Bread stamp with Temple Menorah discovered near Acco

The Israel Antiquities Authority announces the discovery of a stamp used to identify baked products from an excavation near the coastal town of Acco (Akko; Acre). The stamp dates to the 6th century A.D. (the Byzantine period). The suggestion is made that it may have been used by a baker who made kosher bread for the Jews in the area.

Bread stamp discovered at Acco. Photo: Dr. Danny Syon, courtesy IAA.

Bread stamp discovered near Acco. Photo: Dr. Danny Syon, courtesy IAA.

The IAA news release says,

According to Gilad Jaffe and Dr. Danny Syon, the directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “A number of stamps bearing an image of a menorah are known from different collections. The Temple Menorah, being a Jewish symbol par excellence, indicates the stamps belonged to Jews, unlike Christian bread stamps with the cross pattern which were much more common in the Byzantine period”. According to Syon, “This is the first time such a stamp is discovered in a controlled archaeological excavation, thus making it possible to determine its provenance and date of manufacture. The stamp is important because it proves that a Jewish community existed in the settlement of Uza in the Christian-Byzantine period. The presence of a Jewish settlement so close to Akko — a region that was definitely Christian at this time — constitutes an innovation in archaeological research”. The excavators add, “Due to the geographical proximity of Horbat Uza to Akko, we can speculate that the settlement supplied kosher baked goods to the Jews of Akko in the Byzantine period”.

The stamp is engraved with a seven-branched menorah atop a narrow base, and the top of the branches forms a horizontal line. A number of Greek letters are engraved around a circle and dot on the end of the handle. Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggested this is probably the name Launtius. This name was common among Jews of the period and also appears on another Jewish bread stamp of unknown provenance. According to Dr. Syon and Gilad Jaffe, “This is probably the name of the baker from Horbat Uza.”

Bread stamp discovered at Acco. Photo: Dr. Danny Syon, courtesy IAA.

Bread stamp discovered at Acco. Photo: Dr. Danny Syon, courtesy IAA.

Dr. David Amit, who has made a study of bread stamps, adds,

“A potter engraved the menorah image in the surface of the stamp prior to firing it in a kiln, whereas the owner’s name was engraved in the stamp’s handle after firing. Hence we can assume that a series of stamps bearing the menorah symbol were produced for Jewish bakers, and each of these bakers carved his name on the handle, which also served as a stamp. In this way the dough could be stamped twice before baking: once with the menorah — the general symbol of the Jewish identity of Jewish bakeries, and the private name of the baker in each of these bakeries, which also guaranteed the bakery’s kashrut.

The full IAA report is available at a temporary link here.

English Bible versions commonly translate the Hebrew menorah by the word lampstand. The King James Version’s candlestick is no longer used because we know that candles were not in use in Bible times (cf. Revelation 1:12).

The seven-branched lampstand is probably the best known symbol of the tabernacle and temple, and of Jews generally. The first biblical reference to the menorah is in the account of the building of the tabernacle.

“Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it.  “Six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side.  (Exodus 25:31-32 NAU)

As a parallel, one might think of the hot cross buns commonly eaten on Good Friday in many Christian communities.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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