Yale Babylonian Collection

Fit for a king (but belonging to a servant). Etched into this orange carnelian seal is a sun disk with ram’s horns, flanked by asps and topped with three crowns of the type worn by the Egyptian god Osiris. Though the elaborate artwork on the top half of the seal is reminiscent of Egyptian art, the inscription on the bottom half is in Hebrew. The letters are inversed so that when impressed in clay it reads, “Belonging to Usha, servant of Ahaz.” The title of servant actually referred to a high-ranking court minister.

Why does the king’s minister have a seal with complicated and subtle iconography, while the seal of Ahaz himself is quite plain (“aniconic” is the scholarly term)? Seals were often engraved on both the front and the back. We know from Ahaz’s bulla that his seal was quite plain on its face, but he may have reserved more elaborate decoration for the back.