Who were Elihana bat Gael and Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu?

Two seals bearing Hebrew names were uncovered in a building dating to the First Temple period in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the parking lot at the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park.

“Finding seals that bear names from the time of the First Temple is hardly a commonplace occurrence, and finding a seal that belonged to a woman is an even rarer phenomenon,” said the archeologists, announcing the find just before International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016.

The seals were discovered inside a structure built of fine masonry, believed to have been an administrative center.

According to excavation directors Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, “Personal seals, such as those of Elihana and Sa‘aryahu, were used for signing documents, and were frequently inlaid as part of a ring that was worn by the owner. In antiquity they designated the identity, genealogy and status of the owner of the seal.”

On the rare woman’s seal, made of semi-precious stone, appears the mirror-writing of “to Elihana bat Gael” inscribed in ancient Hebrew. The female owner of the ring is mentioned here together with the name of her father.

“Seals that belonged to women represent just a very small proportion of all the seals that have been discovered to date. This is because of the generally inferior economic status of women, apart from extraordinary instances such as this,” said Prof. Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Indeed, the name Elihana does not appear in the Bible, and there is no other information regarding the identity of the woman, but the fact that she possessed a seal demonstrates her high social status.”

The second seal bears the inscription “to Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu,” a male name that also appears on a sherd found previously in Arad.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has been excavating the parking lot for nine years in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation.

The Elihana seal shown with a figurine of a woman from the First Temple period, which symbolized fertility and was also exposed in the Giv‘ati parking lot
The Elihana seal shown with a figurine of a woman from the First Temple period, which symbolized fertility and was also exposed in the Giv‘ati parking lot