The biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah narrate that when Cyrus became King of Persia, he allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by Babylon some 50 years prior. A unique double archaeological discovery in Jerusalem has shed light on life in the city in that period.
A stamp impression on a bulla (seal) made of reused pottery shards has been unearthed twice in the course of archaeological excavations undertaken by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University in the City of David.
According to the researchers, the artifacts most likely date back to the Persian period, about 2,500 years ago, and offer groundbreaking archaeological evidence that even after the terrible destruction it underwent in 586 BCE at the hands of the Babylonians, Jerusalem maintained the rank of an important administrative center.
“We discovered the objects a few months ago in a palace that was probably built around the end of the 8th century,” TAU Prof. Yuval Gadot told The Jerusalem Post. “While we cannot be sure about when the structure was first erected, we do know that it was destroyed in 586 and then rebuilt and reused.”
The seal impressions – known among experts with the Latin term bullae – were usually made of clay and were used to sign documents or containers and ensure that they would reach their recipients closed and untouched.
The bulla found in the City of David features the image of a person sitting on a large chair with one or two columns in front of him, in what the experts described as a Babylonian-style composition. The figure probably represents a king, and the columns are symbols of the gods Nabu and Marduk, they said.
The seal, about 8 cm. in diameter, is made of a large, locally made pottery shard. It bears a circular frame and contains several linear inscriptions, probably designed to resemble letters.
In the Persian period, Judah became a province of the empire, which allowed local rulers to govern it.
At the time, Babylon represented the dominant culture of the whole region and was very influential among educated elites, Gadot said. Therefore, it was no surprise that the seal and the seal impressions exhibit Babylonian features, he said.
“If we think about it, today we wear blue jeans without necessarily even realizing that they are an American creation,” Gadot said.
The discovery is considered especially important also because the findings offer insights into life in Jerusalem during the Persian period.
“Discovering the new findings on the western slope of the City of David adds much information about the city’s structure during the period of the Return to Zion, a period we knew about mainly from biblical literature [the books of Ezra and Nehemiah],” Gadot and the IAA’s Dr. Yiftah Shalev said in a press release. “The paucity of the findings from this period made it difficult to understand the status and extent of the city. The findings from the Givati parking lot excavation shed light on the renewal of the local administration, in a location similar to the one that existed before the destruction of the First Temple, about 100 years prior.”
The next step is to conduct a petrographic analysis of the artifacts, Gadot told the Post. Petrography is the study of rocks and minerals. Using these techniques, researchers can ascertain the geological source of artifacts, which helps archaeologists identify their geographical origin. The goal is to determine whether the objects were made in Jerusalem or somewhere else and then brought to the city later.
The seal and the seal impression will be displayed on Wednesday at the fifth “Jerusalem Days” conference of Yad Ben-Zvi and the IAA sponsored by the Uzi and Michal Halevy Foundation. The event will be broadcasted live on the IAA and Yad Ben-Zvi websites.