The oldest known, authentic Hebrew seal inscribed with the divine name “Yahweh” dates to the first half of the eighth century B.C.E. In fact, until the discovery of the inscribed storage jar at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (see photo of inscribed storage jar), dated to 800 B.C.E., this seal contained the earliest occurrence of the divine name in any Israelite inscription. Made of highly polished red jasper blotched with white jasper veins, the finely crafted ovoid measures only about half an inch long and a quarter-inch wide. Although of uncertain provenance, it is believed to have been discovered in a tomb in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The seal lacks all ornamentation, such as a border or the double lines that usually separate lines of script. A longitudinal perforation through the seal suggests that the seal probably hung from a string.

Two lines of script appear on each side of the seal. On the obverse side (see photo, top), the inscription was written so as to be read directly, indicating that this side was not used for sealing. It says: mqnyw / ‘bd.yhwh, or “MiqneÆyaw, Servant of Yahweh.” On the reverse side (see photo, middle), the inscription was rendered as a mirror image so that its impression (see photo, bottom), when the seal is pressed into wet clay, will appear, in the correct direction. This inscription slightly modifies the other one by adding the possessive prefix, l-: lmqnyw / ‘bd.yhwh, or “(Belonging) to MiqneÆyaw, Servant of Yahweh.”

The owner’s name, MiqneÆyaw, is a familiar variant of mqnyhw (miqneÆyahu), which appears in the Bible (1 Chronicles 15:18, 21). MiqneÆyahu was one of 12 famous singer/musicians of early Israel appointed by the Levites at David’s behest to accompany the “ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets and cymbals …” to the City of David (1 Chronicles 15:28). The same name also appears on a seventh-century B.C.E. seal. It means either “creature of Yahweh,” or, less likely, “property of Yahweh.” The use of a symbol to indicate the division between words (transliterated as a period between ‘bd and yhwh) shows that the second line is a title rather than a patronymic (a paternal surname, usually with a prefix or suffix added to indicate descent, such as “Williamson”).

MiqneÆyaw’s title, ‘eŒbed yahweh, has already spawned whole books regarding its use and meaning in the oracles of Second Isaiah. Many scholars have attempted to limit this title to the royal office, referring to David or the son of David. However, an examination of West Semitic seals bearing titles of a similar form suggests that priestly officials often used this kind of title, “Servant of X.” Each sacral officer, king, prophet, seer, priest and singer could be termed a “Servant of X.”

We know that the MiqneÆyaw of our seal was not a king, nor among the known high priests, but he may have been some other high cultic official. Since names often recurred in priestly families, perhaps MiqneÆyaw was a namesake of MiqneÆyahu, the biblical singer in 1 Chronicles. Perhaps “MiqneÆyaw, Servant of Yahweh” whose name is engraved on this tiny seal, was not simply a temple functionary but was the chief musician in the Temple, a great cantor of early Israel.—Ed.

(Adapted from Frank M. Cross, “The seal of MiqneÆyaw, Servant of Yahweh,” in Ancient Seals and the Bible, ed. Leonard Gorelick and Elizabeth Williams-Forte [Malibu, CA: Undena, 1983], pp. 55–63.)