Zev Radovan

The house of the bullae, built near the Stepped-Stone Structure just below the City of David, the oldest section of Jerusalem, has yielded the largest number of Hebrew seal impressions ever found in a controlled excavation. These bullae—lumps of clay on which seals were pressed to secure official documents—measure about a half inch across; they were found in 1982 by archaeologist Yigal Shiloh, in a building destroyed during the Babylonian conquest of 586 B.C.E.

Of the hoard of 51 bullae, 41 are legibly inscribed with their owners’ names. One of these names is known from the Bible: Gemariah son of Shaphan (in the photo, the third bulla from the top at the far right). Gemariah was a prominent member of the court of King Jehoiakim (608–598 B.C.E.); it was from Gemariah’s chamber that Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch, publicly read from the scroll containing Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 36:10). Not only do these bullae suggest that pre-Exilic Jerusalem was a city of some importance, but they help to confirm aspects of the Bible’s historical account.