The Danieli family is a familiar sight at the sifting site, returning every year at the start of the month of Av, to connect and feel the soil of the Temple Mount during the days in which the destruction of the Temple is remembered.
But this year was different, when 9-year-old Eliya struck the proverbial gold and found a jar handle of a type which archaeology afficionados may find familiar: belonging to a four-handled ovoid jar, common during the reign of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE.
But the real interesting bit isn’t the handle itself, but rather, the seal impressed upon it – a royal seal of the type known as ‘LMLK’ (“to the king”). On this particular handle, one can easily spot a winged symbol, along with barely discernable remnants of letters. Along with a previous handle, on which only a single wingtip remains, this brings our grand-total of this type of handles up to two.
In a previous post, we discussed the meaning of finding such seals from the Temple Mount (and the scarcity thereof). These impressions probably relate to a complex economic system from the 8th century BCE, where produce from across the kingdom was collected at four central sites, most likely by state authorities, effecting a taxation system.
These seals usually feature the word LMLK (meaning for or belonging to the king), along with one of four cities: Hebron, Ziph, Sokcho and mmšt. Our jar handle doesn’t have much in the way of surviving letters, but a single ש in the bottom-left is enough to classify is as mmšt. As opposed to the other three cities, the city name mmšt is not familiar to us and its identification is still under debate, but it was likely close to Jerusalem.
Subsequent to the discovery of the first LMLK jar-handles by Charles Warren in 1868 right outside the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount, over 2,000 have been discovered throughout the kingdom of Judah. These are of two distinct types, showing either a four-winged scarab or a two-winged round symbol, usually interpreted as a rolled-up scroll or as the sun disc. The royal seal of King Hezekiah also featured a winged sun, a common administrative symbol in the Ancient Near East.
With over 400 impressions discovered in layer III, Lachish boasts the largest amount of LMLK-stamped jar handles found in the kingdom of Judah. The destruction of this layer by the forces of Sennacherib, king of Assyria in 701 BCE, allows archaeologists to date all such impressions to the days of King Hezekiah.
The four-handled ovoid jars which these handles were attached to were probably used to collect taxes, not in gold and silver, but in produce – wine, oil and grain. The exact collection system remains unknown. In Jerusalem alone, over 300 impressions have been discovered, with a few dozen coming from the vicinity of the Temple Mount.
This is the sifting project’s second LMLK impression – relatively few compared to the number found just a small distance away – south of the Temple Mount and in the City of David. The question we must wrestle with now is what this means. Does this reflect an original scarcity in antiquity on the Temple Mount? Might this mean that whatever administrative activities made use of these jars, were not carried out within the confines of the current Temple Mount, but further to the south? Excavations in the area south of the Temple Mount do seem to indicate that this area was part of the Royal Compound of First Temple Period Jerusalem, which did extend into the current Temple Mount. Maybe, with additional research and some more finds revealed in the future, we will be able draw some conclusions as to what types of activities took place in different parts of this compound.