’s religious role in Judaism, archaeologists have suggested that the seal’s owner was likely a Jew who was on his way to (or from) the Temple. It is likely that the small stone broke off his ring as he walked and was subsequently lost.

2,000 Year old Gem Discovered in Jerusalem – the Lost Scent of the Balm of Gilead 
Credit: Asaf Peri, City of David You Tube Channel

Cleopatra’s Signature Scent

The use of stamp seals to mark documents increased greatly during the Second Temple period and such seals regularly depicted common plants and fruits, including vines, dates, and olives. The persimmon, however, was a luxury good, its trade tightly controlled by those living around the Dead Sea where the plant grew. The plant’s perfume was so widely valued that Mark Antony even gifted his wife, the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra, an orchard of persimmon trees that had previously belonged to Herod the Great. The incense harvested from this orchard was used to create Cleopatra’s favorite perfume, her signature scent. Balm and incense created from biblical persimmon are also mentioned several times in the Bible, including Genesis 43:11, where Jacob sends a gift of persimmon balm to Pharaoh.

Read more in BHD:

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

Nathan-Melek: Servant of the King

Missing Wall of Biblical Jerusalem Discovered


Members, read more in the BAS Library:

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A Biblical Spice Rack

Ancient Medicine

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