Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hendin Weighs In

This week's entry features a commentary on the Nabi-Rubin seal-weight by Biblical-coins expert, David Hendin. He is the author of several reference works used by numismatists around the world for THREE decades, beginning with "Guide to Ancient Jewish Coins" in 1976, continuing with the 4th edition of "Guide to Biblical Coins" in 2001. His most recent offering is "Not Kosher: Forgeries of Ancient Jewish and Biblical Coins" published in 2005, soon to be followed in early 2007 by "In the Balance: Pre-Coinage Currency & Scale Weights of the Ancient Near East". His books & authentic coins are available direct from his own website, Amphora Coins.

After last week's post, Michael Welch & David Hendin asked some interesting questions, so I'll clarify a few things that future readers may wonder about as well:

1) I only took a single photo of the object; all the photos in the past 2 blogs were derivations of it. Here's the overall image:

2) As you can see, I didn't bring a scale with me to include in the photo. Fortunately, Rabbi Glueck did. I cited his metric measurements in the first blog, but in SI units, the object is about 1.25" diameter, & the height varies from about 0.4-0.5". It's like a hockey puck in shape, not in size. The Roman-era "Bar Kathros" weight in "Discovering Jerusalem" (by Nahman Avigad; pp. 130-1) is like a puck in both shape & size.

3) The likelihood of it being a fake or forgery is extremely slim. If someone were knowledgeable enough to inscribe a Paleo-Hebrew name in mirror image to market or promote a Biblical antiquity, they would certainly have spelled the name as it appears in the Bible, either "BRKYE" or BRKYEU", not "BRKY", & DEFINITELY not "BRKYU" before the famous Tel Dan handles shown in last week's blog were discovered decades later.

4) Several of the traditional types of Judean weights were found at Lachish including six of the 4-shekel variety with the sheqel symbol, sometimes formed with straight/angular lines, sometimes rounded. "Lachish III, The Iron Age, Plates" (1953, Plate 51:1-6) shows 3 angular & 3 round. In "Guide to Biblical Coins", David Hendin classified this type as "W9" & dated it to "9-7 centuries B.C.E." Another angular one was excavated from Gibeon ("Hebrew Inscriptions & Stamps from Gibeon" by James B. Pritchard, 1959, Fig. 12:6-7). The Nebi-Rubin specimen is angular but was made via 4 incisions, whereas the Gibeon one was made via 3.

5) As far as I know, Nabi/Nebi-Rubin has never been excavated (not listed in "The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land", 1993), so we don't know its full stratigraphy.

Here are David Hendin's observations:

The photo of the object you sent me with inscription is very strange and there are many unusual factors in the object and its description.

First, in general this form of weight (hockey puck shape) is not related to the Iron Age, but to the Roman period, similar to many weights found in the "burnt house" and nearby. On the other hand, in my upcoming book, I describe a weight (48.14 g) of this general shape (without inscription) as a possible Iron Age weight.

Second, when the dome shaped Judean weights are found, the inscription of denomination is 99% of the time on the TOP of the dome and not on a flat base.

Third, I am not familiar with any other limestone dome weights of Judah which are inscribed EXCEPT with the denomination of shekels or fractions of shekels.

Fourth, the data you cite on the shekel symbol, which looks kind of like a figure-8 with open top, is outmoded. Scott's interpretation of the "sror" is quite old (though interesting). In 1966 [Yohanan] Aharoni proved these markings (except the words for beqa, pym, and nezef) to be hieratic numerals. More recently [Raz] Kletter pointed out that the shekel symbol itself is a kind of hieratic shortening for the word "shekel." (This is involved in a close relationship between the Judean shekel of late 8th to early 6th cen. BCE and the Egyptian qedet of the same period.)

Fifth, the proven age of the limestone shekel weights is from the VERY END of the 8th century BCE until 586 BCE.

The style of the so-called inscription on this piece is in fact a much earlier style of inscription, at least 100 years earlier.

Finally, I would tend to disagree that the "bet" - "resh" letters constitute a ligature, which most frequently is a kind of short-hand combination of two letters. In this case there is simply an overlap.

Is there an actual record of this piece being excavated? The exact location of the find? I find the piece to have rather a lot of anomalies (although the actual weight of the piece is within the range of 2 shekels for the late 8th century to 586 BCE period).

Given the circumstances of the discovery of the piece, it seems unlikely that it is a forgery, but stranger things have happened. Whatever the circumstances it is certain that you have re-discovered a most interesting object that absolutely deserves further study.

Best wishes.

David Hendin

My answer to David's question about the excavation & find-spot was reported in my initial blog 2 weeks ago. It was found during a surface survey just like the famous Gezer Calendar inscription, & the LMLK ostracon from Tell Qasile.

Although David does not suspect that this weight was forged, some other readers out there might, so I'll conclude with this point: If it was forged by Rabbi Glueck or one of his friends, apparently it is the only artifact of this type they bothered to fake, & they gained absolutely nothing from it aside from the embarrassment of choosing all the wrong characteristics:

  • a 9th-century inscription for...

  • an 8th-century personal seal on...

  • a 7th-century weight in...

  • a Roman-era shape!!!

And the kicker is that in BASOR 153 he said it must be from the Persian-Hellenistic era!!!

It's like the Laetoli footprints of modern humans smack dab in the middle of a rock believed to be 3.7 million years old! Sometimes we only have 1% of the puzzle when we think we have 99% of it. It's like cosmologists talking about the observable portion of the universe as if it's the whole thing, when actually it might only be a thread dangling from the edge of a far more magnificent garment.

Song of the week: "Wait For Me" by Vangelis (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 28-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Not Done With YU Yet

After last week's post of the seal-weight in storage at the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM), I've acquired some new info to share.

Michael Welch commented via E-mail that the letter I tentatively identified as a Vav/Waw may actually be an ancient exclamation point as seen WSS #1183 ("LSR!", "[seal] of Sar/governor"). Though its reading is difficult due to its fragmentary condition, based on its design, it's not necessarily an Israelite seal. A. Lemaire thought it could possibly be Ammonite (in Syria vol. 63, 1986, pp. 305-25), an opinion also shared by W.A. Aufrecht ("Corpus of Ammonite Inscriptions", 1989, #128); U. Hubner & E.A. Knauf suggested Judahite (in ZDPV vol. 110, 1994, pp. 82-7).

Here's yet another rendition of my photo; this time it's the actual seal, but mirrored so the inscription can be read naturally:

The following day I happened to be browsing backissues of BAR magazine, & noticed 2 Israelite seals excavated at Dan. Last week I noted with reserve that my reading "LBRKYU" was "an unlikely spelling" (i.e., "-YU" rather than the more common "-YEU"); however, both of these seals from Dan terminate with the same orthography. Alternate photos appear in WSS, so I made composite drawings (which will eventually appear in my next hardcover, "LMLK--A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 2").

"ZKRYU" = "[seal] of Zechariah"; a name meaning "God (Yahweh/Jehovah/LORD) Remembers" (WSS #669):

Two jar handles with this seal impression are known. One was excavated from Tel Dan in 1988 (Area B, Stratum II, Locus 7129, find #23677/1); the other's from et-Tell (Bethsaida). WSS dates it to the mid-8th century.

"LOMDYU" = "[seal] of Immadiyo"; a name meaning "God (Yahweh/Jehovah/LORD) is With Me" (WSS #692):

Three jar handles with this seal impression are known, all from Tel Dan (1974, Area B; 1986, Stratum II or III, Room 9024, find #30655; 1991 Area M, Locus 8321, find #21175/1). WSS says the excavator dates them to the 8th or late 9th century.

Note the similarity between the Resh of the ZKRYU seal & the Dalet of the LOMDYU. The latter could possibly be read as a Resh rather than a Dalet, which would then render a name similar to the well-known Israelite king, Omri (1Kings 16), albeit with a theophoric suffix: "LOMRYU" or "[seal] of Omria", a name that almost sounds like a cross between "Omri" & the city he established as the capital of Israel, "Samaria" (although the Hebrew spelling is actually SMRUN, which is a completely different ending than the name used in most English Bibles; there goes that theory down the drain).

I'm tempted to go off on a tangent about stamped jar handles in Israel vs. Judah, but will save it for LMLK vol. 2. For now I'd prefer to remain focused on the seal-weight. For comparison, consider again the seal-weight's inscription (highlighted by me on this mirrored photo):

Note the similarity between the LOMDYU's Vau & that of the seal-weight & the LMLK S2DR, yet the difference between those three & the more common rendering in the ZKRYU seal.

Note the similarity between the LOMDYU's Mem & the LMLK H4C seal, which I already pointed out last week has a "BR" ligature similar to the Cincinnati seal-weight.

Mike Welch also called my attention to the SQL HMT ("shekel of Hamat/Hamath") bronze weights, considered either Paleo-Hebrew or Paleo-Aramaic, which could be related to the Biblical border/entrance city in modern Syria (32 OT references spanning from Numbers 13:21 to Zechariah 9:2). Three bronze weights marked with Aramaic inscriptions indicating the value of the weights appear in "The Adoniram Collection of West Semitic Inscriptions" by Robert Deutsch & Andre Lemaire (p. 41; more details available on Robert Deutsch's website than on Amazon's), which they compared to the HMT weights:

"Similar lentoid or dome-shaped weights of the 8th century B.C.E. bear the name of Hamath (P. Bordreuil, "Metropoles et Metrologies Poliades" in Semitica 43-44:9-20, 1994, no. 2: SQL HMT 13.3 gr., & no. 5: ST SQL HMT 7.6 gr.)."

The three bronze weights in the Adoniram book all have inscriptions but no sheqel symbol:

  • Weight #27, "H T ' S R H" meaning "Eleven"

  • Weight #28, "S A R Y S Q L" meaning "Rest of a Shekel"

  • Weight #29, "H M S H" meaning "Five"

Also note that the orientation of the sheqel symbol & bars on the Cincinnati seal-weight is identical to that of the unprovenanced LMLK weight published in "Forty New Ancient West Semitic Inscriptions" by R. Deutsch & M. Heltzer. However, the orientation of the Paleo-Hebrew inscription with respect to the sheqel symbols on both of these weights is different. This could be due to either the purpose of the inscription (i.e., mirrored for stamping clay separate from the weighing process vs. non-mirrored for qualifying the weight) or it could indicate that the "LMLK" inscription was a late addition (possibly even a modern forgery to add market-value to the artifact).

Song of the week: "The Wonder Of You" by Elvis Presley (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 25-second sample; 328kb). What a tough decision! Runners up included:

  • All I Want is You--U2

  • Falling in Love with You--Gary Moore

  • Good to See You--Vangelis

  • How Can I Leave You Again--John Denver

  • I Believe You--The Carpenters

  • I've Done Everything for You--Sammy Hagar

  • Should I Let You In--Belinda Carlisle

  • You (Got It)--The Babys

G.M. Grena