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The seals of the ancient Near East played a number of roles - as legal instruments, amulets, votive objects, funerary deposits, and especially as objects d'art. No other medium affords so continuous or so abundant a record of the graphic response to the world as observed and imagined by the peoples of antiquity. In ancient Israel, they were usually stamp seals (like the ones in this exhibit), and only rarely cylinder seals in the Mesopotamian fashion. Stamp seals were probably worn at the wrist on bracelets or on the finger in signet-rings; cylinder seals were more likely mounted on pins and attached to a necklace. Hence the famous simile of the Song of Songs (8:6a): "Place me as the seal upon your heart, as the seal upon your arm." In addition to their decorations, seals often carried inscriptions, typically identifying their owner by name and profession and sometimes adding their status as servant of the king or other high personage. They may thus provide first-hand evidence of persons named in the Bible or of fashions in name-giving. For further details see: Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals by Nahman Avigad, revised and completed by Benjamin Sass. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1997. On display are three seals from ancient Israel in the Babylonian Collection of Yale University and one which has not yet been published and is not of Israelite origin.



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Inscription: Belonging to Ushna servant of Ahaz

Scaraboid of orange carnelian, double line border and field dividers; sun-disk with ram's horn, pendant uraei (snakes) and three Osiris (ancient Egyptian deity) crowns flanked by uraei in top register. Inscription with word dividers in two lower registers. The use of the scarab (beetle) shape as well as the motifs of the uraeus (the sacred asp of the headdress of the Ph araohs) and the Osiris crowns suggest that the iconography is borrowed from Egyptia n prototypes. The inscription is written in the ancient Hebrew script and not the square Assyrian characters which were introduced in the Second Temple period and are in use till the present. Though we do not know who Ushna was, the Ahaz of this seal was the eighth century king of Judah mentioned in II Kings 16.

Inscription: Belonging to Hanan`el son of Matan`el

Scaraboid of amethystine quartz, perforated. Single-line border, double-line field dividers, ram's head in middle register flanked by monkeys?, plant behind each, inscription in top and bottom registers. The name Hanan'el means graced by God and Matan'el, gift of God

Inscription: Belonging to Natanyahu son of Buzi

Bluish chalcedony scaraboid, perforated; triple-line border, lotus-bud field divider, two inscribed registers, small flower. The name of this seal's owner, Natanyahu, means given by God.

Although shaped like a seal, this object is inscribed in positive form. Thus it was not intended to be impressed in clay but more likely, to serve as an amulet or votive object. In that case, its inscription in palaeo-Hebrew letters of approximately the 8th. to the 6th. centuries B.C.E., may not represent a personal name but could conceivably be read as LKNRMLK: "for the lyre of (the deity) Moloch" or "belonging to the lyre of (the ) king".

Cyrus Cylinder (cast), 6th Century B.C.E.

When Cyrus captured Babylon in 538 B.C., he decreed: "All the kingdoms of the earth has the Lord, the God of the heavens given to me, and he has appointed me to rebuild for Him a temple in Jerusalem which is Judaea - whoever among you from all His people - the Lord his God is with him and he may go up" (II Chronicles 36:23; cf. Ezra 1:2-3). Thus, his own inscription confirms the Biblical record, proclaiming: "I returned to the sacred cities ... the sanctuaries of which have been in ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations." The text is still incomplete, but composed of two fragments, the larger one belonging to the British Museum, the smaller one to the Yale Babylonian Collection. The two are joined together in this plaster cast.

Literature: P.-R. Berger, "Der Kyros-Zylinder mit dem Zusatzfragment Babylonian Inscriptions...Nies (BIN) 2:32...," ZA 64 (1974) 192-234; Israel Eph'al, "The western minorities in Babylonia in the 6th-5th centuries B.C.E: maintenance and cohesion," Orientalia 47 (1978) 74-90.