The first epigraphic testimony noting the full spelling of Jerusalem in letters was unveiled at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum for the first time today (Tuesday) in a joint press conference of the museum and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
At the press conference on October 9, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the 2,000 year-old discovery from the Second Temple Period (First Century CE), which will be part of a new exhibition of artifacts from the capital city of Jerusalem.
Found at the excavation site of an ancient Jewish potter’s quarter near Binyanei Ha’Uma (The International Convention Center) in Jerusalem, excavation director Danit Levy found the limestone inscription last winter. Discovered out of context, the Aramaic inscriptions appear on a column drum supporting the foundations of a Roman structure are Hebrew letters, typical of the Second Temple Period, that read: “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem.”
The drum was originally part of a building that stood in a Jewish potters’ village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the column drum coming from a workshop or other structure belonging to Hananiah or a public building that he helped finance. The site was likely converted into a ceramic workshop for building products by the 10th Roman Legion (Legio X Fretensis).
When Levy saw the inscription and understood its importance, she recalled, “my heart was pounding so hard that it felt like it would break my t-shirt.”
While most artifacts of that period use the shorthand version of the spelling of Jerusalem (Yerushalem or Shalem), this artifact is the oldest stone inscription with the full spelling of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, as it is written in Hebrew today.
Professor Ido Bruno, director of the Israel Museum and resident of Jerusalem, expressed his excitement that the inscription will be accessible to “every child that can read and uses the same script used two millennia ago.”
Commenting on the uniqueness of the find, Dr. Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem regional archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Professor Ronny Reich of Haifa University, who read and studied the inscription, noted that “First and Second Temple period inscriptions mentioning Jerusalem are quite rare, but even more unique is the complete spelling of the name as we know it today, which usually appears in the shorthand version.”
They continued, “This is the only stone inscription of the Second Temple period known where the full spelling appears. This spelling is only known in one other instance, on a coin of the Great Revolt against the Romans (66-70 CE).”
While Jerusalem is mentioned 660 times in the Hebrew Bible, only five mentions have the full spelling as we know it today, including Jeremiah 26:18, Esther 2:6, 2 Chronicles 25:1, 2 Chronicles 32: 9 and 2 Chronicles 25: 1.
Archaeologists believe that the inscriber, Hananiah, was a Jewish artist-potter who manufactured cooking vessels and sold them to Roman soldiers and Jewish pilgrims on the way to the Second Temple, especially during the Jewish pilgrim festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.
According to Baruch, the inscription speaks to the uniqueness of how Hebrew and the Jewish culture has been preserved from ancient times until today.
“In the Second Temple period, most of people living in Jerusalem were Jewish. It was a Temple city – the only place for Jews to worship. There was no synagogue or Yeshiva – there was only the Temple,” he told Breaking Israel News.
The city, Baruch explained, developed into one of the largest cities in the east according to Jewish and Roman historical sources, with its economic basis provided through food, water and most importantly, ceramic tools like ones unearthed near Binyanei Ha’Uma and manufactured by Hananiah, author of the newly discovered inscription.
According to Baruch, artifacts and inscriptions like the one presented today have a direct relation to ancient Jewish cultures, “that give us the understanding of the roots of the Jewish people here in the land of Israel and of course, in Jerusalem.
“For us, as scientists, there is no doubt about Jews and this part of the history of Jerusalem,” he added.
The find occurs in the context of Israel Antiquities Authority excavations of portions of the potter’s quarter and Jewish village near the manufacturing site.
According to the press release, the site produced vessels for Jerusalem for more than 300 years during the Hasmonean Period through the Late Roman era. Jewish ritual baths, kilns, pools for preparing clay, plastered water cisterns and workspaces for drying and storing the vessels were also found in the excavations.
Representing the largest pottery production site in Jerusalem of approximately 200 dunams (50 acres), the manufacturing of pottery provided hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Temple – and the hostels that housed them – with cooking vessels. The site was likely chosen due to its proximity to water and material sources for ceramics, trees to burn for kilns and the main road leading to the Temple.
According to Dudy Mevorach, chief curator of archaeology at the Israel Museum, after the Roman conquest and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the potter’s workshop resumed its activities on a smaller scale until the early 2nd Century CE when the Roman 10th Legion established a factory on the site for the mass production of construction materials, typical of the Roman army.
Mevorach noted that it is interesting that the Hananiah son of Dodalos – likely an artist-potter and son of an artist-potter – found it meaningful to note his origin, Jerusalem, as part of his family name, as his village was very close to the city. Hananiah’s father’s name, Dodalos, is based on the name of the mythological Greek artist Daedalos – his name may have been a nickname alluding to the father’s artistic abilities.
“The stone was perhaps a dedication inscription or a way to market his craft,” he said at the press conference.
Additional finds will be displayed at the Israel Museum beginning on October 10, including a Greek mosaic inscription of the 6th Century CE commemorating the construction of a public building in Jerusalem – likely a hostel – which attests to the development of the city as part of the mass pilgrimage of Christians to the Holy Land in this period.