Royal seal impressions from the First Temple period discovered south of Jerusalem
A large building that dates to the time of the First and Second Temples, in which there was an amazing wealth of inscriptions, was discovered in a salvage excavation conducted by Zubair Adawi, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the village of Umm Tuba in southern Jerusalem (between Zur Baher and the Har Homa quarter), prior to construction work by a private contractor.
Considering the limited area of the excavation and the rural nature of the structure that was revealed, the excavators were surprised to discover in it so many royal seal impressions that date to the reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah (end of the eighth century BCE). Four “LMLK” type impressions were discovered on handles of large jars that were used to store wine and oil in royal administrative centers. These were found together with the seal impressions of two high ranking officials named Ahimelekh ben Amadyahu and Yehokhil ben Shahar, who served in the kingdom’s government. The Yehokhil seal was stamped on one of the LMLK impressions before the jar was fired in a kiln and this is a very rare instance in which two such impressions appear together on a single handle.
Another Hebrew inscription, 600 years later than the seal impressions of the Kingdom of Judah, was discovered on a fragment of a jar neck that dates to the Hasmonean period. An alphabetic sequence was engraved with a thin iron stylus below the vessel’s rim in Hebrew script that is characteristic of the beginning of the Hasmonean period (end of the second century BCE). The letters hay to yod and a small part of the letter kaf were preserved on the shard. Similar inscriptions bearing alphabetic sequences were discovered in the past, usually on ostraca (inscriptions written in ink on pottery shards) or engraved on ossuaries (stone receptacles in which human bones were buried). The alphabetic inscription that was discovered in this instance is unique and the significance of it requires further study: was this a “writing exercise” done by an apprentice scribe or should we ascribe to it some magical importance?
Some three years ago the impressive remains of a monastery from this period were excavated that together with the remains of the current excavation confirm the identification of the place as “Metofa”, which is mentioned in the writings of the church fathers in the Byzantine period. The name of the Arab village, “Umm Tuba” is therefore a derivation of Byzantine “Metofa”, which is Biblical “Netofa” and is mentioned as the place from which two of David’s heroes originated (2 Samuel 23:28-29).
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