Does this seal bear the name of a Bible character?

We now have dozens of seals bearing the names of characters mentioned in the Bible, but every new one is interesting. The Jerusalem Post, January 16, 2008, reports the discovery of a seal that it says bears the name of a family of temple servants who were exiled to Babylon in 586 B.C., and then returned to Jerusalem after the exile. The discovery was made by Dr. Eilat Mazar at the City of David Excavation.

The Jerusalem Post:

The seal, which was bought in Babylon and dates to 538-445 BCE, portrays a common and popular cultic scene, Mazar said.
The 2.1 x 1.8-cm. elliptical seal is engraved with two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense altar with their hands raised forward in a position of worship.
A crescent moon, the symbol of the chief Babylonian god Sin, appears on the top of the altar.
Under this scene are three Hebrew letters spelling Temech, Mazar said.
The Bible refers to the Temech family: “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]… “The Nethinim [7:46]“… The children of Temech.” [7:55].
. . .
“The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archeology and the biblical sources and serves as actual evidence of a family mentioned in the Bible,” she said. “One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find.”

The full article is here.

Seal Discovered by Dr. Eilat Mazar in City of David Excavation.

According to the article, Dr. Mazar reads the inscription as Temech. In many English versions this name is translated as Temah. The Nethinim are mentioned in Nehemiah 7:24 rather than 7:46. See also Ezra 2:53. Other scholars were quick to point out that Mazar had read the inscription left to right, but that seals are normally in the reverse order so that when they are impressed in clay the name reads right to left. Thus the suggestion has been made that the name should be Shelomith. Others have pointed out that there was a Shelomith among the returnees from Babylon (Ezra 8:10).

A warning is in order. There is no way to connect a name on a seal, without additional information such as a title, to a specific person in the Bible. The best one can say is that the name was common to the time of a given event or book. And we are never quite sure if the reporter with a deadline to meet got the comment correct, or placed it in the correct context. In other words, we must await additional, more detailed information. A context for the dating of the seal to a particular year, or span of years, must be provided.

Be patient and wait at least another week (month, year, decade) before using this in your sermon!

Many scholars are critical of Dr. Eilat Mazar and her work in the City of David Excavation. They paint her as a person with an agenda to prove the Bible true, and that she stretches the evidence to fit the theory. If this is true, it is not good. On the other hand, I suspect it is the lack of belief in the veracity of the Bible that prompts some to criticize her every shovel of dirt.

In 2005 Mazar announced the discovery of a clay bulla (the impression of a seal) bearing the inscription, “Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobi.” The suggestion has been made, and seems legitimate, that this is the name of the “Jehucal the son of Shelemiah” mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3. This bulla is added to several others, published much earlier, of persons named in the book of Jeremiah.

Archaeology has been a wonderful tool for the Bible expositor, but we must be careful not to expect too much from it.

The aerial photo below, which I commissioned a fews years back, shows the area of the Temple Mount to the north (top of photo) and the City of David to the south (bottom of photo).

Aerial View of Jerusalem - Temple Mount and City of David. Photo belongs to Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Paleojudaica; Todd Bolen; Chris Heard

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4 responses to “Does this seal bear the name of a Bible character?

  1. The BAR Companion, January 30, 2008, has the following statement by Dr. Mazar:
    “I accept the suggestion made by Peter van der Veen and followed by many other scholars to read Sh l m t. Actually, I love it. For the time being, this reading is preferable to my reading of t m h or h m t. This is an opportunity also to thank the many scholars who took part in the various blogs contributing their knowledge on the subject.”

  2. Pingback: Mazar now reads seal as Shlomit « Ferrell’s Travel Blog

  3. Ferrell, the black stone seal of Shelomith is tricky, because, as you know, it was first published with a misreading of the name and a resulting mistaken identification.(footnote 1) Now that Dr. Mazar has corrected her misreading of the name, the attempt to make a different identification of the seal owner with a biblical person presents a different sort of problem, namely, that there is not enough evidence to make a secure identification. The only identifying feature that points to an individual is the name of the seal owner. As I attempted to demonstrate in my published dissertation,(footnote 2) a single identifying mark, if it is the only one, has no reliable value for identifying a biblical person in an ancient inscription.
    Dr. Mazar’s identification is equivalent to discovering the name George written on a torn-off bottom corner of a colonial-era letter in present-day Virginia, and concluding that it must be the signature of President George Washington. Of course, there were many Georges in the thirteen colonies, probably hundreds or even thousands. Is it possible that it could be President Washington? Yes. Is it likely that it is? Not in the least. Without more evidence, such an identification is too precarious to be reliable. The same goes for Shelomith in Persian-era Jerusalem. There is a real possibility that a dozen or dozens of persons having this name lived in Jerusalem and environs at that time. There simply is no evidence to show that this identification is even likely.
    Larry Mykytiuk
    (footnote 1) See Dr. Peter van der Veen’s message at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ANE-2/message/7144 .
    (footnote 2) Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Society of Biblical Literature Academia Biblica series, no. 12; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 77–79. See reviews at http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleID=4306 and at http://www.see-j.net/Default.aspx?tabid=72 .
    (footnote 3) See my comment at the bottom of the page at http://www.heardworld.com/higgaion/?p=681.

  4. Thanks, Larry. See my comments on February 5, when I said, “Whether the seal has anything to do with the persons named in the biblical text is unknown.”
    here: http://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/mazar-now-reads-seal-as-shlomit/

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