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Small Finds, Big Meanings – 2012

Lately two archaeological expeditions reported on discovering small finds which have important meaning on the history of the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

In the City of David, Prof. Ronnie Reich and Eli Shukrun reported on finding of a stamped impression (a bulla) bearing the letters דכא \ ליה.

They interpret the text to mean “pure / to the lord“, and explain the item as one used to mark products or objects that were brought to the temple.

A close up of the Seal. Photo by Vladimit Niachin, courtesy of the IAA

 

 

Eli Shukrun holding the seal found in the City of David. Photo by Vladimit Niachin, Courtesy of the IAA.

Antiquities Dealer Robert Deutsch, who specializes in ancient seals, suggested in his blog a more precise meaning to the object. He believes  the Mishna, in Shekalim terracate (5 4) describes how these stamped seals were used: IF A MAN REQUIRED DRINK-OFFERINGS HE WOULD GO TO JOHANAN WHO WAS THE OFFICER OVER THE SEALS, AND GIVE HIM MONEY AND RECEIVE FROM HIM A SEAL. THEN HE WOULD GO TO AHIJAH WHO WAS THE OFFICER OVER THE DRINK-OFFERINGS, AND GIVE HIM THE SEAL, AND RECEIVE FROM HIM DRINK-OFFERINGS. AND IN THE EVENING THESE TWO [OFFICERS] WOULD COME TOGETHER, AND AHIJAH WOULD BRING OUT THE SEALS AND RECEIVE (from Johanan) MONEY FOR THEIR VALUE.

The mishnahic description seems to indicate that the priests forced the bearers of sacrifices to purchase additional “drink-offerings” in directly, by seals. The end of the section confesses, in an aggravating way, that in the evening the seller of the seals (Johanan) and the provider of the “drink-offerings”  (Ahijah) would split the daily profits..

A similar line of interpretation was taken by Professor Shlomo Naeh of the Hebrew Univeristy, but he suggests a different reading :”Daka[r, day] a Leye[hoyariv].” “Dakar” in Aramaic means ram, and  “a” stands for aleph, the first day of the week, when the priestly order of Yehoyariv was on duty in the Temple. The seal, argues Naeh, was sort of an invoice for giving the sacrifice on Sunday, the day of the Yehoyariv order.

One way or another the seal is first of it kind, and offer a glimpse into the sacrificial activity in the time of the Temple. More then anything, it adds credibility to the Mishnahic descriptions of the temple’s activity despite the fact they were written more then a century later.

Another ancient seal that reached headlines recently was found in salvage excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Akko, at a small site called kh. Utzah. The seal, measuring 5 cm in diameter, bears a relief of a seven branched candelabra – the  Jewish Menorah. In its back traces of letters stand for the possible name of its owner – “Leontis”. Leontis is not necessarily a Jewish name, but Jews used that name too (The mosaic floor decorating the new entry to the Israel Museum is of a Jew called Leontis).

The back of the Seal. photo: Danny Syon.

The Menorah Seal from Kh. Utzah. photo: Danny Syon.

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Dr. Danny Syon, director of the excavations in kh. Utsah, suggests the stamp was of a Jewish Baker, or a Jewish olive press. The product it was marking was probably meant to be sold to the nearby Jewish community in Akko.