Excavations in the City of David Uncover Seals From First Beis Hamikdash Era

Complete seal bearing the name “Achiav ben Menachem” found at the City of David excavations. (Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)

A collection of dozens of sealings, from the end of the first Beis Hamikdash era, recently unearthed during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David near the Old City of Yerushalayim, sheds light on official bureaucratic correspondence and the people behind it in Yerushalayim of old.

These bullae (sealings) will be temporarily exhibited this Thursday at an archaeology conference at the City of David.

The sealings are small pieces of clay which served as seals for letters. A letter which arrived with its seal broken showed that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. Although letters did not survive the large fire which consumed Yerushalayim during the Churban, the seals, which were made of clay, were actually well preserved thanks to the fire, and attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.

Who, for example, was Achiav ben Menachem?

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Antiquities Authority, “In the numerous excavations at the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of Yerushalayim in the first Beis Hamikdash period. The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures. It appears that instead of writing names, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was sealing. In later stages of that period – from the time of Chizkiyahu Hamelech (circa 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Yerushalayim in 586 BCE – the seals bear the names of clerks in an early Hebrew script. Through these findings, we not only learn about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the city’s residents and those who served in the civil service.”

Some of the seals bear Tanachi names, several of which are still used today, such as Pinchas. One particularly interesting seal is addressed to Achiav ben Menachem. These two names are known in the context of the Yisrael kingdom; Menachem was the name of a king of Yisrael, and while the name Achiav does not appear in Tanach, it resembles that of  King Achav. Though the spelling of the name is slightly different, it appears to be the same name.

According to Chalaf, these names and other findings point to the possibility that after the Churban, refugees settled in Yerushalayim. “These names are part of the evidence that after the exile of the Tribes of Yisrael, refugees arrived in Yerushalayim from the northern kingdom, and even found their way into senior positions in Yerushalayim’s administration,” according to the two co-directors.