We in Israel are blessed with a glorious past, much of which is still preserved underground just waiting to be discovered. Throughout the year, especially in the summer, we are amazed with the many new archaeological finds found throughout the Land of Israel. Incredibly, one of the most amazing finds of 2015 was just released and it might be related to Biblical Israel! But it wasn’t found in Israel, or yet even in the Middle East, it was found Russia!
Russian archaeologists excavating in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, near the Ukrainian border, found an ancient grave of a Sarmatian woman from 2,000 years ago. Among the many finds in her undisturbed tomb was a trove of gold and silver jewelry, arrowheads, knives, sword, what looks like to be an ancient seal in ancient Hebrew, and many other fascinating finds. For more on these finds: Daily Mail
As someone with a great interest in Biblical Archaeology, the most interesting find for those us interested in the Biblical past was the seal stone. While the Daily Mail and the original Russian article in Scientific Russia claim that the “gem” has an inscription in Phoenician or Aramaic, it actually looks more like First Temple-period Hebrew! (5th-8th century BCE)
The gem stone seal found in Russia
Disappointingly, after a quick Google Search, I found very little on the topic published in the past few days since news of the incredibly discovery were announced. Most news articles found were just recycling the Daily Mail article and were not interested or didn’t know about its possible Biblical connection.
Not being an expert myself in ancient Semitic languages, I was very happy to find Jim Davila’s fantastic Paleo-Judaica Blog, where Mr. Davila confirms that it is a stone seal written in ancient Hebrew script.
This is a stone seal written in the Paleo-Hebrew script. As far as I know, this type of seal was only made between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE. (But my knowledge of the subject is not particularly up to date.) It is in one of the Northwest Semitic languages, but I don’t know enough about the paleography of this period to identify whether it is Hebrew, Phoenician, Aramaic, Ammonite, Edomite, or Moabite. Someone who knows the scripts better than I do could probably discern the national origin of this one and its date to within a century or so.
The letters are inscribed backwards on the seal so that the mirror-image imprint it leaves will read in the right direction. This is normal for such objects. The first letter of the inscription was inscribed last and it looks squashed, probably because the stonemason miscalculated and didn’t leave enough room for it. The seal reads לאלישב (l’lyšb), “belonging to Elyashiv.” Elyashiv (Eliashib) is attested as a man’s name in the Hebrew Bible in Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, and on at least a couple of 7th-century BCE Hebrew seals. I can’t find it in any of the other languages, but I haven’t looked comprehensively and some of them may well have used it too.
The big question is, what was this turn-of-the-era Sarmatian woman in Russia doing with a Northwest Semitic seal from four to eight centuries before her time? The report is that it was scientifically excavated, so forgery or salting seem exceedingly unlikely. I guess it could have been a family heirloom. It certainly raises other questions about trade between Eastern Europe and the Middle East from the late Iron Age to the Hellenistic period. Assuming this report is accurate in its particulars, this is an extraordinary discovery and I think we shall be hearing more about it.
So there we have it, the big mystery of Biblical Archaeology in 2015! What was this ancient Biblical-period seal, possibly having belonged to a man name Elyashiv” doing in Russia. And why was it buried over 500 years later? In what language is the seal written and when? We will have to wait for the experts to clue us in, but the answers are sure to be fascinating. Be on the lookout, because this is just the beginning of what might be the most important find of 2015 in the world of Biblical Archaeology.
Check out some ancient Hebrew seals:
Hebrew Seal bearing name of “Saul” found in Jerusalem in 2008
This seal found in Megiddo in 1904 reads “belonging to Shema, servant of Jeroboam.”
This seal from the year 597 BCE reads “To Padajah, Son of the King”
The controversial seal of King Ahaz, possibly from the 8th century BCE
Stone Stamp Seal of an archer, 7th century BCE found in the Western Wall Plaza in 2008.