Did You Know?

How do names on ancient clay seals compare with names mentioned in the Bible?

In antiquity, those who handled official documents rolled and tied them with a cord and then placed a lump of wet clay on the knot and stamped it with a seal. They used seal impressions to sign, witness, and authenticate the documents.

Seals were sometimes incorporated into signet rings and were considered precious objects. (Genesis 38:18; Esther 8:8; Jeremiah 32:44) Often, the seal carried the name of the owner, his official title, and the name of his father.

Researchers have found hundreds of ancient seal impressions, known as bullae. Some of these carry the names of people mentioned in the Bible. For example, archaeologists have found impressions made from what are believed to be the personal seals of two Judean kings. One text reads: “Belonging to Ahaz [son of] Yehotam [Jotham], King of Judah.” Other texts read: “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah.” (2 Kings 16:1, 20) Ahaz and Hezekiah reigned during the eighth century B.C.E.

Scholars have examined a number of other bullae impressed with seals believed to have been owned by Bible characters. Among these are people mentioned in Jeremiah’s writings, such as Baruch (Jeremiah’s secretary), Gemariah (“son of Shaphan”), Jerahmeel (“son of the king”), Jucal (“son of Shelemiah”), and Seraiah (Baruch’s brother).​—Jeremiah 32:12; 36:4, 10, 26; 38:1; 51:59.

How are different times of the day identified in the Bible?

The Hebrew Scriptures use such expressions as “morning,” “noon,” “midday,” and “evening.” (Genesis 24:11; Deuteronomy 28:29; 1 Kings 18:26) The Hebrews divided the night into three watches of about four hours each but later adopted the Greek and Roman system of four night watches. Jesus evidently referred to this latter method of dividing time when he said: “Keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late in the day or at midnight or at cockcrowing or early in the morning.” (Mark 13:35) The watch “late in the day” ran from sunset to 9:00 p.m. The next ended at midnight, and the third, the “cockcrowing,” ran till about three o’clock in the morning. The last, the early morning watch, ran until sunrise. It was during “the fourth watch period of the night” that Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee.​—Matthew 14:23-26.

In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term “hour” referred to one-twelfth of the period of daylight as counted from sunrise to sunset. (John 11:9) Since sunrise and sunset in Israel vary according to the season, only the approximate time of an event was usually given, such as “about the sixth hour.”​—Acts 10:9.

[Picture on page 15]

Clay seals with the names Hezekiah and Ahaz (front) and possibly Baruch (back)

[Credit Lines]

Back: Courtesy of Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Front: www.BibleLandPictures.com/​Alamy

[Picture on page 15]

Sundial, Roman imperial period (27 B.C.E.–476 C.E.)

[Credit Line]

© Gerard Degeorge/​The Bridgeman Art Library International