Who was Elihana bat Gael? An exceptional woman during Jerusalem’s First Temple period some 2,500 years ago, according to the Antiquities Authority.
A rare seal bearing her name was recently unearthed in a large ancient building during excavations carried out in the Givati parking lot at the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, the authority announced on Monday.
Inscribed in ancient Hebrew letters on the seal, made of semiprecious stone, appears the mirror-writing of “to Elihana bat Gael,” along with the name of her father.
Another seal, belonging to a man named “Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu,” was found nearby.
The second seal was also in mirror-writing, and bears the inscription “to Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu.” The name Sa’aryahu appears on a sherd from Arad, and apparently means “The Lord, which was revealed in a storm” (Job 38).
“Finding seals that bear names from the time of the First Temple is hardly a commonplace occurrence, and finding a seal that belonged to a woman is an even rarer phenomenon,” the authority said.
Indeed, according to the authority’s excavation directors, “The owner of the seal was notable compared to other women of the First Temple period: She had legal status, which allowed her to conduct business and possess property.”
The rare bounty was discovered inside a structure built of well-preserved ashlars following nine years of excavation at the site outside the Old City’s walls by the authority, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation.
The authority’s excavation directors, Dr. Doron Ben- Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, said they believe the ancient building once served as an administrative center.
“Personal seals, such as those of Elihana and Sa’aryahu, were used for signing documents, and were frequently inlaid as part of a ring that was worn by the owner,” the archeologists said in a joint statement.
“In antiquity, they designated the identity, genealogy and status of the owner of the seal.”
According to Dr. Haggai Misgav of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, seals that belonged to women represent a very small proportion of all the seals that have been discovered to date.
“This is because of the generally inferior economic status of women, apart from extraordinary instances such as this,” Misgav said. “Indeed, the name Elihana does not appear in the Bible, and there is no other information regarding the identity of the woman, but the fact that she possessed a seal demonstrates her high social status.”
Most of the women’s seals known from this period, Misgav said, bear the names of their fathers, rather than that of their husbands.
“Here, as in other cases, this might indicate the relatively elevated status of Elihana, which depended on her original family, and not on her husband’s family,” the researcher stated. “It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence even after her marriage, and, therefore, her father’s name was retained. However, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period.”
He said the name Eliha is known from a contemporary Ammonite seal, and is the feminine form of the biblical name Eli.
“The script appearing on the seal is remarkably similar to the script on Ammonite seals, and this might indicate the foreign origin of the artisan who carved the seal, and possibly the foreign origin of Elihana, who apparently came from east of the Jordan River,” he said.
Misgav added that the Book of Proverbs (31:13-23) states that an ideal wife is responsible for providing for the needs of her household when her husband is engaged in public and legal affairs at the city gate.
“She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands...,” it says. “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.”
“An archive of documents preserved in the Judean Desert from the time of the Second Temple indicates, among other things, the business of Babatha bat Shimon, a female land owner who had legal status,” Misgav said. “But, generally speaking, evidence of legal and financial independence in the Bible and archeology are rare, and it seems that the exception to the rule indeed sheds light on the rule itself.”