Yehukal Seal Picture and Discussion (Updated)

Here is a pretty clear picture of the Yehukal bulla that was discovered by Eilat Mazar in her Jerusalem dig:

(Thanks to Joseph I. Lauer for the link; the picture was published in the Taipei Times)

Here is a tracing of the bulla I made to show the letters in greater relief; note that the first nun begins on the second line and is incomplete and the heh-vav at the end of the second line were difficult to make out in their entirety (Thanks to Ed Cook for the identification of the partial nun).

While it is not the easiest to decipher, it appears to read: ליהוכל בנ שלמיהו בנ שבי, which could be translated variously as “Belonging to Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobi” or “Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobai.” I translated the name שלמיהו with a shin primarily because that is a known name (Jer 36:14, 26; 38:1; Ezra 10:41; 1Chron 26:14), while Selemyahu is not. The same argument can be made for Shobi (2Sam 17:27) and Shobai (Ezra 2:42; Neh 7:45). Moreover, since most (if not all) Hebrew names are related to verbal roots with specific meanings and include theophoric elements which interplay with the meaning of the root, both Shelemyahu and Shobi make sense, while the alternatives readings with the letter sin do not.

This may very well be the same person mentioned in Jeremiah 37:3 יהוכל בן שלמיה “Jehucal son of Shelemiah” (NRSV) and 38:1 יוכל בן שלמיהו “Jucal son of Shelemiah” (NRSV). Robert Deutsch, however, dates the bulla on paleographical grounds to the late 8th, or the first half of the 7th century BC, precluding the identification with the Yehukal mentioned by Jeremiah. In respone to this dating, Peter van der Veen has defended Mazar’s date well within the range of Jeremiah’s career. He notes: “the unequal stance of the horizontal lines as well as the long top horizontal bisecting the vertical shaft are strong indications of a late 7th-6th cent. BC date (as we know from all the provenanced material!!). The lack of field dividers (though more common around 700 BC) is not an argument against a late Iron Age IIC date. Similar bullae were found at Lachish Str. II and hence are well attested ca. 600 BC” (From Jim West on Biblical Theology).

For those who may know Hebrew, but are unfamiliar with the archaic Hebrew alphabet, here is part of a handout I give to intermediate Hebrew students:

There are a number of good discussions of the seal on the web: Ed Cook perhaps has the best at Ralph the Sacred River. Jim West also has a number of posts on the subject at Biblical Theology blog: here and here. Duane Smith at Abnormal Interests has also posted a good discussion of the seal.

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