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The ‘Saul’ Seal

5 September 2009

Concerning the Bone Seal (from Jerusalem) inscribed with the name Shaul. The seal was found in the “Walls around Jerusalem National Park.”

Basic Data:

(1) The seal is written in mirror image (the norm for seals). (2) The script is definitively Old Hebrew. (3) The seal consists of two registers. This is fairly typical for Old Hebrew seals. (4) First inscribed register: The personal name “Shaul” is preceded by the prepositional lamed, as is the norm for seals. (5) The second half of the first inscribed register is broken. (6) The second register is preserved rather nicely, with the first letter of that line being a resh. (7) Arguably, the resh is the final letter of the patronymic (in such a case, letters such as ayin and zayin [yielding azaryahu] or gimel and mem [yielding ‘mryahu] could then be restored at the end of the first register). Restorations are precarious things, therefore, I personally would not wish to posit a particular restoration as being probable. (8) The yahu theophoric of this seal’s second register is, of course, reflective of the norm for Judean Old Hebrew personal names (contrast the yaw theophoric for many Northern Israelite personal names attested in the Reisner Samaria Ostraca, for example).


Dating seals is difficult, because the script of seals tends to be more conservative than the script of ostraca. For this reason, the plus or minus for seals must be greater than for ostraca. However, for well-preserved seals, with a constellation of diagnostic letters all pointing toward the same chronological horizon, typological dating can be done with substantial reliability by a trained palaeographer. With such caveats in mind, here are some palaeographic reflections: (1) The lamed is a fine Old Hebrew lamed. The morphology of this lamed is very well-attested in the 8th century Old Hebrew epigraphic corpus (note the nice hook). Obviously, there are some 7th and early 6th century-seals with hooked lameds, so I wouldn’t want to push this feature that hard. (2) The shin is also a fine exemplar and falls nicely into the script typology of the 8th century as well (note especially the high junctions of the internal strokes…this is very important because even in seals the junctions of the internal strokes “drop” through time…note, for example, the lower junctions of the seals from Arad VI-VII). (3) The alep is also vintage 8th century (note the length of the vertical stroke intersecting the horizontal strokes). However, long verticals persist in Old Hebrew seals into the 7th and 6th centuries, therefore, I would not want to push this feature of the script all that hard. (4) the resh fits nicely into the 8th century typology as well (especially because of the relative length of the vertical stroke), but I would not want to put too much emphasis on the morphology and stance of the resh. (5) The yod is very important for the purposes of dating Old Hebrew epigraphs of various sorts (e.g., ostraca, stone inscriptions, seals). Note that the yod of this seal preserves the classical form of the Old Hebrew yod. However, of greatest import is the presence of the tick on the bottom horizontal of the yod. This feature is a rather ephemeral feature of the Old Hebrew script, attested in the Reisner Samaria Ostraca (early 8th century), Royal Steward Stone Inscription (late 8th century), Gibeon Inscribed Jar Handles (late 8th century or very early 7th century…pace Cross, who originally dated them later). I have discussed this diagnostic feature of yod in various publications, some of which have appeared and some of which are forthcoming. (6) The fact that the top horizontal of he does not have even a modest “overlap” might be of some import (as an early feature), but I wouldn’t want to push this feature very hard (as seals from the late 7th and early 6th centuries often don’t have much of an overlap…contrast, of course, the script of Old Hebrew ostraca). (7) The morphology of the waw in this seal is more characteristic of seals of the 8th century, rather than of later periods (e.g., late 7th or early 6th centuries). Therefore, I would be inclined to date this waw to the 8th century, rather than later.

Summary: There are no “late” features of the script of this seal that would suggest a date in the mid to late 7th or early 6th centuries BCE. Rather the palaeographic features of this seal all line up nicely with the Old Hebrew script of the 8th century. Moreover, I would be most inclined to date it earlier in the 8th century, rather than later.


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