Archaeologists excavating in Jerusalem’s City of David discovered a name associated with two Hasmonean kings carved into a fragment of a stone bowl dating back 2,100 years.
Hyrcanus, a Greek name adopted by Jews in the Hellenistic period that appears in the names of two Hasmonean kings, was carved in block Hebrew letters into the side of a limestone bowl.
News of the discovery, which was made during digs last year, was announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Thursday to coincide with the upcoming Hanukkah festival, which begins Saturday night. The IAA held off announcing the find for the past year while researchers had a chance to study the artifact.
“The bowl that was discovered is one of the earliest examples of the appearance of chalk wares in Jerusalem. These vessels were widely used especially by Jews, because they were considered utensils that don’t become ritually impure,” researchers Doron Ben-Ami of the IAA and Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University said in a statement.
The Hasmonean dynasty, descendants of the Maccabees of Hanukkah fame, ruled an independent Jewish state for a century. Two monarchs bore the epithet Hyrcanus, but the exact origin of the name isn’t clear. Jacob Neusner suggested in his “A History of the Jews in Babylonia” that it was a designation for Jews in Judea with familial origins in the region of Hyrcania, an area of Persia.
Why John Hyrcanus, who ruled as king of Judea and high priest in the Jerusalem temple from 134 to 104 BCE, bore the epithet Hyrcanus isn’t clear. The name also appears in the Book of Maccabees, which mentions one Hyrcanus son of Tobias, “a man of great dignity.”
The researchers said that the name Hyrcanus was “too common” during the first and second centuries BCE to presume any identification with the two Hasmonean kings bearing that name. Moreover, coins minted by those kings usually refer to them as “high priest and head of the council of the Jews” without the name Hyrcanus.
The bowl was discovered during excavations in a complex of ritual baths dating to the Hellenistic period funded by the City of David Foundation. The fragment was found a stone’s throw from remnants of fortifications believed to have been used by the Seleucid Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s army to besiege the city in 168 BCE.
The inscription’s discovery came two days after the Tower of David said it found a bronze penny minted by Antiochus IV, the vilified king of the Hanukkah story, during routine maintenance work on the Jerusalem landmark.