A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

The "First Temple Seal" is Probably Not

image See the post here by Jim West for the details.  Initially, Eilat Mazar suggested the name on the seal was “Temech,” a name also mentioned among the returned exiles in Nehemiah, therefore linking the seal to the 1st Temple Period. 

That would be nice.  However, some scholars think this is a misreading:  the script is tough, but it is said that it’s clearly not t-m-ch, but probably sh-l-m-t.  That is, Shulamit, or Shelamit, or Sh’lomot, or something (impossible to tell and we don’t know the range of possibilities for Hebrew names).   

There is another option though.  In my novice opinion (I don’t do Hebrew inscriptions of this era), Temech pretty clearly seems wrong. “טמח” only works if you read the lettering backwards, which for a Hebrew seal is right to left, not the other way around.  Since it’s a seal to be impressed upon wax or some other substance, in order for the impression to look right, the letters must be carved from left to right, and in mirror-image of what they should look like.  Take a look at the following Paleo-Hebrew chart: 

 

Image courtesy of Omniglot.com

 

In order from left to right, the first letter appears to be a het (h) or shin/sin (s) depending on whether that vertical line on the right is part of the first letter or is a second letter; if the latter, then it is unlike any of our options (which prb. makes a het more likely) and therefore could be one of several things: lamed (l), vav (w), peh (p), gimel (g), yodh (y), kaf (k), but not ecessarily a lamed; the next is clearly a mem (m); the last is clearly a tav (t); so either we have חמת (i.e. what Mazar’s suggestion should’ve been–Chamat or something) or ש–מת.  Whatever it is, it’s not Temech. 

The icon is also being interpreted to suggest the individual was a priest–namely because it looks like the two individuals are beside an altar.  But the image is a bit vague:  I’m not certain what that object is or why those people have their hands raised.  Seems to me there could be other options. 

Nevertheless, as West points out, this is another one of those over-zealous interpretations that got ahead of the data. 

So as for date?  I don’t know how you date seals, but I can tell you that Paleo-Hebrew was used consistently on coins up until the Herodian dynasty.  So at least on that point it certainly need not be 1TP. 

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January 19, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. Interesting post.

    I wonder was the seal suppose to confirm the historicity of Nehemiah’s account? Was that what made this such a big deal? I didn’t realize Nehemiah’s historicity was being questioned. Humor me I’m a wannabe.

    Comment by John Baek | January 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. That’s exactly how it was initially interpreted. The seal was initially thought to show that there was a historical Temech, and therefore validate that portion of Nehemiah’s narrative. Of course it couldn’t be used to validate anything else in the book, but it’s always nice to find externally corroborating evidence.

    I don’t think that Mezer actually set out to prove something in the Bible though and therefore that her interp was ideologically driven (some have suggested this). She clearly just made a big unintentional mistake. I think she probably just let her excitement over the seal overtake her interpretation of the data.

    Comment by Justin D | January 25, 2008 | Reply


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