Two personal Hebrew seals
by Robert Deutsch
Two personal Hebrew seals of exceptional quality and interest have recently surfaced on the Israel antiquities market. 
The first seal to be discussed here (Fig. 1) is made of red carnelian measuring 9.9×14.1×6.5mm and has an oval form, a dome shape, a flat base and is perforated lengthwise. The seal is set in a silver pendant and fixed with a wire passing through the perforation without a bezel. The flat base is framed by an elliptical line and a four-winged scarab is depicted within the frame. The inscription, carved under the scarab, consists of three Hebrew letters of the late 8th century BCE and reads: zk’ “Zaka”, a hypocoristic personal name, literally meaning ‘Be pure’ (WSS, p. 495). A biblical parallel with the same meaning is the name zky ‘Zakkay’ (Ezra 2: 9; Neh. 7: 14).
The name is rare in Hebrew epigraphic material and is attested on two identical seal impressions on storage jar handles of the late 8th century BCE, found at the Ein-Shems (Beth Shemesh) excavations: lksl’ zk’ “Belonging to Kisla (son of) Zaka”, both to be found in the University Museum, Philadelphia (WSS 674a-b). The name is also found on an Aramaic seal: lzk’ br mlkm’z “Belonging to Zaka, son of Milkom’az” (WSS 792). ‘Milkom’az is a theophoric name meaning ‘Milkom is mighty’ and contains the Ammonite theophoric element ‘Milkom’ known from typical Ammonite personal names (WSS 860, 940). The name Zak-ki-i “Zakki” is also found as a witness on a cuneiform tablet from Gezer dated to 651 BCE (Becking 1981-2: 82-84).
The scarab iconography is depicted with four stretched wings pushing two tiny balls of dung, one with his fore legs and one with his hind legs. Such four-winged scarab beetles are well documented on Hebrew and West Semitic seals and seal impressions (WSS 59, 163, 475, 775, 832, 837, 987; Deutsch and Lemaire 2000: 112, 139). They are especially known from the so called lmlk seal impressions on storage jar handles positively dated to the late 8th century BCE, in the time of Hezekiah the King of Judah (Ussishkin 1977). The two-winged scarab was also the royal emblem of Hezekiah, proven by its appearance on two of his royal seals preserved in several seal impressions found on bullae (Cross 1999; Deutsch 2002).
The second seal (Fig. 2) is made of white and brown banded agate, scaraboid, oval and perforated lengthwise. The seal measures 11.8×15.4×3.9mm. On the upper half the dome is missing. It is broken off at the perforation, which is the seal’s weakest point. This may indicate that the seal, undoubtedly set in a ring, received a knock and the flat part was lost by its owner while the upper part remained in the ring. The seal’s surface is divided into two registers by a single line. In the upper larger register a seated winged griffin is depicted. Placed around him are three symbols: a papyrus plant, an ankh-shaped stand and a nsw hieroglyph. In the lower register five 8th century BCE Hebrew letters are inscribed, which read: lsn, “Belonging to Ushna”. Ushna is a Hebrew personal name unattested in the Bible. It is probably a shortened form of a theophoric name such as snyhw wit the root ws, to give (strength) (Fowler 1988: 335), meaning ‘May Yahweh give (strength)’ (Avigad 1979: 121). The name appears on four seals, on one of an Israelite royal official seal and on three Judean personal seals:
- lsn bd hz, “Belonging to Ushna, servant of Ahaz” (WSS 5)
- lksl sn, “Belonging Kisla, (son of) Ushna (Deutsch and Lemaire 2000: 19)
- lsn, “Belonging to Ushna (WSS 40)
- sn, “[Belonging to U]shna” (WSS 100)
The iconography consists of a seated winged griffin wearing the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Standing, climbing, seated or crouching griffins are very common emblems in the 8th century Hebrew and West Semitic iconography and are found on many personal seals, specially on Northern Israelite ones (WSS 44, 85, 116, 135, 143, 160, 168, 182, 190, 193, 198; Deutsch and Lemaire 2000: 6, 9, 10, 42, 100, 103, etc.).
The seals presented above are important additions to the growing corpus of West Semitic personal seals and seal impressions. They are valuable contributions to the increase and continuity of our knowledge of the history, individuals and events of biblical times.
- Yes, fabricated in ancient times.
- Indeed, the iconography is of Egyptian influence, but in my opinion its meaning was not borrowed.
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