Bullae, bullae: Discovery changing scholars’ understanding of Israeli history

Associate professor Jimmy Hardin examines an Egyptian
figurine dating to the 10th or 11th century BC.

Six official clay seals found by a Mississippi State University archaeological team at a small site in Israel offer evidence that may support the existence of biblical kings David and Solomon.

Many modern scholars have dismissed David and Solomon as mythological figures because most archaeological evidence, prior to this discovery, suggested the region’s state formation began during the late eighth century B.C. For this reason, most scholars believed no kingdom could have existed in the region during the Iron Age IIA in 10th century B.C. when the Bible recounts David and Solomon’s activities.

However, the new finds provide evidence that some type of government activity was conducted there during that period. The MSU team’s findings were published in the December 2014 issue of Near Eastern Archaeology, a leading, peer-reviewed journal for this field.

Jimmy Hardin, associate professor in the MSU Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures, said the clay bullae his team discovered were used to seal official correspondence in much the same way wax seals were used on official documents in later periods.

Since 2011, Hardin, co-director of the Hesi Regional Project, has excavated each summer at Khirbet Summeily, a site east of Gaza in southern Israel. The dig site was chosen so researchers could study border dynamics between the nations of Philistia and Judea in the area previously dated to the 10th century B.C.

“Our preliminary results indicated that this site is integrated into a political entity that is typified by elite activities, suggesting that a state was already being formed in the 10th century B.C.,” Hardin said. “We are very positive that these bullae are associated with the Iron Age IIA, which we date to the 10th century B.C., and which lends general support to the historical veracity of David and Solomon as recorded in the Hebrew biblical texts.”

Two of the bullae Hardin’s team excavated have complete seal impressions, two have partial seal impressions, and two others have none. Two bullae were blackened by fire. One bulla has a well-preserved hole where the string used to seal the document passed through the clay. The impressions in the bullae do not contain writing.

“These appear to be the only known examples of bullae from the 10th century, making this discovery unique,” Hardin said.

Learn more about this exciting discovery here: http://www.msstate.edu/web/media/detail.php?id=6985.

By Bonnie Coblentz, Photography by Megan Bean