Saturday, August 06, 2005

Names in the Yehukal Bulla

Yitzhak Sapir has posted a picture of the Yehukal bulla here.

The text reads: יהוכל בנ שׁלמיהו בנ שׁבי, "Yehukal son of Shelemyahu son of Shobai (or: Shobi)."

It seems possible, even likely, that the bulla was made from the seal of the person mentioned in Jer. 37:3: "King Zedekiah sent Jehucal son of Shelemiah and Zephaniah son of the priest Maaseiah to the prophet Jeremiah, to say, Please pray on our behalf to the Lord our God" (see also Yukal in Jer. 38:1; same guy).

Yehukal does not appear again in the Hebrew Bible, but the name Yehukal does appear in Arad Ostracon 21, line 1, which is written from "your son Yehukal." This ostracon has been dated to the year 597 BCE, and therefore the time frame of the letter matches the time of Jeremiah. The address formula reads "Your son Yehukal sends greeting to Gedaliah son of Elyair and to your house," and therefore this Yehukal would seem to be the son of Gedaliah.

There were at least three other people named Shelemyahu at the royal court in Jeremiah's time, Shelemyahu son of Kushi (Jer. 36:14), Shelemyahu son of Abdeel (Jer. 36:26), and Shelemyah son of Hananiah (Jer. 37:13). Evidently Yehukal's father was not any of these.

The name Shelemyahu appears in Lachish Ostracon 9: "send word to your servant by the hand of Shelemyahu," and this may in fact be one of the people named above, since the Lachish Ostraca are contemporaneous with the book of Jeremiah. But it was a common name; there are at least three different Shelemyahs mentioned in the Elephantine papyri from a later century.

The only people named Shobai or Shobi known in the Hebrew Bible are the Shobai mentioned in the genealogy of Ezra 2:42, Neh. 7:45 and the Ammonite Shobi mentioned in 2 Sam. 17:27. The Mesad Heshavyahu Ostracon, perhaps from the reign of Josiah, mentions a "Shobai" or "Shobi" as the father of one Hoshaiah. At least two men named Shobai are mentioned in ostraca found in Elephantine.

UPDATE (8/7): Joseph Lauer on the ANE list links to this much better photograph here, which reveals that the inscription begins with lamedh, as one would expect, and as Robert Deutsch points out in the comments below.

Mr. Deutsch also suggests that the script is older than the 6th century BCE, perhaps 7th or 8th century. I am no paleographer, so I won't venture an opinion. If Mr. Deutsch is right (and he may well be), that would mean that this was not the seal of Jeremiah's Yehukal. Still, the seal bears comparison with the seal of Elyashib from Arad (early 6th century); the vav is particularly interesting (Aharoni, Arad Inscriptions, no. 106). Another seal of Elyashib can be seen here (with a slightly different ductus).

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