Hebrew Bible and ANE History Lists Commentary

News and Comments that relate to the Hebrew Bible and to my posts on various ANE and Hebrew Bible related mailing lists - Yitzhak Sapir

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jerusalem Conference and Temple Mount Immer Bulla

Update April 5, 2006: Rewrote the last two paragraphs.

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Temple Mount Bulla - Face (#1)
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
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Temple Mount Bulla - Face (#2)
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
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Temple Mount Bulla - Face (#3)
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
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Temple Mount Bulla - Back
Photo source: Zachi Zweig
The Jerusalem Conference a few days ago was very interesting. The proceedings were on sale during the conference. Apparently there is no order form available yet, but they can be purchased through the Ingeborg Rennert center at Bar Ilan University (Phone: 972-3-5317703). The price I paid at the conference was 70 NIS which is about $15 - $20, and I have no idea what shipping/international shipping is or if they are prepared for it. These proceedings are in the form of summary articles in Hebrew with English abstracts. Two of the summary articles are in English, however. Most include many accompanying photos, and while some summaries are only a few pages long, others can be quite long. There is a 70-page chapter on salvage excavations in Ramat Bet Hakerem and the Ramot Forest, providing new data regarding the Jerusalem agricultural periphery and hinterland during the late First Temple / Iron Age II period and the last Second Temple / Late Hellenistic and Early Roman period. Another interesting chapter is Dr. Gabriel Barkay's and Zachi Zweig's presentation which deals with the artifacts found from sifting the rubble dumped by the Waqf from the Temple Mount, and contains over 30 photographs of the artifacts. The conference also served as the first time the Yehukal bulla, which received widespread attention, was published in scholarship.

From my point of view, one of the most interesting artifacts that Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig presented was another bulla that dates to the late 6th century BCE. As a matter of fact, this bulla has already been reported before. At first, after a press conference in September, only limited information was provided. Slightly more detailed information was reported in an article 3 months ago in a two line sentence, making it easy to miss. At the presentation, beautiful photos of the bulla were shown, which Zachi Zweig kindly provided to me. Their project is an ongoing work that began when the Waqf, planning to build a new mosque on the Temple Mount removed tons of rubble that they had dug from the Mount, dumping it originally in the Jerusalem municipal trash dump but later, in one great overnight mission, in the Kidron Valley. Today, the contents of that dump are being carefully sifted for remains under the direction of Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Zachi Zweig. A long background story on the dump is available here. This bulla may be the most important artifact uncovered so far. The project is financed by the Ir David Foundation. To donate or contribute to the project, contact Doron Spielman at doron AT cityofdavid DOT org DOT il.

... In its report, the Washington Times reported that Dr. Barkay presented:

a "bulla," or seal impression, thought to be used to close cloth sacks of silver. "It bears the name Gedalyahu Ben Immer Ha-Cohen, suggesting that the owner may have been a brother of Pashur Ben Immer, described in the Bible [Jeremiah 20:1] as a priest and temple official," Mr. Barkai said.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay gave a more extensive description in one of the update reports:

"And the third is a bulla with a seal impression. The bulla made of clay was originally attached to a document or a parcel, and still retains part of its original text on its face. The bulla is black in color as a result of being burned by the fire that ironically caused its preservation. The bulla became defragmented in ancient times and is incomplete. The letters preserved on the middle register are "ליהו" "...lyhw" while the bottom register reads "אמר..." "...)mr". In light of another published seal, it may be possible to complete the writing as "לגא]ליהו.[בן]אמר]" (Belonging to Ga'alyahu son of Immer). The house of Imer was a well-known priestly family at the end of the First Temple period, roughly from around the 7th - 6th Centuries BCE, and the days of Return to Zion." [See Jeremiah 20:1; Ezra 2:37, 2:59, 10:20; Nehemiah 3:29, 7:40, 7:61, 11:13; First Chronicles 9:12, 24:14]

This bulla is significant in several respects. First, it serves as evidence that the Temple Mount was probably an important administrative center in late First Temple period times, if the bulla of an administrative official was used to stamp something in its confines. The bulla was not, strictly speaking, found at the Temple Mount, and even the rubble where it was originally located before the Waqf removed it in trucks and dumped it in the Kidron Valley was not its original location. This rubble is probably the result of construction work during earlier periods at the Temple Mount. However, as Dr. Barkay pointed out in the presentation, the Temple Mount is a closed structure with a lot of open space inside and it is much more likely that the provenance of the bulla was originally in the Temple Mount than that it was brought in with other construction materials from outside. The many trucks used by the Waqf to remove all of it is a modern feat that could not be accomplished in ancient times, when large scale transportation of sand was avoided.

This bulla also joins an increasing number of 6th century artifacts that provide corroborating evidence for individuals mentioned in the book of Jeremiah. Thus, while the Bible presents the Immer family as an important priestly family in Second Temple period times, Jeremiah 20:1 mentions an individual of the Immer family who is described as "the Priest, chief officer of the House of the Lord." The bulla ends with the letters אמר )mr and while the word בן "son" is not preserved, it is reasonable and likely that אמר refers to a patronym "Immer" that appeared on the bulla. (Nor do we have to assume that the owner of this bulla was necessarily a "brother" of Pashhur. Immer might be a priestly clan name like Qorah or Sadoq.

Because traces on the back of the bulla show that it was not stamped to a letter but rather to some kind of cloth, such as a package or perhaps a sack of silver, the bulla was not necessarily sent on the back of a letter to the Temple Mount from elsewhere. While packages can also be sent from elsewhere, it could just as easily have been part of a Temple treasury or archive, indicating official ownership of the contents of the package. This bulla is not, by itself, evidence of an archive or treasury. In fact, all this means is that rather than discarding the Temple Mount as the original location for the bulla for the reason that, being a bulla, it must have been stamped to a letter sent from elsewhere, we can continue to consider the possibility that it was originally used only on the Temple Mount among other possibilities that it was sent from elsewhere. Since, however, it is conceivable that it was originally from the Temple Mount, this bulla provides some limited support for the possibility that an individual of the Immer family was an treasury or archive officer in the Temple, and it serves as possible corroboration for Jeremiah 20:1 which states that a different individual of the Immer family was the "chief officer" of the Temple.

The "Yehukal ben Shelamyahu" bulla
Photo source: Gabi Laron
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Institute of Archaeology
From the Taipei Times
Possible corroboration means very little. However, this artifact joins other bullae obtained from archaeological contexts (as opposed to the antiquities market) that date to the 6th century and all of which seem to corroborate details about individuals specificially mentioned by Jeremiah:

  • The Gemaryahu ben Shaphan (Gemariah ben Shafan) bulla, found at the "House of Bullae" in the City of David. This official is mentioned in Jeremiah 36:10-12.
  • The Yehukal ben Shelamyahu ben Shobi found recently by Eilat Mazar in the City of David excavations. This official is apparently mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 and in a slightly different spelling at 38:1. As I mentioned before, Eilat Mazar in her presentation covered this bulla as well.

There have been very few provenanced bullae uncovered so far that relate to possible Biblical figures. The books of Kings and Samuel mention some persons which have been identified in external inscriptions (Omri, Ahab, David, Hezekiah) but the books of Kings and Samuel span a great deal of time. The figures mentioned are extremely high profile and would be known centuries later. Two bullae uncovered in the City of David relate to biblical figures. One, the Gemaryahu ben Shaphan bulla, has been mentioned. The other is the cazaryahu ben Hilqiyahu bulla may perhaps relate to a high priest. However, these two names are extremely common in this era, and this high priest receives very little mention in the Bible. It is only through comparison between names in the genealogical lists of high priests in 1 Chronicles 5:39 and 9:11 and the name of the high priest in 2 Kings 22-23 (Hilqiyahu, no father mentioned) that this name can be ascertained. In fact, the possible identification was published in 1991, several years after the publication of the original bulla in 1986.

Unlike the book of Kings, the book of Jeremiah discusses events that occur in a very limited scope of place and time. The individuals are not high profile but rather court and Temple officials whose names may not have been known in other towns or later generations, had not some source been preserved from that time. This is why the increasing number of finds that all provide a similar background and which all locate individuals named in the book of Jeremiah may be very significant. This is a case where the sum is greater than its parts, forming the base for further conclusions. On its basis, we may even be allowed to suggest that the bulla was probably not sent from elsewhere but is indeed part of an original Temple archive or treasury. Another important conclusion is obviously that the book of Jeremiah is increasingly corroborated by external provenanced evidence. As Prof. Christopher Heard recently put it, "[This does not] demonstrate the historicity of any of the events reported for Jeremiah's life in the book of Jeremiah. However, the demonstrably genuine bullae do show that the narratives in Jeremiah are not complete fabrications of someone's imagination — they at least feature real people as characters."

On the negative side, perhaps prompted by the Gemaryahu bulla, it seems that individuals mentioned by Jeremiah have already become very attractive for forgers. It is partly for that reason, that I ignore such bullae as the Baruch or Yerahme'el bullae (one considered today definitely a forgery and another likely inauthentic and one I don't know about - see Yuval Goren's first comment here) or the seal mentioned above in the quote by Dr. Gabriel Barkay, on the basis of which the text of the Immer bulla is reconstructed as "to Ga'alyahu son of Immer." I don't know if that seal is provenanced but my guess it isn't, and from my point of view, it could refer just as well to Ga'alyahu, Gedalyahu or any other name that ends in ליהו lyhw. We simply don't know, and it's not even that significant of an issue.

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