In 586 BCE, Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem and sent most of its population into exile; 50 years later, Persia overran the Babylonian empire, and the Persian king, Cyrus the Great, allowed the exiled Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple. These events are narrated in the Hebrew Bible and attested by contemporaneous evidence, but the period between the Babylonian conquest and the fall of Persia to Alexander the Great around 333 BCE is, in the words of the Yiftaḥ Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “a black hole in archaeology.” But two items recently unearthed in Jerusalem may help to change that, writes Amanda Borschel-Dan:
The two recent discoveries in an ongoing excavation in the Givati parking lot—a clay “official” seal impression and a strange . . . pottery sherd seal with fake writing—help illuminate the enigma that is 6th-century-BCE Jerusalem history. There are only ten other similar artifacts discovered in Israel that date to the Persian period.
Whereas the seal impression is made in an official imperial style, perhaps depicting a god, the crude clay seal is locally made, presumably by an illiterate underling. Combined, said Shalev, the seal and seal impression illustrate all levels of officialdom in the reviving city. They indicate, he added, that after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews, Jerusalemites were rebuilding the city, including its bureaucracy, as told in the Bible.
The clay seal was made from an eight-centimeter in diameter reused potsherd. Shalev called it a “strange item” and said it appears that someone took a piece of a broken vessel and reused it, while carving into it “curved figures” that were made to look like letters. He called the pseudo-epigraphic seal “a very unique item” that appears to have been “very local” in its make, as opposed to the official Babylonian-style impression.
More about: Ancient Persia, Babylon, Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem