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Analysis of Clay Sealings Revealed Evidence of the Temple Treasury and the Royal Treasury of the Kingdom of Judah in the First Temple Period

Is not this laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries?

Deut. 32:34

A study we have conducted on dozens of clay sealings recovered in sifting of Temple Mount soil and in excavations at the Ophel Park (adjacent to the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount) has successfully identified evidence of both the Temple Treasury and the Royal Treasury of the Kingdom of Judah.

In the study, which appears in the upcoming edition of the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology, we analyze the use of clay sealings in the Ancient Near East, demonstrating that their primary function was the administration of goods kept in storerooms (“Treasuries”/”אוצרות” in Biblical Hebrew), a fact which is particularly evidenced by the large percentage of sealings which bear the impression of woven fabrics on their reverse.

The Use of Clay Sealings in Treasuries in the Ancient Near East

Clay Sealings (some times referred as bullae) are pieces of unfired clay which were used to secure storerooms doors and openings of storage vessels in antiquity. A lump of clay was first pressed over the knot of a cord securing a doorknob or the covering of a vessel. The administrator of the treasury would then impress his, or his superior’s seal upon the clay (much like the Biblical description of Pharaoh giving his own signet ring to Joseph (Gen 41:42)). This method of sealing prevented unauthorized persons from opening a storage area without leaving signs of tampering, since they would have had to either sever the cord or break the sealing. Evidence has been found that the remains of the broken sealings were saved in order to document the number of times that the storage area was opened. Thus, this method of securing commodities also served as a system of “bookkeeping”. In addition, by examining the names of the officials appearing on this type of sealings, it is possible to ascertain the names of the chief administrator of the treasury as well as to establish the fact that those who assisted him were generally members of his family.

Central treasuries were found to have existed in many royal palaces and temples and were used to store a variety of commodities, mainly agricultural produce (such as wine, oil, grain and honey). Occasionally, objects of value such as gold, silver, jewelry and precious stones were also stored there in small bags, and the sealings which secured them bore the impression of the bag’s woven fabric on their reverse side. A bag of this type was called a “bundle” (צרור) in the biblical source (eg. Job 14:17). Another type of sealings, which carried the impression of woven fabric on a flat-surface reverse, sealed storage vessels which were covered with a piece of textile.

The Sealings from Jerusalem

Reverse side of clay sealings from the Temple Mount, showing a fabric imprint. These clay sealings were probably in use in the First Temple’s treasury.

Since 2004, following the introduction of the wet-sifting method by the Temple Mount Sifting Project, the number of clay sealings originating in controlled archaeological work has increased significantly. This large collection of sealings facilitates research that was not possible in the past, relating to the use of the sealings and the contexts in which they were found.

On the reverse side of approximately 6% of the sealings found in Jerusalem, the impression of a woven fabric appears. These sealings were found primarily in two contexts: the soil sifted from the Temple Mount, and near the Temple Mount’s Southern enclosure wall (The Ophel Garden), where in the 1970’s and 80’s, as well in recent years, excavations were carried out by the Hebrew University under the supervision of the late Binyamin Mazar and the late Eilat Mazar. In these excavations, an impressive array of buildings was unearthed, attributable to the Royal Compound of the Kingdom of Judah.

About 21% of the First Temple period sealings found in the sifting of soil from the Temple Mount carried impressions of woven fabrics on their reverse. Sealings that were concave and had fabric impressions on their reverse were apparently attached to a bag (ṣeror in Biblical Hebrew) made of coarse fibers which likely contained pieces of silver, while sealings with flat reverses and fabric impressions probably sealed containers whose openings were covered with a woven cloth and in which agricultural produce was stored.

The clay sealing (Bulla) of Hiṣilyahu son of Immer, a member of the priestly Immer family, who served in the administration of the Temple Treasury.

Among the sealing recovered from the Temple Mount soil, one was discovered bearing an inscription reading “[..]צליהו בן אמר” ([..]ṣlyhw son of ʾmr) written in the Paleo-Hebrew script used during the latter First Temple period. This sealing has been previously published, but only lately, as a result of our comprehensive study, can its significance be fully understood. Our research suggests that the full name of the bearer of this seal was הִצִלְיָהוּ בן אִמֵר (Hiṣilyahu son of Immer). Immer is the name of a priestly family which served in the Temple in the 7th or early 6th Century BCE, in the period of the prophet Jeremiah who describes a prominent priestly figure by the name of Pashḥur son of Immer as the “paqid nagid in the House of the Lord” (Jer. 20:1-6). The titles paqid and nagid were used in the latter First Temple period by Priests and Levites who were appointed over the Treasuries. Thus, Hiṣilyahu the son of Immer was apparently the brother of Pashḥur (or a member of his family), who served as one of the officials managing the Temple Treasuries. The characteristics of this sealing match those of sealings which were used in the management of treasuries in the Ancient Near East – especially in the fact that they testify that family members of the chief administrator were employed together in the operation of the treasury.

Clay sealings discovered while sifting the refuse accumulations of the “Royal Building” discovered in the Jerusalem Archaeological Park (the Ophel) by late Dr. Eilat Mazar.

We also conducted a review of the array of artifacts found in the Ophel excavations, and revealed evidence of the existence of the Royal Treasury at the site, adjacent to the public structure in which a large number of storage jars were discovered and was referred to by the excavators as “the Royal Building”. In the more recent excavations at the site, 34 sealings were discovered in the layers of the building’s refuse dump. Of these, 14 (41%) carry impressions of woven fabric on their reverse. The inscriptions on many of these sealings mention the name of a common patriarch (named Bes). Upon another sealing which has already been published, the name of ‘Hezekiah King of Judah’ appeared. The excavators identified this structure as a royal bakery, but reviewing other finds discovered within and near this building strengthen the suggestion that this structure was indeed a treasury, such as:

Drawing of a jar fragment discovered in the Royal Building, bearing the inscription “LeSar HaO[…]”. The researchers suggest that the full reading should be “Lesar Haotzarot”– “To the Minister of the Treasuries”. (Drawing: Shifra Eisenstein)
  • The architectural plan of the building is one of an elongated storehouse, in which a large number of storage jars were found, which matches the characteristics of other storage facilities discovered at other sites dated to this period.
  • A family connection is seen between the owners of the seals imprinted on the clay sealings, which mention a single patriarch named bs (‘Bes’) who apparently managed the treasury.
  • The Egyptian origin of the name ‘Bes’, joins the Egyptian origin of the name ‘Pashḥur’, the manager of the Temple Treasury. This raises a question, due to the fact that it refers to a hebrew Priest. However, the phenomenon is also seen in additional names from the very beginning of the Israelite Priesthood (Aaron, Hur, Phineas, Hophni, etc), and scholars indeed discussed this point. It appears that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is that the Kingdom of Judah adopted accounting, measuring and administrative systems originating in Egypt, and it is therefore plausible that officials educated in Egypt were employed in the treasuries and they were influenced by its culture – or perhaps Egyptian-born officials took part in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah.
  • An inscription incised upon one of the storage jars found in the building reads “לשר האו…” (“To the Minister of the O..”). We suggest completing the inscription as ‘שר האוצרות’ (Minister of the Treasuries), rather than ‘שר האופים’ (Minister of the Bakery) as was suggested in the past.
  • Together with the sealings an ivory plaque marked with indentations was found, which appears to be some sort of administrative counting device.

In summary, the assemblage of sealings revealed in the Temple Mount soil and in the Ophel Garden constitute concrete evidence for the existence of two central Treasuries in Jerusalem, which managed the economy of the Kingdom of Judah. Visitors today in the Ophel Garden (the Jerusalem Archaeological Park) who stroll past the elongated building in which restored storage jars are on display, are unaware of important significance of this structure, which served as the Kingdom of Judah’s Royal Treasury.

The sealing of the son of Immer is the first Hebrew inscription from the First Temple period which originates from the Temple Mount itself. Since, at present, it is not possible to conduct orderly archaeological excavations on the Temple Mount, this inscription remains the only epigraphic evidence originating from the Temple Mount enclosure which casts light on the economic-administrative activity that took place in this governmental, religious and administrative center of Judah during the First Temple period.

The “Royal Building” in the Ophel Park, identified by the researchers as the Royal Treasury.
Plan of the Royal Treasury and adjacent buildings, dated to the first Temple period. (drawing: Alexander Pechuro)
Young Eilat Mazar standing by Storage jars discovered by Benjamin Mazar in the Royal Building. (Photo: Benjamin Mazar’s Temple Mount Excavations)

See also media reports about this study at:

Jerusalem Post

Times of Israel

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