Evidence of a craftsmen’s guild in Jerusalem?
Up until more modern times, workers’ guilds were very important for the livelihood of people in various professions. Merchants, craftsmen, poets, and writers—each group needed a little extra help when it came to negotiating fair wages for their skills and securing their next jobs. Not unlike workers’ unions of today, guilds in ancient times took care of their own and made sure they had access to the resources they needed to thrive and practice their craft. In 2018, archaeologists discovered an intriguing inscription that mentions Daedalus in Jerusalem, which may be evidence of a particular guild whose members identified themselves with the craftsman of Greek legend.
Dated to the Herodian period (late first century BCE–early first century CE), the inscription appears on a limestone column and reads “Hananiah son of Daedalus, from Jerusalem.” The team that uncovered the inscription also identified the remains of a pottery workshop that operated sometime between the second century BCE and the second century CE.
The inscription was written in square Hebrew script in a formal commemorative style that was executed with the precision of a master engraver. As discussed by Aaron Demsky in his article “Daedalus in Jerusalem” in the Fall 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, the inscribed name likely refers to one of the artisans that operated in the workshop or possibly one of the builders. If so, the fact that Hananiah refers to himself as the “son of Daedalus” raises some intriguing possibilities.
In antiquity, groups of artisans frequently took on the moniker of the legendary heroes of their craft. For instance, a group of poets from the isle of Chiros called themselves the “sons of Homer.” Like Homer, the craftsmanship of Daedalus was legendary. While his greatest accomplishment was likely constructing the famed Labyrinth of King Minos of Crete, Daedalus was also said to have engineered the contraption that Minos’s queen, Pasiphae, used in her exploits that resulted in the birth of the Minotaur. Perhaps the best-known story involving Daedalus concerns his famous son, Icarus, who flew too close to the sun using the wax wings that his father had designed for him and subsequently plummeted to his death.
As for Hananiah, it could also simply be that he was indeed the son of a man named Daedalus, who was possibly Greek or the son of a Greek living in Jerusalem. Another possibility is that Hananiah had a flair for the dramatic and identified himself not with the famous craftsman but his unfortunate son, Icarus.
But as Demsky argues, it is perhaps most likely that there was a guild of Jerusalem artisans or builders that identified themselves as the “sons of Daedalus” and Hananiah took the name as one of its members.
The truth of the inscription will likely never be known but it makes for fun speculation.
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