Archaeologists in Jerusalem have discovered two stone seals from the biblical period, one seal bearing the name of an apparently powerful woman. The IAA announced the discovery of two seals fashioned in First Temple Period style with ancient Hebrew inscriptions. These seals were unearthed at the Givati parking lot excavation at the City of David, not far from the Temple Mount, on Monday.
A Woman of Valour…
One of the seals belonged to and bears the name of עליהנה בת גאל (“Elihana the Daughter of Gael”). This rare find indicates that the owner, a woman named Elihana, was of sufficient social status to own her own seal. This meant that she likely owned property and was in a position of some considerable social capital in ancient Jerusalem. Indeed, King Solomon’s paean to the ideal Jewish woman (Proverbs 31:9) praises her for her acumen in purchasing lands and her exceptional strength and skill.This seal in particular was crafted from semi-precious stone and was likely imported from the Transjordan. Another seal, bearing the name סעריהו בן שבניהו (“Saaryahu the son of Shebenyahu”) was discovered along with it.
It is significant that these seals (like hundreds discovered before them) bear the names of Jewish people. It was common in the biblical period for parents to append the name of their deity to their children’s names. This was not an exclusively Jewish practice, but appending the name of the God of Israel certainly was.
Whose is the Seal…
Biblical seals were used to enclose documents such as contracts or letters. The book of Jeremiah (32:14) describes the process of writing a contract in duplicate. The author would roll the document up, concealing the full text while leaving a summary exposed at the head of the document. They would sew thread through the document, tieing it off at the separation between summary and text, and seal the knot with clay beads impressed with their personal seals. Early seals employed insignia, and most seals found refer to the owner by name. The book of Genesis (38:25) thus describes the use of Yehuda’s personal seal as an identifying mark.
The Givati excavation is a salvage excavation being done in advance of the planned construction of a massive visitor’s centre for the City of David.