People, Places, or Prayers

[This post is from an archive; the original message was sent Sun 6/30/2002 7:24 PM, some two years prior to the publication of my LMLK vol. 1 book, & it serves as a good summary of my early thoughts after having examined the Mizpah handles stored in Berkeley a month earlier.]

I noticed something special about one of the pithos handles I found from Mizpah:
Unlike all the other photos/descriptions of LMLK impressions that indicate plain borders, this one shows signs of dots around the frame indicating the seal was either in a decorative holder, or the dots might have been part of the seal design. I believe that the Z4CY & M4C seals were used exclusively on pithos handles & preceded the Type 484 jars, but I admit that is speculation at this point since so few pithoi are known.

Now, I will challenge the following theories (my use of the word “myth” is only in jest):
Myth 1) The 4 words on the seals represent names (people, districts, or towns–all are myths).
Myth 2) The personal seals represent officials of King Hezekiah’s government.
Myth 3) The purpose of the LMLK jars was for a military build-up.
Myth 4) All 20+ LMLK seals were made/used prior to Sennacherib’s campaign.
Myth 5) The Bible is a collection of myths. (Ha! Ha!–I just had to throw that one in for fun!)

First I need to back up & stress that LMLK seals are quite unique. The common comparisons are to Greek amphorae handles & other Judean jar inscriptions (MSH & YHD), but I don’t believe those comparisons are justified. The primary reason I believe this is because none of those other inscriptions has royal implications; the secondary reason is that only 4 specific words are used on the LMLK handles whereas there were many towns at that time producing wine &/or oil–certainly Mizpah & Gibeon are the first to come to mind. Having set the stage for a unique interpretation of their meaning, I will now analyze the 3 common interpretations for Myth #1:

Theory 1) Potters or potteries or potter families: Indefensible since they would have stamped all/most of their products for identification, whereas only a minority of Type 484 jars & pithoi were stamped. Another reason is that the royal potter families are mentioned early in 1Chronicles 4 & would have stamped their ware over a longer period of time throughout the Judean monarchy, whereas the archaeological evidence clearly narrows the LMLK seals to approximately one century (i.e., late 8th to early 7th). I think all scholars in A.D. 2002 would agree with me on this point.

Theory 2) Geographic zones or districts: Indefensible since the most likely candidates for Hebron & Ziph are too close geographically; zone capitals would have been centrally located (such as Beersheba (south), Lachish (west), Mizpah (north), Hebron (east)–only a 25% match with the 4 words on the seals; or maybe Beth-Shemesh (northwest), Jerusalem (northeast), southern Shokoh (southeast), Lachish (southwest)–again, only a 25% match or 50% match if you identify Jerusalem as the mysterious city of MMST). Even if we were to assume that the Ziph named on the seals was to be identified with some site “toward the border of Edom in the South” per Joshua 15:21 instead of the northern one near Carmel in verse 55, we would expect to find a majority of the 4 types in each of their respective zones/districts, with only a minority of other types due to redistribution/sharing/late-use. Another possible piece of evidence against this theory is the evolution of the seals. If the land was grouped into 4 zones/districts, there would have been four seals of equivalent quantities concurrent in use throughout their lifecycle, yet you can see from my Seal Sets page that there were incomplete 4-winged cursory sets corresponding to the early part of my seal-chronology theory (which I will elaborate below) & a mysterious generic seal corresponding to the late part. Rainey has rightly pointed out that this theory is indefensible.

(By the way, I think it’s funny how proponents of Theories 2 & 3 (ironically, mostly Aharoni & Rainey who worked together for so many years) are both right & both wrong; they’re both right when they’re criticizing each other’s theories & both wrong when they’re presenting their own!)

Theory 3) Manufacturing towns or estates: Indefensible, although here I must rely on circumstantial evidence & logic combined from the other two theories. If the LMLK seals represented 4 royal places, they would have been stamped on other vessel types &/or a majority (if not all) the Type 484 jars & pithoi. The alternative to my theory is the common theory that all 20+ LMLK seals were made & used at approximately the same time, in which case there is no explanation for the majority of H4x seals found so far at Lachish. I don’t see/hear any scholars standing up to state that Lachish = Hebron or Lachish was significantly closer to Hebron than to Ziph or either north/south Shokoh! The final nail on this theory’s coffin is that many of the impressions have weak “town” inscriptions & could not have been used to identify the location contrary to Rainey’s vineyard thesis (or others such as Cross who claim the name designates a vintage of wine). The evidence also indicates a significant majority of H4x handles compared to few Z4x, no S4C but many S4L, & almost no M4x. Strange. Why such a tremendous imbalance among the 4 cities? Besides, going along with the common theory about the purpose of LMLK jars for military build-up, why would men in an army care about a wine’s vintage?!! They’re trained to kill–not to sit around a dinner table & discern between the fine characteristics of SWKH vintage vs. the quality of the ZYP grapes! Ha! Ha! Na’aman presented a similar line of reasoning against this theory in BASOR 261 (beginning/ending on p. 14; after p. 14 he’s confused as I discussed above in Theory 2). Na’aman makes the unfortunate mistake of doubting or disbelieving Divine Providence in guiding the Chronicler. But I will deal with the military “build-up” theory later as well. Please continue!

Although the attribution of the 4 words to geographic names (GNs) sounds good at first, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The place associated with the GN must be one of the four: place of manufacture, place of filling, place of collection/transfer, or place of distribution. In reality, the facts can’t be associated with any of these. They are not the place of origin because everyone accepts the chemical analysis associating their manufacture in the Shephelah, & nobody locates HBRN, ZYP, or MMST there. They are not 4 filling stations because: 1) it doesn’t make sense that only some of the jars were stamped, & many were stamped illegibly, & some were stamped with the generic seal, & 2) again, if they were for an emergency military build-up, nobody would care about distinguishing between 4 filling stations when there were other production facilities. They are not the place of collection because: 1) the places associated with Hebron & Ziph are too close, & 2) the Bible emphasizes a single location–Jerusalem–as the main place of collection/transfer for tithes/firstfruits. They are not the place of distribution based on archaeological evidence all scholars are acquainted with (& I’ll elaborate on some specifics several paragraphs below).

To make the GN theory work, you either need to confidently identify ZYP with the southern Ziph (which no scholar does), or you need to drop the emergency military build-up theory (which no scholar does), or you need to excavate the rest of Lachish & pray for the final quantities of the 4 GNs to balance out (which no scholar in our lifetimes will do).

And why were these 4 GNs used exclusively during a brief historical period when there were other wine-producing & oil-producing cities? Why was it important to name them at that point in time & not later when the rosette stamps were used & not earlier when apparently neither stamps nor inscriptions were used? To pick one example, there is no evidence that the relationship between the cities of Hebron & Jerusalem ever changed from the time of Solomon to the Babylonian conquest, so why weren’t the jars from Hebron always stamped or inscribed with HBRN? I could believe that King Hezekiah designated 4 cities to be his own (2Chronicles 32:29), but all/most of their products would have carried the same seal–not just a small portion of jars such as Type 484s & pithoi. So since none of the 3 general theories from the past century are valid, a new one is needed. The chief rule of Biblical interpretation is to begin with a literal interpretation & decide from the context the best meaning to apply to it (i.e., poetic, literal, figurative, etc.). I’m applying the same rule to the LMLK seals.

First regarding the 2 icons. The Lachish skulls that were identified with Sennacherib’s conquest are said to be mostly Egyptian in nature. Hezekiah gave his son, Manasseh, an Egyptian name. Sennacherib’s officers mocked Hezekiah for his alliance with Egypt. No scholar denies that the 4-winged icon reflects an embrace of Egyptian art by the Israelites in conjunction with the many scaraboid amulets & seals found by archaeologists in Israel. Likewise, the 2-winged icon is clearly associated with similar Hittite art, & it’s noteworthy that Sennacherib’s annals refer to Hezekiah being in “the land of the Hittites”. However, I believe that my seal-chronology theory (which I will elaborate below) will indicate that these 2 icons were not manufactured simultaneously as is commonly believed by those who believe the LMLK purpose was for a military build-up. It is more likely that the x4x seals were first while ties with Egypt were strong, then the x2x seals either overlapped during a gradual transition or were switched to abruptly for the remainder of the LMLK lifecycle.

Next regarding the 5 words. The numerous weak LMLK impressions, indeed the majority of LMLK impressions are weak, indicate that the words were not critical as would be expected if they were supposed to represent distinguishable vintages of wine, or be expressly used in bureaucratic administrative/military zones/districts. Geographical indication is indeed unlikely; slogans that would serve as prayers or historical reminders to the literate are a more reasonable interpretation. Ever hear of the following Israelite slogans/sayings:
“Holiness to Yahweh”?
“Long Live the King”?
“Holy for the Priests Belonging to the House of [Yahwe]h”?
“His Majesty’s Service”?
“Praise Yahweh for His Mercy Endures Forever”?
“God Save the King”?
How about “Alliance to the King”, “Responsibility to the King”, “Defense for the King”, & “Mouthful for the King”? (Note: I freely admit that I cannot read/write/speak Hebrew, so I have to rely on the lexicons/dictionaries that give alternate interpretations of these words.) The earliest interpretations of the words “LMLK ZYP” & “LMLK MMST” were “King Ziph” & “King Shat”. There was no bias towards connecting the word “LMLK” to the king of Judah & the other 4 words to cities. Likewise, Macalister held to his belief that they were to be interpreted as personal names (PNs) of potters, not GNs as promoted mainly by Bliss. Yet everyone else has held to the GN theory without conclusively proving either the zone or town theories. Again, I need to rely on circumstantial evidence in the absence of either an eyewitness from 2,700 years ago or a detailed document from then describing the specific function of the seals. The 3 major clues that inspired this fresh interpretation of the inscriptions are:
1. The bottom-to-top reading of King Hezekiah’s bullae along with the divider dot in the bottom register of the Z4L seal.
2. The majority of HBRN impressions at Lachish.
3. No geographical place has been positively identified with MMST (although this slogan theory would still be viable even if someone could positively tie MMST to a location).

Now taking the icons & words in conjunction over the period of at least a decade, it makes sense that the words would lose their meaning & the seals would be developed artistically by the engraver into the divided (x2D) type, then even later into the top-register sans “LMLK” along with a “LMLK” sans the other 4 words (i.e., the G2T that most scholars de-emphasize or ignore entirely). You will see below how I harmonize this chronological development based on the archaeological data from stratification. Likewise, with the long reigns of Manasseh & Josiah inserted between the LMLK seals & rosette seals, it makes sense that the meaning/purpose of the words would have been lost & only the icons would seem necessary. By the way, I believe the 2-winged LMLK icons actually have rosette petals in the disc, but most cannot be seen due to weak impressions. I don’t believe it was a simple circle representing the sun as in your new Hezekiah bullae on BAR v28#4, but an imitation of the Hittite winged-rosette icon (BAR v23#5 p.53). I believe that if/when one of the actual 2-winged LMLK sealing devices is excavated, this detail will be noticed. Although if they were for Levites, they may have been ritually destroyed & we will never find them.

There are no other instances of the exact 4-letter word “MMST” known at this time.

I will now present 3 pieces of evidence to support my slogan theory (one for MMST, one for HBRN, & one for both SWKH & ZYP):

Evidence 1) MMST, like the other Hebrew words, is not an exclusive GN. I like the sound of that sentence so I’m going to repeat it: “MMST, like the other Hebrew words, is not an exclusive GN.” While it is obvious from the Bible that HBRN, SWKH, & ZYP can be identified with ***both*** PNs & GNs, the closest links to “MMST” are Strong’s 4474, 4475, & 4910. Notice that those 3 words include a lamed letter while the LMLK seals do not. However, no scholar has ever pointed out that ***all*** of the different LMLK HBRN seals are scriptio defectiva! If MMSLT (4475) is the correct interpretation, & if the engraver was limited by space or chose to limit the letters to an artistic consistency of 4 in the top register & no more than 4 in the bottom, then the engraver would have to eliminate the lamed to avoid confusion with Strong’s 4474 (MMSL). And there apparently was a distinguished meaning between the two (4474 & 4475) since there are many examples of each (although more of 4474 than 4475). Daniel 11:5 is the only verse that uses all 3 forms to make a point! So scriptio defectiva HBRoN & MMSlT in all known LMLK seals are consistent. I must also point out that the erroneous belief that if MMST is a GN, it must be located in the north (as opposed to Kurnub=Mampsis in the south) due to the large quantity found there. The facts show that few M4x handles were manufactured, & therefore few were distributed in the geographical regions destroyed by Sennacherib, whereas the locations near Jerusalem were not destroyed, & therefore they continued to use the jars after Sennacherib left when most of the 2-winged jars were manufactured as part of the normal tithe/firstfruits collections–not for military build-up. In other words, if you were to isolate the M4C, M4L, & M2U seals that have been excavated, you would see that they were evenly distributed throughout the kingdom & stop promoting the myth that MMST must be a northern GN. By this time next year, I hope to have produced a new set of distribution maps of the seal types to show the error of Welten’s maps that were based on the 4 words as towns. Scholars should let the facts speak for themselves & not attempt to force the facts to fit an indemonstrable conclusion. The M2D & M2T seals are mostly found in the northern areas that were not destroyed–not because some mythical city of MMST was located there. There–after 2,700 years, the facts have finally spoken!

Evidence 2) The only site excavated to date with a clear majority of 1 of the 4 words is Lachish. It’s the stumbling block of both GN theories (Theory 2 & Theory 3 described above). It doesn’t make sense that a majority of Hebron jars would be in a region virtually equidistant from both possible Shokohs, Hebron, & the northern Ziph just south of Hebron. Likewise, why would the residents of Lachish prefer the Hebron vintage of wine, or why would King Hezekiah force them to drink one vintage of wine when he knew well how they complained about having to eat the same manna day after day when they were delivered from Egypt?!! I can’t resist the humor because I’m having fun with history! However, it comes as no surprise when interpreting the words literally since an acceptable meaning for HBRoN is “alliance” given the evidence already pointed out that an Egyptian populace resided at Lachish. And please do not misunderstand me–I’m not attempting to prove that the LMLK HBRN jars were manufactured in/near Lachish–I believe that all the jars were manufactured in one location (a royal pottery that also produced non-Levitical ware), sent to Jerusalem for filling, & distributed all over the place equally (except possibly to Lachish due to the meaning & importance of their friendship/alliance). Instead of meaning “Alliance to the King”, the real meaning may have been simply “Friendship for the King” or “Society Belonging to the King”. My point is that the GN theories cannot explain the majority of HBRN seals in Lachish but my theory can.

Evidence 3) Literal interpretations of the other 2 words are consistent with the context of support for the king: ZYP can mean “battlement” or “mouthful” & SWKH can mean “defense”. I admit that these meanings may also apply to the “military build-up” theory, but I will address that below.

So I speculate that as the people brought their tithes & firstfruits throughout Hezekiah’s 29-year reign, they chanted or thought of the slogans with ZYP & MMST being the earliest, then HBRN becoming the most popular prior to Sennacherib’s attack, then SWKH (“defense”) when they first learned about Sennacherib’s campaign (hence the reason we have not yet found any 4-winged cursory (Diringer class I) SWKH seals & probably never will. After Sennacherib’s attack, all 4 words became somewhat homogenized. God may have given us this clue to the interpretation since that is also the order in which the words were revealed in the 19th century.

Now I will discuss the word, “LMLK”. I’m open-minded to it possibly indicating something for the Ammonite deity since that is the only usage of it in the Bible. It was the obvious initial choice of meaning used by the 19th-century scholars. The Israelites are constantly warned about sacrificing to Molek. However, the context of the seals have been chiefly associated with the time of Hezekiah’s reign, & the Bible clearly indicates that he was one of the better kings who led a worship reform. 2Chronicles 29-31 provides details that are harmonious with the archaeological finds:
31:4_Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD.
5_As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
(Note: Type 484 jars are suitable containers for all 3 main types of produce–grain, wine, & oil–& I would expect traces of all 3 to be found in future excavations (carbonized grain has been found in other pottery) & chemical analyses since solid particles of oil & wine were trapped in the ware; I don’t think the technology presently exists to distinguish them.)
19_Also for the sons of Aaron the priests, who were in the fields of the common-lands of their cities, in every single city, there were men who were designated by name to distribute portions to all the males among the priests and to all who were listed by genealogies among the Levites.
20_Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the LORD his God.

I will revisit verse 19 when I discuss the personal seals below. As for linking “LMLK” to a royal standard like on the LMLK weights & inscribed jars (Bath LMLK & Half LMLK), the diverse volumes of Type 484 jars contradict it, & the theory that a known, standard volume of liquid may have been poured into the LMLK jars is untenable since they could have done that with the unstamped jars as well; there would have been no need to ever stamp them since the stoppers could have been stamped/sealed more conveniently after the standard volume was poured into them.

Regarding the theory that the LMLK personal seals should be identified only with government officials (Myth #2), I believe there is just as much (if not more) evidence to link them with Levites:
14_Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, the keeper of the East Gate, was over the freewill offerings to God, to distribute the offerings of the LORD and the most holy things.
15_And under him were Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, his faithful assistants in the cities of the priests, to distribute allotments to their brethren by divisions, to the great as well as the small.

Pay attention to the phrase “to the great as well as the small” since some scholars don’t understand why some places that could not have been fortified for a military build-up have a few LMLK handles “in every single city” (note verse 19 above). For “Kore the son of Imnah” in verse 14 see Sass/Avigad #675 which has an undeciphered bottom register. Several other names from that chapter can be applied to known personal seals (664, 672, 673, 676, 677, 678, 684, 690, 698, 699, 702, 703) & that was only the terminus a quo for the LMLK seals (probably before the Levites were issued personal seals), but the most important evidence is the lack of titles whereas one would expect titles for officials such as the famous Sass/Avigad #663. If they were all officials as Vaughn/Barkay claim, why do no others have titles? Levites were simply men born in the tribe of Levi & did not have titles like Catholic priests are titled “Bishop X”, “Cardinal Y”, & “Pope Z”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but all servants/stewards (i.e., Vaughn/Barkay’s “officials”) of the king were titled “servant/steward of the king” (such as recently published bullae of Amaryahu, Domla, & Tobshalem). I must also point out that the only 2 known handles stamped with both a LMLK seal & a personal seal, & the only 3 jars (Lachish 10457 & 10074, & possibly the hypothetical Tell Beit Mirsim jar discussed in BASOR 245) are 2-winged seals indicating a slightly later time (maybe about a decade) from the initial reform outlined in the 2Chronicles 31 quote above, so I would not expect a perfect match between the Biblical list of names & the names on personal seals. But the same could be said for officials. As for what I will do when I finish with the LMLK impressions, I don’t expect to ever be “finished” with the LMLK data, but if I ever do, I’d like to return to my original purpose of confirming/adjusting the 701 date for Sennacherib at Lachish. I don’t believe it’s as solid as scholars assume, & was probably several years earlier (the range of 710-705). I don’t believe the Egyptian/Assyrian/Babylonian/Persian date records have been scrutinized as well as they should be. That should keep me busy for the next couple of centuries!

Now for the so-called “military build-up” theory (Myth #3). It’s indefensible due to the simple archaeological fact that the majority of LMLK jars have been excavated from the context of public buildings scattered throughout the sites instead of clustered into a single storeroom or storage area (with Timnah being an exception, although my understanding is that Timnah was a relatively small site recently reclaimed by Hezekiah from the Philistines & I would not expect to find as many Levites dwelling there as in the majority of other Judean cities, but I ***would*** expect Hezekiah to collect tithes & firstfruits from them). Likewise, there would have been no need to continue manufacturing the jars after Sennacherib retreated following his inability to conquer Jerusalem, yet the archaeological evidence demonstrates that most of the x2D & x2T jars were manufactured after this. I applaud Orna Zimhoni for being one of the few scholars open-minded enough to doubt the viability of this myth.

This leads to my seal-chronology theory as an alternative to Myth #4. Diringer believed the x4C seals were from a distinct period followed by the x4L seals, which were in turn followed by x2x seals. I believe he was mostly right but for an entirely different reason. His was based on the inscriptions; mine is based on the stratified impressions. I must interject a comment that it was such an unfortunate pity that he lumped all x2x seals into the same classification (Class III). As a result, most of the important information I’ve recently discovered could have been learned sooner. By the way, I have tremendous respect & admiration for David Diringer. Prior to collecting (or even knowing about) LMLK seals, my main interest was writing in general–from cuneiform to hieroglyphs to Phoenician to Greek to Latin to English–& I know that Diringer wrote some of the classic texts on the general subject of writing, scripts, & languages. While I was at the Bade Institute photographing the Mizpah handles, I couldn’t help but notice in Dr. Bade’s library a mint copy of Diringer’s classic “Le Iscrizioni Antico-Ebraiche Palestinesi” from 1934. This book is impossible to find on the market & is not in any southern California library (university or public) so I was thrilled to finally see it. But imagine how much more thrilled I was to find inserted near the title page a handwritten letter from Diringer on his personal stationery (his Italian office letterhead) to Dr. Bade discussing paleography publications!!! I pointed it out to the curator’s assistant, & he said casually, “Oh yeah, there are lots of things like that in here.”

At this point, having already seen my Seal Sets web page, I would invite you to review 2 more pages on my website as a background for the subsequent discussion:

Regarding the Lachish III Pl. 46 no. 15, a divided two-winged MMST, while nos. 13 and 14 are undivided…

How unscientific to mention impressions with no cross-reference to the strata they were excavated from! Indeed, as I have indicated on the Stratigraphy page of my website, the problem with Ussishkin (Tel Aviv v10#2 Table 1) & Tufnell/Diringer is that they never presented their data in the detailed manner done by Aharoni in “Investigations at Lachish (V)” & Mazar et al in “Qedem 42”. The “Lachish III” & “PEQ July 1941” data are utterly useless since Diringer lumped all 2-winged impressions into a single class & then he (& later Ussishkin) reported only quantities of cities with absolutely no distinction between the 3 major sub-classes (divided, undivided, & top-register only) of the 2-winged class! Anyway, there is no doubt that a few x2D seals were found at Lachish but I have yet to see proof that they were from Stratum 3 like the x2U seals. The majority of Lachish’s 400+ handles were surface finds. It is also interesting to note that none of the archaeologists (Tufnell, Aharoni, Ussishkin) reported finding any circles from Stratum 3 either. According to Lance who performed the oft-quoted critical analysis of the Lachish handles in HTR vol. 64 (footnote 35, p. 322): Out of 45 2-winged stamps found at Lachish, the loci of only 14 are known; the other 31 were either from the surface or unclear spots. On p. 329 he concludes, “there is no doubt that the 2-winged LMLK handles must be attributed to Level 3”, but he never attempts to distinguish between the sub-classes of 2-winged seals & never mentions handles with circles, which are overwhelmingly demonstrated to be associated with only two of the 2-winged sub-classes (i.e., not with the undivided seals or 4-winged seals). Lance, incidentally, wrote an excellent summary of the contradiction/indefensibility of the GN theories in the 1992 Anchor Bible Dictionary (“Stamps, Royal Jar Handle”). As for the 3 MMST photos in Lachish III Pl. 46, they are useless if they cannot be associated with strata. According to Lance, out of the 14 he said had known loci, only 3 particular 2-winged handles were clearly excavated in contexts that nobody can dispute the strata: find numbers 6785 (level 2), 7071 (level 3), & 7146 (level 3)–all 3 of them are MMST. The 11 other 2-winged seals from Lachish are from debatable contexts. I contacted the British Museum. They have 200 handles from the Lachish excavations. Only 3 of them are MMST. How wonderful it would have been if they had been identified as 6785, 7071, & 7146! But alas, none of them are! One is 4-winged, one is an M2U, & the other is an M2D, & all 3 are documented as surface finds (4177, 4146, & 14)! We need to re-excavate 6785, 7071, & 7146 from whichever institution in the world is hiding them & see which types they are! Since there were only 7 or 8 M2x handles found at Lachish, they shouldn’t be too hard to find. I’d bet money that 6785 is an M2D & 7071 & 7146 are M2Us! In any case, as I demonstrate on my 2 stratigraphy pages (noted above), the overwhelming majority of x2D & x2T AND ALL CIRCLES are from late strata; the majority of the x4x & x2U handles are from early strata. The single M2D & single G2T found in Jerusalem do not cancel the majority, especially since Jerusalem was never stratified with a destruction layer by Sennacherib, so I’m already prepared mentally to deal with a handful of out-of-the-norm finds. (Note: A single rosette jar was found in a Lachish level 3 context (Aharoni’s Locus 63) but nobody is suggesting a pre-Sennacherib date for the Rosette jars.) Bear in mind the words of Yohanan Aharoni that I quote at the top of my Stratigraphy page (especially his #3 statement). I’m not saying that the x2D seals, x2T seals, & circles are strictly post-Sennacherib; the evidence is simply that they are all later than the x4x & x2U seals. I should also emphasize the earlier point I made about the personal seals only being associated with 2-winged seals. Here’s a basic outline of a likely chronology:
x4C (pithos)
x4C (type 484)
x2U (personal seals)
Sennacherib’s attack
x2D (personal seals & circles)
x2T (circles)

If correct, that would damage the theory equating the 4-winged icons w/ Israel & 2-winged icons w/ Judah due to the personal seals being associated only with 2-winged–it’s just that the 2-winged seals coincided chronologically with the introduction of the personal seals. Note also that out of over 1000 impressions we have reliable statistics for, about half are 4-winged & half are 2-winged–consistent with the less than 100 impressions we have reliable stratigraphy for, again, about half are pre-Sennacherib (4-winged), & half are post-Sennacherib (2-winged)–consistent with King Hezekiah’s reign of 14 years prior to Sennacherib & 15 years afterward (& I don’t even want to get into the arguments over his reign–I believe the Biblical reports of Sennacherib attacking in the 14th year out of a 29-year reign based on Divine Providence in guiding the writers–not that they were perfect, just guided). Scholars should embrace this general finding without regard for how they feel about the inscription interpretation theory, although I think people like Lance would be open-minded to it since he realizes that the GN theories are contradicted by facts. I don’t think they will embrace it though because it interferes with their military build-up fantasy; military events just happened to coincide during normal Levitic priest functions under King Hezekiah’s reign. There! Once again, the facts have spoken! Ha! Ha!

I want to emphasize that nobody has published any handles with circles (with or without LMLK stamps) found under the Assyrian destruction layer. As far as I know, all the Lachish circles were surface finds. Of 9 handles from Arad, 3 x2x handles are from 2 different strata. Aharoni’s description of circles is on handle #3 from strata 7 while handles #1 & #2 are from strata 8. Again, how unfortunate that there are no photos available to prove that the stratum 8 handles are H2U & the stratum 7 handle with circles is H2D. Add another $2,000 to my wager! Also note that as late as A.D. 2001, a well-respected & knowledgeable scholar like Ephraim Stern apparently believes the circles to be of a unique class of jars both separate from & later than LMLK jars:
“…most scholars now agree that the 2 other symbols depicted on the LMLK jar handles, the rosette seal impressions & the concentric circles incised on them, should be limited to a period from the later part of the 7th century BCE until the destruction in 586 BCE.”
That’s a direct quote by him on p. 174 of “Archaeology of the Land of the Bible vol. II”. This is a good time to note that David Noel Freedman, the General Editor of the series, would probably classify Ephraim Stern as a “world-class scholar” & me as a “general reader who may not have special training or skill in studying the Bible” in his preface opposite the title page.

Regarding nos. 8 and 9 being divided two-winged Ziphs while Lachish V Pl. 19, no. 14 is an undivided two-winged Ziph…

Using my clear film line drawings, I can say that Pl. 46 no. 7 does not match any of the divided seals, but it is a match for H2U, M2U, & Z2U, & of those 3, Z2U is the most likely (the bottom register is smeared). As already noted, 8 & 9 are not cross-referenced. Lachish V Pl. 19 no. 14 (Z2U) & 15 (M2U) support my theory. Ussishkin shows two 2-winged jars in BASOR 223. The weak one in figure 2 has no visible inscription, but the remaining impression matches perfectly with my clear film line drawing of S2U & is close to Z2U–it is similar to some x2D seals but does not match any of them. You’ll see below in the chronological analysis that the 2-winged seals evolved from very wavy wings to moderately wavy to rigid. His other one in figure 4 is obviously S2U. In Tel Aviv v4#1-2, Ussishkin states in the bottom paragraph on p. 56: “Royal storage jars of all types … were used profusely in Level 3 prior to its destruction in 701 B.C.E., showing that all types of these jars were used concurrently in Judah during the reign of Hezekiah.” His misleading use of the phrase “all types” is limited to Diringer’s broad Class 3 denoting a 2-winged icon. In the following sentences, Ussishkin qualifies his remark to specify that he couldn’t assign all types to Hezekiah, but the damage has already been done & he implies that they were all made/used either during his reign or before it. The evidence from other sites contradicts his broad remark because he never sub-classified 2-winged seals into top-register, divided, or undivided types. I think his statement has misled most scholars to believe he meant “all LMLK seals” instead of “representatives from all of Diringer’s broad classifications”. By the way, David just gave me permission to display his photos on my website this week so now I’m a big Ussishkin fan–I know that he was just following scholarly traditions in his excavation reports.

Another point I’d like to make is regarding the bias in excavation reports towards stamped handles without regard for stamped ones. I am so grateful to the excavators of Timnah (kudos to Amihai!) for doing such an excellent job of breaking this bad tradition. Timnah evidence is in wonderful harmony with the Bible’s description of King Hezekiah assuring the distribution of tithes to Levites. I have a theory that (since only a small portion of Lachish has been excavated so far) maybe one day when it’s completely excavated the numbers may balance out among the 4 words. Until then, the facts disturb the GN theories more than my slogan theory. Since Type 484s have 4 handles & only 1 stamped handle qualifies it as a LMLK jar the same as one with all 4 handles stamped, then it is possible to find 4 HBRN handles, 3 MMST handles, 2 SWKH handles, & 1 ZYP handle representing a total of 4 jars! So I’m not too concerned about the fact that of the 700 handles identified so far on the Corpus page of my website, 400 are HBRN & 100 each with the other 3 words. There still may have been an equal number of jars manufactured with each of the seals in a set of 4 after the x4C seals were phased out. Indeed, of the two sites thoroughly excavated & documented that I know about (Timnah & Mizpah), there appears to be an equal number of jars with the 4 words (about 2 or 3 of each at Timnah & about 5 to 7 each from Mizpah. And although it is purely speculative, Barkay has suggested that the unprovenanced horde of handles published in EI vol. 23 were probably from Tell Beit Mirsim. What a coincidence that the original Albright excavations found only HBRN stamps (1 H4C & 3 H2U) & Barkay’s handles were only MMST, SWKH, & ZYP (4 M2U, 2 S2U, 2 S4L, 2 Z2U, & a handful of unclassifiables)! (Note–no circles at all!) The same miracle could happen at future Lachish excavations. I would also be open-minded to expecting one day to find a restored or even complete jar with a mixed combination of seals; in other words, a 4-handled jar with maybe 2 HBRNs, 1 MMST, & 1 blank or any other multitude of combinations, because I wonder whether the frame of minds of most archaeologists is such that when they excavate a pile of shards with LMLK handles with different words that they cannot possibly be from the same jar & they therefore don’t even attempt to fit the pieces together & restore the jar.

The petrography analysis of IEJ 34:89-113 only deepens the mystery & doesn’t prove/disprove any of the major theories (including mine). I have a page devoted to all 3 major LMLK chemical analyses:

Having established a basis for a chronological division among the LMLK seals based on stratified finds, it is now possible to see a further confirmation by the consistency of inscription styles among the SWKH & ZYP designs with a trend towards abbreviation (note–HBRN & MMST are exactly the same (scriptio defectiva) on all known examples since they were probably abbreviated for artistic reasons due to their length):
Z4CY = “ZYP” (yod properly written)
Z4CI = “ZYP” (inverted yod due to an illiterate engraver attempting to copy the earlier one)
Z4L = “ZP.”
Z2U = “ZYP”
Z2D = “ZP”
Z2T = “ZP”

S4L = “SWKH”
S2U = “SWKH.”
S2DR = “SKH”

The use of word divider dots in the Z4L & S2U leads me to believe that the Z4L may have been manufactured slightly later than the other 3 x4L seals & the S2U seal was manufactured slightly earlier than the other 3 x2U seals. This is confirmed by the noticeable stylistic difference between the S2U & its companions in the x2U set. Notice how much more consistent the chronology would appear by reversing the order of just those 2 seals:
Z4CY = “ZYP”
Z4CI = “ZYP”
Z2U = “ZYP”
Z4L = “ZP.”
Z2D = “ZP”
Z2T = “ZP”

S2U = “SWKH.”
S4L = “SWKH”
S2DR = “SKH”

As for the sequence of x2T seals & the S2DR, I don’t believe there is enough evidence to speculate why we only have one x2DR type (although the H2T & M2T may have similar rigid-wing designs), but I believe it may be closely related to the mysterious double-shin impression from Mizpah I mentioned in a previous E-mail:
The double-shin seal may have been a blundered attempt at an S2T & someone later recognized the mistake & replaced it with an S2DR with a “LMLK” in the top register. In any case I am certain these were made/used during the latter half of Hezekiah’s reign after Sennacherib left sans a significant number of his “mighty men of valor, leaders, & captains”. This particular subject also supports my theory about the chronological sequence because I believe that by the time the x2T seals were made, the 5 words had lost their meaning to the point where the engraver placed all the words in the top register & didn’t realize the difference between the word “LMLK” & the other 4 words; either that or the G2T was made shortly after the other x2T seals to replace them when they were discovered to be missing “LMLK” by a literate person–this would also explain the minority of impressions from the H2T, M2T, S2T, & Z2T seals & a majority of G2T impressions. And for practical purposes it probably didn’t matter much to the literate people who could read the impressions because the main purpose of the seals was to indicate tithe jars for Levites & the icons accomplished that purpose for the general populace, which was mostly illiterate.

I refer to the 4 words as 4 words to remain scientific. I don’t accept the academy’s “4 cities”, “4 towns”, “4 districts”, “4 zones”, “4 estates”, or “4 vineyards”! I like to keep an open mind in most matters & enjoy the mystery of this subject. I enjoy reading the debates among the noteworthy & well-respected scholars of the 19th & 20th centuries. In summary, I still see no evidence that denies the possibility of the “4 words” representing literal statements instead of GNs or PNs, & I still see no evidence that indicates that all LMLK seals were made/used prior to Sennacherib’s attack. Scholars should at least embrace that theory since it harmonizes the problems that troubled Yohanan Aharoni when Ussishkin et al demonstrated the 2-winged (but only x2U) seals belonged to the earlier period. Now everyone can be happy! (I believe Aharoni would have supported me; it’s too bad he’s no longer here.) Anyway, if there were no chronological distinction between x2U & x2D seals, then why are incised circles limited to one & not the other? I respect Na’aman for being honest enough (as recently as BASOR 261 in 1986) to conclude: “The role of the other 3 towns … (Socoh, Ziph, & MMST) remains unknown.” So the mystery continues…

G.M. Grena


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