August 7, 2005

More on the Jehucal, son of Shelemiahu Bulla

Jim West via Yitzhak Sapir has provided us with a picture of the bulla (seal) from Jerusalem that was announced the other day. I have tried to improve the contrast in Photoshop to make it a little easier to read. I had to do the top portion using different settings then the bottom (darker) portion. You can see the seam in my work. The original photo is very grainy having come from a newspaper.


See even better picture referenced under Update below.

Transcribed into a rather generic paleo-Hebrew font:


Transliterated into a not so pretty Modern Hebrew font:

ליהוכל בן
בן שבי


(Belonging) to Jehucal, son of
son of Shobi(?)

The first letter is very hard to read and broken but seems to to be a ל ("belonging to"). One would expect a ל here.The last נ in the first line is broken and unreadable but there can be no dispute as to what it is. Also, the נ in the last word is a little hard to read in the picture this "nun" turns out to be a "shin"; everything else is fairly clear. The first ב in the last line is also slightly broken but, again, undisputable. Everything else is very clear.

I am not competent to date the writing on bulla but the letters appear to me to be consistent with what one would expect from the time of Zedekiah, circa 600 BCE. Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, reigned from circa 597 to 587 BCE. Currently, the most common understanding is that the name Jehucal on the bulla is the same Jehucal mentioned in the book of Jeremiah 37:3 and 38:1(?) as an official in Zedekiah's government. The name Shelemiahu appears in Jeremiah as Selemiah (שלמיה). The longer spelling reflects a more complete spelling of the theophoric element: i.e. the divine name Yahweh (יהוה).

Jehucal's name means something like "Yahweh is mighty/complete." Note that it begins with the same three letters (the theophoric element) as Shelemiahu's name ends. Shelemiahu's name means something like "Yahweh has restored/made whole." A comparable name from Ugarit, some 700 years earlier, is known from an Akkadian text (PRU III, 256), mŠa-al-mi-ya. Is it the same name (not the same person) as our Shelemiahu but with the short theophoric element? Interesting speculation but only speculation. It is not impossible that Shelem in mŠa-al-mi-ya is the theoporic element.1

See below: The real problems come with the name "Nubi." Jim West explains it as a "nickname," "the Ethiopian" i.e. Nubian. He may be correct. I have stared at the picture a long time and am not sure I can see the nun (n), or any other letter in its position in Nubi. However, people who know a lot more than I do agree on the reading. So I have no reason other than a bad picture to contest it. Other possibilities for Nubi: Nubi may be based on a Hurrian root. Note the Hurrian column in the Polyglot Vocabulary Text (RS20.149 II:11) na-di, the Ugaritic and Akkadian columns read na-du and na-a-du respectively. Nādu means "to throw" in Akkadian but who knows what the Hurrian word means. I guess it also means "to throw." Is Hurrian nadi therefore a loan word from Akkadian or Ugraitic? Or the other way around? An Egyptian word, nby, means "goldsmiths"2. There is also an Egyptian word, nbi, meaning "pole." And I suppose the common Egyptian word "nb" meaning "owner" or "Lord" should not be ruled out. Notice the Egyptian dual masculine "nbwy," "the two Lords," i.e. Horus and Seth.

Speculation, all speculation.

Update: See today's comments by Jim West, his quotation from an email from Peter van der Veen and a comment from Robert Deutsch. Van der Veen seems to date the bulla, based on paleography to the time of Jeremiah while Deutsch, a noted paleography expert dates it from the time of Hezekiah. If Deutsch turns out to be correct, then the Jehucal of the bulla is not the Jehucal of Jeremiah. See also Ed Cook's comments on this name. He points out that, except for Jeremiah, the name only apears in the Arad Ostracon 21, line 1 and Shelemyahu appears in Lachish Ostracon 9.

A very good picture of the bulla is now available and the nun I had trouble with looks like a shin. So the name in Shobai or Shobi. Tyler Williams also reproduces the same clearer picture on his site and has a few comments. I have updated the graphics, etc. above.

Update: August 10, 2005

Tyler Williams has updated his post on the Jehucal bulla. He has some interesting things to say. Among them is that the "nun" that I said could not be read at the end of the first line is actually partially visible at the beginning of the second line. He also give a handy conversion chart for those who know Hebrew but not archaic Hebrew.

Notes: (see my Bibliography page for full references)

1) Huffmon, 1965, 247. See also UT 17:12 where šlm is clearly a divine name.

2) Faulkner, 1962, 129

Posted by Duane Smith at August 7, 2005 10:50 AM | Read more on Archaeology |

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