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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seal found in Jerusalem excavations

Biblical Seal Discovered in City of David Excavations
Black Stone Seal Bearing the Name "Shlomit" Found in City of David Excavations
Jerusalem, February 6, 2008: A black stone seal, bearing the name "Shlomit" has been found in the Area G section of the third phase of the City of David excavations.  The unexpected find was reported on the front page of the Jerusalem Post on January 17, and was then thought to bear the name "Temech." Further scholarly review convinced Dr Mazar that the reading of the name be inverted to read "Shlomit." The seal may have belonged to Shlomit, the daughter of Zerubbabel, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19. Zerubbabel was a grandson of Judean King Jehoachin and a leader of the first band of Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity. He helped lay the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
The magnificent seal was found in stratified layers of debris uncovered for the first time by Dr. Eilat Mazar on behalf of the Shalem Center and The Ir David Foundation and conducted under the academic auspices of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The seal is elliptical, 2.1 x 1.8 cm.  On the surface is a scene engraved with two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense alter with their hands raised forward in a position of worship.  On top of the altar appears a crescent moon, the symbol of the god Sin, the chief Babylonian god.  Under this scene, inscribed are the Hebrew letters, ת מ ש ("Shlomit").  From the seal impression, the name appears as a mirror image which is a known phenomenon from other seals of this period.  It is likely that the seal was bought in Babylon and made commercially by a local craftsman who engraved a common and popular cultic scene.  Therefore, a large smooth space on the bottom of the seal was designated for a name to be added, be it long or short.  The cultic scene relates in origin to the Babylonian cosmic chief god Sin who was viewed as "the king of the gods in heaven and on earth", and seems not to have disturbed the Jews who used it on their own seal.
The discovery occurred under a tower, which was built during the time of Nehemiah and which Dr. Mazar found in a state of disrepair and ready to collapse.  Dr. Mazar and her team dismantled the tower methodologically in order to reconstruct it, and excavated the layers that were sealed for centuries by the tower's construction.  Both the tower and the city wall that is adjacent to it were erected very quickly along the eastern ridge of the top of the City of David as part of the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem initiated by Nehemiah  in the 5th century BCE.  The Persian King Artaxerxes I (465 – 424 BCE) awarded Nehemiah the position of Governor of Judah in order to return to Jerusalem and repair the walls that were left in ruins after the destruction of the First Temple. 
The Book of Nehemiah describes in detail the construction process whereby Nehemiah proved his high skill in organization by putting many groups of builders alongside each other working on consecutive segments along the whole length of the wall.  They worked quickly in order to complete the work as soon as possible while under the threat of hostility and harassment from many surrounding enemies.  The renovation of the city wall and its gates were completed within an amazingly short time, 52 days only.  More than anything else, the construction enterprise that Nehemiah organized became a symbol for the determination and motivation of the returning Jewish exiles to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem in spite of threatening conditions: "They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon." [Nehemiah 4:17] These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city" [Nehemiah 7:6]

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