Signed by Seal

Credit:, Jerusalem, Israel

In Exodus 31, after the sin of the Golden Calf, God gave Moses the two tablets of the covenant. “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.”

Notably, the instructions were written on stone tablets and not just given orally. Instructions written in stone are available for all, and less subject to misinterpretation or confusion about the instruction.

Just as for Israel in the wilderness in the Bible, so too writing is important for a kingdom. It allows rulers to communicate specific instructions, allowing them to marshal and direct resources at distance.

The Temple Mount is one of the most potentially rich archaeological resources for understanding the history of Jerusalem. While the dirt would have been turned during Herod’s construction and so the site does not offer the archaeological layers that delineate time periods at others sites, it still contains artifacts that can provide clues about their dating.

Despite its importance, the Temple Mount is also a politically volatile site, and thus archaeological work has been restricted. However, when in 1999 large amounts of dirt were illegally removed from the site, it created an opportunity to look at material that had until then been restricted. The Temple Mount Sifting Project was established to sift this dirt to look for artifacts.

Archaeologists analyzing the sifted material discovered a seal containing the images of two animals, with a perforation to pass a string through it, allowing it to be worn. The seal likely would have been used to seal a papyrus letter with wax, or by being pressed into clay. The seal would indicate from whom a message or letter was sent.

While there was no archaeological layer from which to assign this seal, archaeologists were able to determine that the seal dated to the 11th or 10th centuries BCE, based on its similarities with other seals of that time period.

This is an important finding for the history of Jerusalem. The seal would indicate that in the 11th-10th BCE, people within Jerusalem were literate, and able to communicate in writing. This would be an important skill for a nascent centralized state. Additionally, the seal may point to writing in papyrus. Papyrus can only survive the ravages of time under ideal conditions. The lack of written finds from Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE might be the result of writing in papyrus, and not proof that no center of a state existed during that time period.

The image above is of the sifting activity. The following link contains a photo of the seal discovered by the sifting project: