Past and present collided last week when an extremely rare seal impression discovered in Jerusalem’s Western Wall plaza and bearing the inscription “Belonging to the governor of the city” was presented to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
According to site excavator Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, “This is the first time that such an impression was found in an authorized excavation. It supports the biblical rendering of the existence of a governor of the city in Jerusalem 2,700 years ago.”
At the presentation, Barkat said, “It is very overwhelming to receive greetings from First Temple-period Jerusalem. This shows that already 2,700 years ago, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was a strong and central city.”
The minuscule clay seal impression, or docket, was found while researchers were examining the dust from a First Temple structure 100 meters northwest of the Western Wall at a site the Israel Antiquity Authorities has been excavating since 2005. The excavations have offered up insights into Jerusalem’s Second Temple and Roman periods, as well as a massive Iron Age four-room building where an eclectic collection of six other seals were uncovered, whose origins point to a thriving cosmopolitan Iron Age center or settlement.
“The seal impression had been attached to an important transport and served as some sort of logo, or as a tiny souvenir, which was sent on behalf of the governor of the city,” said Weksler-Bdolah in an IAA release.
The site, which faces the Western Wall plaza, was once earmarked as the future home of a Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s Beit HaLiba until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended the controversial museum “over security concerns” in 2015. However, in light of the “outstanding significance” of the finds at the excavation site, according to Dr. Yuval Baruch, archaeologist of the Jerusalem District in the IAA, a decision was made”to conserve the First Temple-period building exposed in the Western Wall plaza excavations and open it to visitors.”
The clay impression was discovered in dust after Israel Antiquity Authority conservationists scratched at the surface of the First Temple period building’s walls to inject preservation materials. The dust that fell from between the ancient stones was taken to the IAA labs for wet sifting.
At the IAA labs in Jerusalem’s Har Hotzvim technology park, Shimon Cohen spotted the seal impression about a year ago. The small (13 x 15 mm and 2–3 mm thick) fired lump of clay bears an image and inscription. On the upper portion of the impression, two figures wearing striped garments face each other. Between them is what could be a moon, according to excavation head Weksler-Bdolah.
Over the past year, the impression was studied by Hebrew University Prof. Tallay Ornan and Tel Aviv University Prof. Benjamin Sass. According to their analysis, “above a double line are two standing men, facing each other in a mirror-like manner. Their heads are depicted as large dots, lacking any details. The hands facing outward are dropped down, and the hands facing inward are raised. Each of the figures is wearing a striped, knee-length garment.”
The bottom section reads, in early Hebrew script: “Belonging to the governor [sar] of the city.” Weksler-Bdolah explains that the governor most likely functioned much like today’s mayor. The role is referenced in the Hebrew Bible: in 2 Kings, Joshua is listed as the governor of the city in the days of Hezekiah, and in 2 Chronicles, Maaseiah is noted as governor of the city in the days of Josiah.
“The Bible mentions two governors of Jerusalem, and this finding thus reveals that such a position was actually held by someone in the city some 2700 years ago, said Weksler-Bdolah.
The initial discovery of the First Temple structure came as a surprise to Weksler-Bdolah, who until then had been digging up Second Temple and Roman-era finds. However, as the team excavated more north, after a longstanding police building was removed, “All of a sudden we saw that there was no more bedrock. It disappeared.” In a 2010 interview, she described continuing the excavation and discovering that “the minute we took away the Early Islamic eighth-century plaster installations [from under the police building]… immediately, in 20 centimeters — ‘one basket of dirt’ archaeologically speaking — we went from the eighth-century A.D. to the eighth century B.C.”
Her team discovered a four-room structure facing the Temple Mount, constructed on the slopes of the upper hill, which according to the remains of the building and its floors, was dated to the seventh century BCE.
According to the 2010 article, the structure, which was ruined in a collapse, is “typical of the buildings of the Israelites and also in Judea. There was one broad room and three elongated rooms perpendicular to it. The one broad room is divided with walls into three sections, three smaller room.”
Weksler-Bdolah believes that due to its location and the eclectic group of artifacts found there — from Egypt and Assyria — the building “probably served as an administration center. The people who gave orders may have had to sign documents here. It may also have been a place for the rich, the more important people, because the location is really important.”
The recent additional find is more evidence for this hypothesis. “The finding of the impression with this high-rank title, in addition to the large assemblage of actual seals found in the building in the past, supports the assumption that this area, located on the western slopes of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem, some 100 meters west of the Temple Mount, was inhabited by highly ranked officials during the First Temple period,” said Weksler-Bdolah this week.
The seal impression was presented to Mayor Barkat during a visit to Davidson’s Center, near the Western Wall, last week. After the completion of the scientific research, the impression will be on temporary exhibit in the mayor’s office.
“Jerusalem is one of the most ancient capitals of the world, continually populated by the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years. Today we have the privilege to encounter another one of the long chain of persons and leaders that built and developed the city. We are grateful to be living in a city with such a magnificent past, and are obligated to ensure its strength for generations to come, as we daily do,” said Barkat.