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Cahill 2000 Qedem 41 - page 95 R30 photo.jpg

Rosette seals and ink marking on storage jars

The rosette seals appear on large numbers of storage jar handles, from the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. They represent an official, centralised marking system, a successor to the lmlk ('belonging to the king') stamps used during the eighth and seventh centuries BCE.  The group here also includes an unusual ink marking—a letter he or het, written in black ink—preserved on a complete storage vessel. The meaning of this sign on the vessel is unknown. It may have indicated something about the contents, or perhaps the provenance or destination of the vessel. This marking is exceptional, in that it is written in ink rather than incised or stamped on the vessel. However, this rarity may simply be the result of the reality of what survives in the archaeological record, because markings in ink are more likely than incisions to have been washed away or lost.

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'House of Yhwh' ostracon from Arad

This ostracon—a pottery sherd with ink writing—was written by a subordinate to 'my Lord Eliashib' sometime in the late seventh or early sixth century BCE and was found at Arad. It reports that an unidentified person is 'in the House of Yhwh'. Because the Arad shrine was no longer in use at that time, it is usually understood as a rare extra-biblical reference to the Jerusalem temple. More than two hundred ostraca were found at Arad, dating over several centuries and providing a unique insight into the administrative activity at the fortress.

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Ahiel Inscription from Jerusalem

This fragmentary inscription was discovered in the House of Ahiel. It is written in ink on a jar in formal handwriting. Sherds (broken pieces) from storage jars were often used as a writing surface, so the inscription may be unrelated to the jar or its contents.The inscription's meaning is difficult to understand, but it mentions three individuals by name. Two of the names mention Yhwh. There is also a desciption of each person. These are harder to decipher, but may be tentatively translated as:...]s son of Ahiel, who marks [?] rags...]yahu son of Hesedyahu, who gathers silver...]yahu [son of Y]adayahu, who gathers [gold ?]Although the purpose of the inscription remains enigmatic, the House of Ahiel is named after the first individual named in the text.

Reconstruction of the Holy of Holies from a sanctuary, Arad, 8th cent. BCE#1.tif

Reconstruction of the Shrine of the Temple at Arad

Arad is famous as royal Judean fortress, outside Jerusalem, that housed a temple of Yhwh. Although debate continues as to the exact date of its construction and subsequent phases of its use, the identification of the temple as dedicated to Yhwh is not in doubt.The shrine, a reconstruction of which is shown here, was situated at the far end of the temple and only accessible by going through the temple. This has led to the shrine being described as a 'holy of holies', or the most sacred space within the temple complex. It is unclear who would have had access to the shrine, but it would probably have been only the priests. The entrance to the shrine is flanked by two small limestone incense altars. Inside was a small platform and a smooth stele, or massebah ('standing stone'). The incense altars had been laid on their sides—that is, put out of use—but still had traces of incense on them when they were found. The main space of the temple contained a large altar; two offering bowls were found by its base. The Arad temple and shrine were put out of use around the end of the eighth century BCE, drawing comparisons with King Hezekiah’s reform (2 Kings 18:1-4). Scholars remain divided on the exact dates and the interpretation of these events.An ostracon—a pottery sherd with ink writing—also found at the site refers to an unidentified person 'in the house of Yhwh'. The letter was written by a subordinate to one 'my Lord Eliashib' sometime in the late seventh or early sixth centuries BCE. Because the ostracon post-dates the activity of the temple at Arad, this 'house of Yhwh' is usually understood be the Jerusalem Temple.

Shekel weights#3.tif

Forty shekel weight from Jerusalem, with reconstructed scales

The presence of limestone weights in Jerusalem and Judah during the late Iron Age attests to an increasingly standardised economy. This economic system does not yet involve coins, which only appear during the Persian period, but does use precious metals. Because these metal pieces were not issued and guaranteed by a central authority, they had to be carefully weighed at each transaction. Stone weights like the one shown here were used, along with scales, in order to make these measurements. The reconstructed scales (the pans are ancient) give an idea of how such weights would have been used. The presence of weights and scales throughout the kingdom of Judah attests to a shift from a subsistence-type economy, typical of smaller, more locally- and tribally-based societies, to a more complex state society, with centralised power and bureaucracy. The term shekel, which comes eventually to refer to a specific denomination and coin, originated as the word for 'weight'. This development is common to various languages: the lira and the pound, for example, were in the first instance terms for weight, only subsequently used for the currency used to represent the metal of that weight.

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Seal from Megiddo depicting cosmological battle

This cylinder seal came from the Megiddo water system. This makes a precise date impossible, but the imagery is typically Neo-Assyrian, from the late tenth to the late seventh century BCE. It is approximately 4cm high and is made of olivine, a mineral composition typically found in dark igneous rocks like basalt. It is slightly worn, blurring the image somewhat, but the main features can still be seen. This seal has seven stars in the upper left, probably signifying the Pleiades, and the star of the goddess Ishtar on the far left side. A bearded figure is on the far right, fighting a winged dragon in the centre. Another dragon lies face-down on the ground under the deity’s foot, symbolising its defeat. The deity may already have defeated one dragon and be in the midst of battling a second, or the seal may simultaneously show the battle and its outcome, emphasising that the deity is ultimately victorious. It may depict the god Bel (Marduk) fighting the dragon, although it also resembles a seal from Emar, in which Ninurta fights the Anzu bird—or it could be the chief deity of the Neo-Assyrian pantheon Ashur.In the second and early first millennia seals often had religious motifs; over time more and more text appears on the seals and in the Levant with aniconic (non-pictorial) seals eventually replace seals with text almost entirely. When a document was sealed with cultic imagery it may have been meant that the god(s) witnessed the sealing of the document and its contents, lending a divine imprimatur to the details and emphasising that they should be carried out exactly. Alternatively, such seals may have symbolised the owner’s devotion to the deity, or been used for a specific function such as signalling that the document was a certain kind of communication, involving a person or temple connected with the deity.

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Tablet mentioning Nabû-šarussu-ūkin (Nebusarsekim), the Chief Eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar II

This clay tablet dates from 595 BCE and describes the presentation of a gift of gold from Nebuchadnezzar II’s chief eunuch, Nabû-šarussu-ūkin, to the temple of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Measuring just 5.4 cm by 3.5 cm, the tablet was discovered in Sippar, close to Baghdad, in the 1870s CE, but its full significance for study of the Bible was not realised until 2007. The Neo-Babylonian administrative document, currently located at the British Museum, contains eleven lines of cuneiform text. From the perspective of biblical studies, its most interesting feature is that it may refer to a Babylonian royal official who is also named in Jeremiah 39.* If both texts refer to the same man, the cuneiform text may lend historical credence to other details contained in Jeremiah 39 concerning the siege of Jerusalem, fleshing out the picture of life under Babylonian rule. The full translation of the tablet reads: “(Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.” *The name should be Hebraized as Nebusarsekim, but some English translations, follow another manuscript traditions which divided up the list of Babylonian officials' names differently, putting the 'Nebu' part of the name with the previous one and resulting in officials called Nergal-sharezer, Samgar-nebo and Sarsechim, instead of Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar and Nebo-Sarsekim.

ABC 5 (obverse)

Babylonian Chronicle for the year 605–594 BCE

This clay tablet, the Babylonian Chronicle for the years 605–594 BCE, records events from the twenty-first and final year of the Babylonian king Nabopolassar’s reign and the first twelve years of king Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The text describes king Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Jerusalem, including his capture and exile of king Jehoiachin. The text reads: “In the seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Babylon mustered his army and marched to Ḫatti-land (=the Levant). He encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of Adar he took the city and captured the king. He appointed a king of his own choice there, received its heavy tribute and sent (them) to Babylon.” Nebuchadnezzar invaded because king Jehoiachim (Jehoiachin’s father) had rebelled against him, refusing to send tribute (2 Kings 24:1). Jehoiachim, however, died shortly before or during the siege. He was replaced by his son Jehoiachin who, at the tender age of 18, found himself on the receiving end of Babylonian wrath. Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiachin and other members of the royal family and some of the elites of Jerusalem—warriors, priests, artisans, and officials—into exile in Babylon (2 Kings 24:14–16), and placed Zedekiah (Jehoiachin’s uncle) on the throne instead (which indicates that not all of the elite was exiled). The tablet does not say what “heavy tribute” Nebuchadnezzar received, but 2 Kings 24:13 reports that he took all the gold, vessels, and treasures of the Jerusalem temple. The Babylonian Chronicle constitutes an extra-biblical witness to events reported by the biblical text and, in this instance, this evidence corroborates the basic version of events in the Bible. This agreement means that three things may be considered very likely to be historical. First, Jerusalem was invaded but not destroyed in 597 BCE. Second, a king of Jerusalem (Jehoiachin) was deported to exile in Babylon (see also Weidner's ration list). Third, Nebuchadnezzar replaced Jehoiachin with a king of his own choosing—the Bible gives the name Zedekiah. From this point on, Jerusalem's and Judah’s fate were firmly intertwined with that of Babylon. In hindsight, the state and the city had little more than a decade to stand.

Clay seal of Gemariah son of Shaphan

Clay seals of Gemariah and Azariah

In one of the houses destroyed by the Babylonians in Jerusalem, excavators discovered 53 clay seal impressions ('bullae'). These small lumps of clay, impressed with the seal of a particular individual or official, were used to seal documents, and suggest that by time of the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE the kingdom of Judah had a group of literate elites, who presumably controlled the administration of the city.

It is a pleasant surprise to find, among these bullae, two with likely connections to biblical personages: Gemeriah, son of Shaphan, and Azariah, son of Hilkiah.

Bulla of Gemariah son of Shaphan The inscription on the seal reads: (Belonging) to Gemaryahu [s]on of Shaphan

This Gemariah, son of Shaphan, should probably be identified with the person by this name known from the book of Jeremiah:

"Then, in the hearing of all the people, Baruch read the words of Jeremiah from the scroll, in the house of Yhwh, in the chamber of Gemariah son of Shaphan the secretary, which was in the upper court, at the entry of the New Gate of Yhwh's house." (Jeremiah 36:10)

Gemariah's father Shaphan was the chief scribe at the time of King Josiah and appears as a key player in the story of the finding of the law during work in the Temple (2 Kings 22). It is important to note that the term scribe is probably best translated as secretary, and to be understood as a high ranking official as in 'secretary of state'.

Bulla of Azariah son of Hilkiah The inscription on the seal reads: (Belonging) to 'Azaryahu son of Hilqiyahu

This Azariah, son of Hilkiah, may be identified with the person by the same name in the priestly genealogy in 1 Chronicles 6:13. Azariah himself is not a major biblical figure but, if the identification is correct, his father Hilkiah was high priest in the temple in Jerusalem at the time of King Josiah, and a key figure in the story of the finding of the law in the Temple (2 Kings 22).