Zev Radovan, courtesy Ephraim Stern

Israelite seafarers may have plied the Mediterranean in ships like the one depicted in this modern impression made from a seal found near Samaria. The two lines of paleo-Hebrew script say “Oniyahu son of Merav.” Oniah is the Hebrew word for ship; the theophoric suffix –yahu refers to Yahweh, the personal name of Israel’s God. The name Oniyahu may thus mean “ship of Yahweh.” The seal owner probably belonged to a family of shipowners.

Although not well known for their seamanship, the Israelites of the ninth-century B.C.E. were nevertheless experienced sailors, as evidenced by this seal and by a passage in the Bible in which King Ahaziah of Israel offers his men to help the Judahites sail their ships (1 Kings 22:48–49). The Israelites, probably in King Ahab’s time (874–853 B.C.E.), appear to have developed Dor into a major seaport, converting the central bay into a harbor and building an enormous harbor storehouse.