Seals Tell of Jewish Return to Jerusalem After Babylonian Exile
In Jerusalem, the discovery of two homemade seals may provide unprecedented insights into an extremely critical period in Jewish history and the Bible. The artifact is showing that the city remained an administrative center, even after the destruction of Jerusalem (587 BC). It may also provide clues as to the resettlement of the city by the Jews after the Babylonian Exile.
The finds were made by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University. They were unearthed during an excavation in a parking lot in a historic part of Jerusalem. A seal, which is often known by the Latin term bulla, was uncovered. It was made of recycled pottery shards. The object is about 2 inches (8 cm) in width and has a double impression and several carvings representing symbols.
Excavation of parking lot in Jerusalem. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Finding of Mysterious Seals From Persian Period
The seal would have been used to sign documents or attached to containers. This was done by officials to ensure that they were not tampered with or intercepted. Along with this seal was a “strange DIY pottery sherd seal with fake writing,” reports The Times of Israel. On it are inscribed a figure seated with two pillars. Because of its size, it may have been used to seal large containers, rather than parchment.
Seal made from clay discovered in the excavation of a parking lot in Jerusalem may provide clues as to the resettlement of the city by the Jews after the Babylonian Exile. (Shai Halevy / Israel Antiquities Authority)
CBN News quotes the researchers who took part in the study as saying that the larger seal was probably Babylonian because of its design and that “the person sitting on the chair is believed to be a king and the columns probably represent the Babylonian gods Nabu and Marduk.” Several similar objects have been uncovered that date from the times of Persian rule in the area (536-333 BC). The date of the artifact makes it important because, as Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel, “the Persian period is a black hole in archaeology.” This is even though it witnessed the rebirth of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Jews to their homeland, after 50 years of exile.
The Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem and Razing of First Temple
The Neo-Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, razing the First Temple and deporting most of the survivors back to Babylon. The era of the Babylonian exile is known as the Babylonian Captivity, when the Jews were virtually enslaved. After the defeat of Babylon, by the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great, the Jews could return to their native places. Jerusalem and the Second Temple were rebuilt under the leadership of the Prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, which was crucial in the history of Judaism.
Little is known how they resettled in the City of David and their history at this time, which is known as the Return to Zion period, “a period we knew about mainly from biblical literature [the books of Ezra and Nehemiah]”, explain Prof. Yuval Gadot and Dr Yiftah Shalev cited in The Jerusalem Post. There are almost no other sources and extraordinarily little in the archaeological record about this critical period in the history of the Near East.
Prof. Yuval Gadot, from Tel Aviv University, poses with Persian-era seal discovered in the excavation of a parking lot in Jerusalem. (Shai Halevy / Israel Antiquities Authority)
Seals Discovered in the Ruins of Jerusalem
The two items were uncovered in what may have been a camp set up in a courtyard that was destroyed in 586 BC. It appears that the Jews returning from the Babylonian exile used the rubble to create dwellings. The two seals probably date back to the early days of their reoccupation of the City of David. “We knew there was a bureaucracy during the Persian period,” explained Dr. Shalev, according to The Times of Israel. The seals are evidence that there existed some form of administration and government in the city.
Prof. Yuval Gadot and Dr. Shalev are reported by to The Jerusalem Post as saying that the twin discoveries show “that despite the city's dire situation after the destruction, efforts were made to restore the administrative authorities to normal.” Despite the return of the Jews, their Holy City and land was part of the Persian Empire, even though they enjoyed a great deal of autonomy and religious freedom. The seals may have belonged to low-ranking Jewish or even Persian bureaucrat working for the administration that was rebuilding the City of David.
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The Problem of Accurate Dating
Archaeologists found other items, such as imported pottery and fish bones, within the same layer as the seal. This could indicate that Jerusalem rapidly recovered economically after the return of the Jews after their Babylonian exile. But these finds do not categorically prove that Jews were living in the ruins of Jerusalem, as dating the items accurately has proven difficult. They could date in a range from the Babylonian destruction to the Hellenistic era (4th century BC), based on the analysis conducted thus far.
Dr. Yiftah Shalev, from the Israel Antiquities Authority, with the Persian-era seal and seal impression, both discovered in the excavation of a parking lot in Jerusalem. (Shai Halevy / Israel Antiquities Authority)
“Carbon dating this period is tricky,” explains Dr. Shalev in The Times of Israel. They were found along with some organic material, namely fish bones, and this may help in the accurate dating of the finds. This is essential so that the artifacts can be confirmed to be from the Persian era. The objects are going to be displayed at an IAA conference in the coming weeks.
Top image: Stamp seal found in the excavation of a parking lot in Jerusalem depicts a person believed to be a king sitting on a chair, with columns which probably represent the Babylonian gods Nabu and Marduk. The finds may provide clues as to the resettlement of the city by the Jews after the Babylonian Exile. Source: (Shai Halevy / Israel Antiquities Authority)
By Ed Whelan