Monday, March 07, 2016

A Woman of Independent Archaeological Stature

From the Israel Antiquities Authority:

A Rare 2,500 Year Old Seal Bearing the Name “Elihana bat Gael” was Discovered in Excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park

Two seals bearing Hebrew names were uncovered in a large building dating to the First Temple period in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the Giv‘ati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park. 

After nine years of excavating...archaeologists at the site succeeded in reaching the strata of ancient Jerusalem dating to the First Temple period where a surprise awaited them: they found the two seals inside a structure built of magnificent ashlars. The researchers believe that the well-constructed building was used as an administrative center.

...On the rare woman’s seal, which is made of semi-precious stone, appears the mirror-writing of “to Elihana bat Gael”, inscribed in ancient Hebrew letters. The female owner of the ring is mentioned here together with the name of her father.

According to Dr. Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, “Seals that belonged to women represent just a very small proportion of all the seals that have been discovered to date. This is because of the generally inferior economic status of women, apart from extraordinary instances such as this. Indeed, the name Elihana does not appear in the Bible, and there is no other information regarding the identity of the woman, but the fact that she possessed a seal demonstrates her high social status”. Dr. Misgav adds, “...It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence even after her marriage and therefore her father’s name was retained; however, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period”. The name Eliha is known from a contemporary Ammonite seal and is the feminine form of the name Eli, known from the Bible. The script appearing on the seal is remarkably similar to the script on Ammonite seals, and this might indicate the foreign origin of the artisan who carved the seal and possibly the foreign origin of Elihana, who apparently came from east of the Jordan River”.  


Important Update:

...The script of both of these seals is the standard Old Hebrew script. The script of both seals is nicely done, certainly the work of a trained seal maker (for an important reference in Second Temple Jewish Literature to a seal-maker, see especially Ben Sira 38:27). I have seen some suggestions by some scholars that the script of the ‘Elyhnḥ Seal might be Ammonite. This is definitely not the case. The script of both of these seals is Old Hebrew. Note in particular the stance of the bet (on both seals), reflective of the standard recumbent stance of the Old Hebrew, rather than Ammonite. Regarding the date, I would contend that a date in the late 8th century or early 7th century BCE is the best palaeographic date. Regarding language, it can be said that the language of both of these seals is Old Hebrew, and, of course, the presence of the (Judean) Yahwistic theophoric on the Ben Shebnyahu Seal argues for this as well. Finally, I should also like to emphasize that the reason it was quite rare for women to have seals was not because, as some have apparently suggested, because of the “generally inferior economic status of women.” Rather, I would contend that it was because ancient Near Eastern societies (including that of the Iron Age Levant) were patriarchal. For this reason, men were normally responsible for most of the agreements that would require the sealing of documents...

In sum, these two seals are Old Hebrew. They are both well done, the work of a well-trained seal maker. The palaeographic date that I would assign to them is that of the chronological horizon that spans from the late 8th century to the early 7th century BCE. The Yahwistic theophorics are predictable, but still important. The fact that one of these seals is that of a woman demonstrates that she was a very prominent woman indeed, someone who must have engaged in business and legal activities that necessitated her owning a seal. This is most impressive and certainly the most important component of these new finds.

Christopher A. Rollston, George Washington University


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