Stone Seal Confirms Biblical Record
A black stone seal found in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem adds more proof to a growing mountain of tangible evidence showing the accuracy of the Bible’s account of history.
The seal, found in excavations taking place in the City of David just south of the Temple Mount, bears the name “Temech,” listed in the biblical book of Nehemiah as one of the families of servants in the first temple of Solomon who were sent into exile to Babylon after the destruction of the temple in 586 bce.
The seal was found in stratified layers of previously unexcavated debris during the third excavation season of Eilat Mazar. Dr. Mazar works on behalf of the Shalem Center and the Ir David Foundation and under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In the 5th century bce, the Persian King Artaxerxes i made Nehemiah governor of Judah to return to Jerusalem and repair its walls, which had been left in ruins since the destruction of the first temple. As part of this renovation project, a tower was built along the eastern ridge of the top of the City of David. This tower, and the city wall adjacent to it, were erected very quickly on top of several layers of debris.
Though it still stood until very recently, that tower was in a state of disrepair and ready to collapse. Beginning this past summer, Dr. Mazar and her team methodically dismantled it in order to reconstruct it, and then excavated the layers underneath that had been sealed for centuries by the tower’s construction. In that debris lay this stone seal.
The seal, which Dr. Mazar described as “magnificent,” is elliptical, measuring only 2.1 by 1.8 centimeters. On the surface is an engraved scene of two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense altar with their hands raised forward in a position of worship. On top of the altar appears a crescent moon, the symbol of the god Sin, the chief Babylonian god. Under this scene, inscribed are three Hebrew letters spelling Temech.
Dr. Mazar believes that Temech is the name of one of the families of the “Nethinim,” the temple servants, who were among those who returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. Nehemiah 7:6 reads, “These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city.” Verse 46 begins to list the family names of these servants, “The Nethinims,” and among them, in verse 55, are “the children of Tamah.”
The name appears as a mirror image, which is a known phenomenon from other seals of this period. Dr. Mazar suggests that the seal was bought in Babylon and made commercially by a local craftsman portraying a common and popular cultic scene engraved on it—and that a large smooth space on the bottom of the seal was designated for a name to be added, be it long or short.
The fact that this cultic scene relates in origin to the Babylonian cosmic chief god Sin who was viewed as “the king of the gods in heaven and on earth,” seems not to have disturbed the Jews that used it on their own seal, Dr. Mazar said.
According to Dr. Mazar, the engraving seems to have been done quite carelessly. The letters bend toward the left, and one letter appears as a mirror image. This suggests that the engraving of the letters was done in Babylon by a Babylonian workman who was used to writing cuneiform letters from left to right. “The writing of the name was probably made at the request of the buyer, and his instructions were followed without much skill in writing the Hebrew letters,” Dr. Mazar said.
“Perhaps it is not by chance that the seal of one of the members of the Temech family was discovered in our excavations that is located only dozens of meters away from the Ophel area, where the Nethinim lived at the time of Nehemiah,” said Dr. Mazar, referring to Nehemiah 3:26.
“The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archaeology and the biblical sources,” she said. “It is tangible evidence that relates to a known family mentioned in the Bible.”
This seal follows other, similar discoveries made in the same area in the City of David. In 2005, Dr. Mazar’s team found a bulla (a clay disc used to seal scrolls) bearing this inscription: “Jehucal, son of Shelemiah.” Jehucal was a royal officer who worked in the administration of King Zedekiah, Judah’s last king before going into Babylonian captivity during the sixth century b.c. He is referred to twice in the book of Jeremiah (37:3; 38:1). Another bulla, found years earlier, was inscribed with the Hebrew name “Gemariah, son of Shaphan.” Mentioned in Jeremiah 36:10, he was one of the princes of Judah during Jehoiakim’s reign. His father, Shaphan, worked for King Josiah (2 Kings 22:3).
“One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find,” Dr. Mazar said of her latest discovery.