Story of the Babylonian Seal

A 2500 year old stone seal discovered outside the Old City walls has caused excitement in Jerusalem since it connects archaeology and the Hebrew Bible. The seal depicts worshippers offering incense to the Sumerian god Sin, symbolized by a crescent moon, and has the words “Temech” engraved on it. According to the Book of Nehemiah, a book of the Hebrew Bible which contains an account of the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, the Temech family were servants of the First Temple sent into exile following the destruction of the temple in 586 B.C.E.

According to Dr. Eilat Mazar who led the dig

“The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archeology and the biblical sources and serves as actual evidence of a family mentioned in the Bible,” she said. “One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find.”[First Temple seal found in Jerusalem]

The seal which has been dated 538-445 B.C.E is called the First Temple seal by Jerusalem Post which is odd because the First Temple was already destroyed by then. Technically it is a Persian seal since it was made in Babylon and depicts a Sumerian God.

There is scepticism about the way the characters on the seal have been read.

Writing on the ANE-2 e-mail list, Peter van der Veen disagrees with Mazar’s reading. If you examine the figures below, you can easily see why. Engravers normally put the letters on a seal backwards, so that the seal impression in clay would show the letters in their correct orientation. A reversed tav might not immediately grab your attention, but a reversed mem practically shouts, “Hey, read me in the mirror!”[But can it balance a beach ball on its nose?]

If you read it in reverse, those characters read, “Shelomith” and not “Temech.” Even if you assume that the words read “Temech”, what about the biblical connection? How can you assume that this one name exactly refers to the person n the Bible?

The name תמח does indeed appear in a list of the Bible—precisely twice, with reference to the same individual, in a list of “temple servants” (Ezra 2:53 // Nehemiah 7:55). Mazar hasn’t adduced a shred of evidence to connect that תמח with the biblical תמח—nor could anyone expect her to do so, since all we know about the biblical תמח is his name and (possibly) occupation. Without knowing how common the name תמח was among Judeans of the relevant period, we have no way even to put a probability figure on the seal’s תמח being the biblical תמח.[But can it balance a beach ball on its nose?]

Also if he is the Biblical Temech, what is this monotheist doing in front of a Sumerian God?

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