David Harris

Hebrew bullae from Jeremiah’s time, shortly before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Mostly oval-shaped, these small lumps of clay—about one inch across their longest dimension—were used to secure important documents. Each bears a seal impression written in the old Hebrew script used in pre-Exilic Israel and Judah. Most of the inscriptions bear personal names; eleven bullae are stamped with official titles. Two of the small clay lumps speak to us directly from the pages of the Bible because they bear the seal imprints of Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, and Yerahme’el the “son of the king.” The precise designation of this title is a matter of some uncertainty. Professor Avigad believes it refers to a member of the royal family, though not necessarily the king’s son.

These bullae are a few of a hoard of more than 250. Professor Avigad suggests that they were part of an official administrative archive that originated in Jerusalem. When the Babylonians set Jerusalem and all of Judah to the torch, the bullae were baked hard, preserving them as reminders of the documents they once sealed and of the people who wrote them.