Find and Finder of the Month: ‘LMLK’ Seal Impression, found by Eliya Danieli
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.
G2T–not an M2x … definitely no Shin in the “bottom-left” for any known designs matching this icon. I’d recommend examining the area above the icon for traces of the contiguous “LMLK” inscription vs. a non-contiguous “LM_LK”.
why couldn’t it be M2D?
Three reasons: 1) The icon on this handle does not match the M2D’s design. If in theory it is an M2D format (with a Shin in the bottom-left), it would be the first-known impression from a 2nd M2D seal-design, in which case we’d have to rename them something like M2Da & M2Db (not impossible, just extremely unlikely). 2) The real M2D’s Shin would actually be located farther away from the icon in the bottom-left region where no impression remains on this handle due to the clay’s shape (ridge). Any Shin you think you see there is illusory (a tricky problem due to clay anomalies). 3) Its icon perfectly matches the G2T’s icon (out of all 21 known designs). Along with the contiguous “LMLK” letters I’d expect to see upon close examination of this handle, I’d also expect to see the G2T’s distinctively small slash “/” mark adjacent to the icon’s upper-right “shoulder” (where the head joins the wing). The real M2D has a larger slash in its top-left register (& the Z2U has one farther away from the icon’s shoulder). By the way, great job on your continued work on this project. I just made another donation ($50 for the dirt sample).
Thanks George for the detailed comment and thanks for the donation! I’m not an expert on this subject as you are, so I trust your judgement, but can you really see the details of the icon from the small picture we shared? also there are remnant of one or two letters at the bottom, but I’m not sure the SHIN reading was correct.
Re: mmst, city of the king in 8th c BCE…My suggestion for the city is somewhat complex. Mmst, wm-mmst, etc. in ancient Egyptian indicates a body of water, pool, and the like (thus the name Moses, pulled him from the water.) They used two or three mm’s to indicate water, with Mms for Moshe. Many scholars now believe Moses’ crossing site (the sea of reeds, yam suph) was that section of the Red Sea between the Sinai and Saudi Arabia. In Job (40:21-23) there is reference to the reeds (near enough to where Job was in Uz for him to recognize the beast), with later mention of the Jordan, which flows into the Dead Sea. Perhaps in Job’s Time it flowed down past Elath (Eilat), which was rebuilt by King Azariah 2Kings 14:22 in the 8th c BCE. Just a thought…
Your observations about the name of Moses & being pulled from water were shared by Claude Reignier Conder in the journal, Palestine Exploration Quarterly vol. 33, January 1901: “The word [MMST] evidently comes from the root MSE ‘to draw forth,’ as Moses was drawn from the Nile. It seems to me that, if the words LMLK are explained ‘To Moloch,’ the meaning becomes clear, viz., ‘Dedicated to the Moloch who presides over the water that will be drawn by means of this jar.'” Great minds think alike, right?