"[Belonging] To the Governor of the City" First Temple sealing (Image credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority)
Last week the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced a remarkable find that would make Indiana Jones proud – a 2,700-year-old Hebrew clay sealing from the First Temple period, located just west of where the Temple stood in Jerusalem.
The find yet again proves the city’s identity as the capital of the Jewish kingdom from First Temple days. But it also highlights how Israel is not driving home the Jewish people’s legitimate historical claim to the land – although there are signs that Israel is awakening to this battle of historical legitimacy that truly lies at the core of the conflict.
The archaeological find announced by IAA last week on Monday bears the following text in ancient Hebrew: “[Belonging] To the Governor of the City.”
(Credit: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
The sealing, which was excavated from the Western Wall Plaza, is of particular significance in that it silences those archaeologists claiming Jerusalem was not the heart of the Davidic kingdom in the First Temple period, and its prime status was a later rewriting of history.
“The finding of the sealing with this high-rank title… supports the assumption that this area, located on the western slopes of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem, some 100 meters west of the Temple Mount, was inhabited by highly ranked officials during the First Temple period,” explained Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, excavator of the site.
She added that "this is the first time that such a sealing is found in an authorized excavation. It supports the biblical rendering of the existence of a governor of the city in Jerusalem 2,700 years ago."
Deciphering the finding, Prof. Tallay Ornan of the Hebrew University, and Prof. Benjamin Sass of Tel Aviv University said, “The title 'governor of the city' is known from the Bible and from extra-biblical documents, referring to an official appointed by the king. Governors of Jerusalem are mentioned twice in the Bible: in 2 Kings, Joshua is the governor of the city in the days of Hezekiah, and in 2 Chronicles, Maaseiah is the governor of the city in the days of Josiah.”
The sealing (Image credit: Yoli Shwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority)
It remains to be seen if Israel will fully capitalize on the discovery to emphasize the Jewish nature of Jerusalem. The relic was presented to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who said, “This shows that already 2700 years ago, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was a strong and central city. Jerusalem is one of the most ancient capitals of the world, continually populated by the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years.”
Following the scientific research on the finding, it will be placed in the mayor’s office on temporary exhibit. While it may be hoped that the sealing will be shown to visiting dignitaries and kept in the public eye as much as possible, to merely leave it in the mayor’s office would be a huge missed opportunity for such a significant discovery.
The sealing bears all the more diplomatic weight given that it follows US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital since “ancient times,” which brought the topic of legitimate ownership to the top of the international agenda. But instead of highlighting this type of biblical and archaeological “hasbara” (diplomatic publicity) in presenting itself to the world, Israel has tended to focus only on presenting the modern state starting with Theodor Herzl. This consistent lack of verbal history lessons allows the world to make ridiculous denials of historical fact – particularly at UNESCO.
Staying par for the course, Israeli officialdom largely dropped the ball on the new find.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry only picked up the story on its official Facebook page after three days had passed, and when it did it settled for linking to a short Reuters article on the find. The Foreign Ministry message was merely dry reporting: “THIS 2,700-year-old clay seal impression, belonging to a biblical governor of Jerusalem, was unearthed by archaeologists near the Western Wall in Jerusalem's old city.”
No explicit mention of the “biblical” find being in ancient Hebrew proving Jerusalem’s Jewish nature, no connection to the modern capital of Israel – just dry cracked clay.
This message was in fact a verbatim copy of a tweet by the State of Israel’s Twitter account posted on the day the finding was announced, which likewise linked to the Reuters article. The same tweet was retweeted by the Foreign Ministry’s account, again with the same unengaging message.
This toned down treatment of such a timely find with the potential to give Israel’s deniers pause was further highlighted in contrast with the world press, where numerous articles attested to great interest in the proof of the Jewish kingdom and the biblical account of Israel’s history.
However, there are signs that Israeli officials are aware of the urgency of this issue.
In mid-December, shortly after Trump recognized Jerusalem, Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev ordered the launch of the 250 million shekel Shalem Project through the IAA, which is to restore numerous ancient archaeological sites in Jerusalem’s Old City around the Temple Mount. In an unfortunate omission caused by tentative Israeli policy, the scope of the project will not include the Mount itself, where the Jordanian Waqf still maintains an iron grip and has destroyed archaeological artifacts.
The renovation and development of the sites will make them accessible to the public and lift the veil on much of Jerusalem’s history before the eyes of the world.
Regev told Yedioth Ahronoth that the initiative was meant to strengthen the Jewish ties to the city. "Even if [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas made an effort to dig hundreds of meters into the ground he will not find a Palestinian coin from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago," Regev noted, rightly indicating the historical battle is one Israel can win hands down.
Indeed, Abbas has not made such efforts, but nevertheless claims 6,000 years of Palestinian history in Israel. That fabrication will not stop (and will likely be redoubled) due to a greater Israeli initiative to reveal the historical truth and make it the underpinnings of Israeli international relations. However, it will be increasingly revealed for the foolish drivel that it is, given that such “Palestinian” claims lean on an imaginary history – which was given expression most blatantly in the empty Palestinian Heritage Museum in Ramallah.
In discussing the new project in Jerusalem, Regev’s comments made clear that she recognizes the importance of fighting the historical battle.
"This national project is important both on a PR and a touristic level. The reality uncovered when Jerusalem is excavated is worth a thousand words, and is the best response to those denying our bonds to Jerusalem. Excavating ancient Jerusalem, as far as I'm concerned, is the best on-the-ground implantation for President Trump's declaration [of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital],” said Regev.
As she noted, looking to the past is indeed the correct way to establish Israel’s future. The Jewish state must clarify Jerusalem’s identity once and for all, and that identity rests on the question of historical legitimacy – it cannot both be an “ancient Palestinian capital” and King David’s capital at the same time.
This historical confrontation needs to settle the post-modernist “narrative” war that claims history is malleable, and any claim is possible regardless of incontrovertible fact. By settling this dispute, Israel will cement its existence not only on the world stage, but also - and no less importantly - in the hearts and minds of the Jews in Israel and abroad, strengthening their identity and connection to the divinely ordained Jewish history and national mission.