A Royal Ammonite Seal Impression
by Robert Deutsch

The subject of this paper is a minute black clay bulla bearing the seal impression of Barak'el the king of Ammon.1 Its size is 15.9x16.9mm; the impression is 10x8mm.

the bulla of Barak'el
the bulla of Barak'el - reverse view
the bulla of Barak'el - drawing by the author
the bulla of Barak'el - side view

The bulla of Barak'el, side view, reverse view, and a drawing by the author

A groove and several dots around the impression prove that the seal was set in a metal ring when used to seal the bulla. On the back of the bulla, the cord groove and the papyrus impression are visible. Around the edge are ancient fingerprints. These probably belong to the king himself or to his scribe who used his seal.

The script is divided into two registers by a double line and surrounded by a frame line. Two dots are marked at the end of the lower register to fill the empty space.

The Ammonite inscription reads:

lbrk'l / hmlk "Belonging to Barak'el the King"

The letters are minute and typically Ammonite: the indicative letters are similar to those found on other Ammonite official and private seals (Avigad and Sass, 1997, 859, 871, 874, 912, 943). Noteworthy are the letters mem, large and formed of a "W"-like head with a vertical line on its right; and the letter kaf, similar to the cursive number "4". The three letters lamed are small and placed in the upper part of the line. Two letters are slightly damaged: the upper part of the letter bet and the left side of the second letter lamed. Despite the two damaged letters, the reading is certain.

Surprisingly, the royal seal used to seal this bulla -- on which we would expect to find a royal emblem -- is aniconic. (The emblem, however, could be present on the back of the seal.)2 A suggested date for this bulla, according to the form of the letters, is the 7th century BCE (Herr, 1978, Fig;. 34-37).

Now brk'l is a theophoric private name meaning "The God El has blessed". The name is known from the Old Testament -- Barak'el the Buzite was Elihu's father (Job 32:2,6) -- and it also occurs in Safaitic (Harding, 1971:102). Ammonite epigraphic material provides us with three seals bearing this name:

  • lbrk'l / bn 'elsm (Avigad, 1989:15, No.l6)
  • l'mnhrn /b/n brk'l (Bordreuil, No.75)
  • lbts / n'r brk'l (Martin, 1964:207).

Among other criteria, the theophoric element El is, according to Avigad and Sass (1997:320), instructive in identifying a seal as Ammonite. Most Ammonite names include the theophora El.

hmlk is the title "The King", here Barak'el, a newly discovered Ammonite King unknown from other sources. This is also the first Royal Ammonite seal impresson to be found.3

The list of known Ammonite kings is short, but several are recorded in the Bible. Nahash the King of the Ammonites and his son Hanun the King of the Ammonites are contemporaries of King David in the 10th century BCE (1 Chr. I 9:1,2). In the time of Yotam the King of Judah, the 8th century BCE, a nameless king of Ammon is mentioned (Chr. I 27:5). Another nameless Ammonite king is mentioned in the time of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 27:3). And Ba'alis the king of Ammon is known from the time of Gedaliah son of Ahiqam son of Shafan (Jeremiah 40:14).

The epigraphic evidence is richer. An Ammonite 7th century BCE inscribed bronze situla found at Tell Siran mentions the names of three generations of Ammonite kings, two of which have the same name: 'mndb mlk bn'mn / bn hsl'l mlk bn'mn / bn'mndb mlk bn'mn -- Amminadab son of Hassal'il son of 'Amminadab" (Aufrecht, 1989:203, No.78; Cross, 1973).

Three private seals of Royal officials are also known:

  • l'dnnr / 'bd'mndb "Belonging to Adoninur, servant of Amminadab (the King of Ammon)" found in Amman (Aufrecht, 1989:96, No.40)
  • l'dnplt / 'bd'mndb -- "Belonging to Adonipalt, servant of Amminadab (the King of Ammon)" with unknown provenance (Aufrecht, 1989:40, no.17)
  • lbyd'l 'bd pd'l "Belonging to Beyad'el servant of Pada'el (Bordreuil, 1986, 69).

In addition, the name of the Biblical King Ba'alis of the 6th century BCE appears on the bulla of one of his officials: lmlkm'wr / b / d b'lys -- "Belonging to Milkom'ur servant of Ba'alysha" (Geraty, 1985:98-99; Younker, 1985; Herr, 1985). In the Assyrian annals, the text of the Assyrian 9th century BCE King Shalmaneser III mentions the Ammonite King Ba'asa (ANET 279); the text of Tiglat-pileser III of the 8th century BCE mentions the Ammonite King Sanip (ANET 282); the text of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon of the 7th century BCE mentions the Ammonite King Pada'el (ANET 287, 291); and the text of Ashurbanipal, belonging to the middle of the 7th century, mentions the Ammonite king Amminadab I (ANET 294).

With Barak'el, the list of Ammonite kings now has ten names:

Name Date Source
Nahash 10th century BCE
(Biblical History and chronology)
I Chr. 19:1,2
II Sam. 10:1-2
Sam. II:1-2
Hanun 10th century BCE
(Biblical History and chronology)
I Chr. 19:1,2
II Sam. 10:1-2
Ba'sa about 853 BCE
(Assyrian chronology)
text of Shalmaneser III (ANET 279)
Sanip about 735 BCE
(Assyrian chronology)
text of Tiglath-pileser III (ANET 282)
Pada'el before 701 BCE
(Assyrian chronology)
text of Sannacherib and Asarhaddon (ANET 287 and 291)
Ammonite royal seal?
Barak'el about 675 BCE royal seal impression
Amminadab I mid-7th century BCE
(Assyrian chronology)
text of Ashurbanipal (ANET 294)
Tell-Siran bottle inscription
two Ammonite royal-official seals
Hissalel about 625 BCE
(Ammonite paleography and son of Aminadab I)
Tell-Siran bottle inscription
Amminadab II about 600 BCE
(Ammonite paleography and son of Hissalel)
Tell-Siran bottle inscription
Ba'alyasa (or Ba'alyisa) about 580 BCE
(Biblical History and chronology)
Jeremiah 40:14
Tell el-Umeiri royal-official seal impression


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Seal of Ba'alis Surfaces