One of the most exciting and significant archaeological findings discovered at Emek Tzurim is the bulla (seal impression) of Gedaliah, son of Pashur.
What is a bulla (seal impression)?
Anyone who has ever paid a water utilities bill in Israel knows that the quantity of water used in their home during a billing period is measured not by a sensor in the offices of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, but rather by a meter located in their home. Ostensibly, this arrangement invites mischief. What stops people from opening their water meter and turning the dial backwards?
What stops those contemplating such a move is a small lead seal that bears the utility’s stamp. If anyone attempts to open the water meter, the lead seal will break and no amount of repair work will ever be able to cover up the damage.
This is by no means a modern invention. Thousands of years ago, even before writing was invented, human beings used seals to signify official authorizations: for example, that the cash box has not been opened (and no one has taken anything) from the time when the royal treasurer counted the gold coins in the treasury, or the document on which the contract or covenant has been written has not been opened (and no changes have been made) from the time it was signed and sealed.
This kind of procedure was also followed in the biblical Kingdom of Judah. In the City of David, where the municipal archives were apparently located, archaeologists have discovered dozens of bullae (or seal impressions) that were apparently used to seal contracts and covenants.
In the Temple Mount Sifting project, where the debris on the Temple Mount is sifted, several bullae were uncovered; however, the most moving of them was that of Gedaliah, son of Pashur and a member of the Imer family.
Who was Gedaliah, son of Pashur?
The Bible refers to Pashur, a member of the Imer family, which is explicitly mentioned in the Bible and which was one of 24 priestly families whose members served in the Temple in Jerusalem.
One of Pashur’s sons, Gedaliah, served in the Temple; one day, in the context of his duties, he happened to count something that was of great value. We can only guess what it was. Perhaps he counted pieces of gold and silver donated to the Temple, or pieces of myrrh and frankincense that were to be used for the Temple’s incense offering, or semolina to be used in a grain offering, or perhaps it was something else entirely.
In any event, after Gedaliah had finished counting whatever he had been counting, he placed it in a small bag, affixed to it a piece of wet clay and stamped his personal seal into the clay . This act signified to one and all that he was providing his official and personal guarantee as to the bag’s contents. The impression of his seal states: “[Property of] Gedaliah, son of Pashur.”
Before the bag was opened, the impression of Gedaliah’s seal was examined and found to be intact, whereupon the seal was broken. The broken seal was thrown into some corner and the contents of the bags were removed and used for whatever purpose they were intended.
A clay seal that has dried in the open air is a very fragile item that can survive only a few years. Fortunately, the seal had been thrown into a place where a fire was burning. The fire refined the clay, turning it into a piece of pottery that was able to survive for thousands of years, until its recent discovery.
The reverse side of the bulla bears the impression of the fabric to which it was attached. On the obverse side, one can see the borders decorating the seal and the remnants of the Hebrew letters “[Geda]liah[u, a member of the] Imer [family].” From the orthographical and paleographical standpoints, the remnants of these letters tell us when the seal was created: the late First Temple period – specifically, in the 7th century B.C.E. or perhaps even the early 6th century B.C.E.