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Bullae are small lumps of clay, often fingernail-sized and shaped as flat disks, which were usually affixed to a cord binding a commodity or a document and then stamped with a seal. Hebrew bullae from the time of the Kingdom of Judah are known from recorded excavations as well as from the antiquities market. This article reports the results of a set of analyses that were made of two celebrated bullae attributed to Berekhyahu (Baruch) son of Neriyahu, the scribe to the prophet Jeremiah mentioned in Jer 36:1–4. These results were compared with similar analyses of more than 180 bullae, most of them from Jerusalem. The results of the comparision, together with their interpretations, are presented, pointing to the production of the two Berekhyahu bullae in modern times.
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© 2014 American Schools of Oriental Research. BASOR 372 (2014): 147–58.
e Authenticity of the Bullae of Berekhyahu
Son of Neriyahu the Scribe
Y G  E A
Bullae are small lumps of clay, oen ngernail-sized and shaped as at disks, which were usu-
ally axed to a cord binding a commodity or a document and then stamped with a seal. Hebrew
bullae from the time of the Kingdom of Judah are known from recorded excavations as well as
from the antiquities market. is article reports the results of a set of analyses that were made
of two celebrated bullae attributed to Berekhyahu (Baruch) son of Neriyahu, the scribe to the
prophet Jeremiah mentioned in Jer 36:1–4. ese results were compared with similar analyses of
more than 180 bullae, most of them from Jerusalem. e results of the comparision, together with
their interpretations, are presented, pointing to the production of the two Berekh yahu bullae in
modern times.
Yuval Goren: Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near
Eastern Cultures, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel,
ygoren@post.tau.ac.il
Eran Arie: e Israel Museum, Jerusalem 9171002, Israel,
eranar@imj.org.il
Introduction1
Little has been preserved in the archaeological re-
cord from the rich literary material of the king-
dom of Judah (Fig. 1). Despite the discovery of
some contemporary written sources, such as ostraca and
seals, it may be assumed that many of the documents
were written on scrolls or papyri that have not survived.
Consequently, most of the scholarly records from this
period oen referred to in the biblical sources have been
lost forever. Only some meager remains of these texts
have been preserved in the form of bullae—namely, the
1 e study of the bullae mentioned here as Berekhyahu 1 and
Gealiyahu was carried out in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. e
study of Berekhyahu 2 by the rst author was made per the request of
Mr. Shukka Dorfman, the late general director of the Israel Antiqui-
ties Authority (IAA), and Mr. Amir Ganor, who was then in charge
of the Antiquities Looting Control Unit of the IAA, as part of a police
investigation that focused on several alleged archaeological forgeries.
clay sealings that were once attached to papyri. Bullae
are small lumps of clay, oen ngernail-sized and shaped
as at disks. ey were oen axed to a cord binding a
papyrus document and then stamped with a seal. Other
bullae apparently sealed basketry or fabrics, most likely
small bags containing commodities, evident by the im-
pressions on their reverse sides. A few bullae probably
functioned as tokens, having no cord impressions or fab-
ric or papyrus imprint (Avigad 1986: 13–14).
Only a relatively small number of bullae have been
found in the course of over a century of archaeological
exploration at the major Iron Age sites of Judah, until the
turn of the 21st century (Avigad 1997: 167–241). How-
ever, during the last decade, the number of bullae found
in recorded archaeological excavations, particularly in
Jerusalem, has been steadily increasing for several rea-
sons. First, due to their small size, such tiny clay objects
can easily escape the attention of inexperienced students
who do not search specically for them. But in some
recent excavations, there has been a concerted eort to
watch for them. Moreover, careful siing was not always
a common practice in many past excavations of the ma-
jor Judahite Iron Age sites, most likely causing the loss
of many of these tiny objects. Nevertheless, the introduc-
tion of wet sieving (a method already used for decades
in prehistoric research) in many excavations during the
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148 GOREN AND ARIE BASOR 372
last decade had immediate eects. Consequently, 20
years aer the discovery of merely 51 Iron Age bullae
in Jerusalem, all in one room in the Shiloh excavations,
the newly adopted archaeological methods resulted in
the discovery of hundreds of additional bullae. Within
only a few years, over 170 bullae from the excavations of
Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron (Reich, Shukron, and Ler-
nau 2007: 156–57; 2009) and over 200 bullae from Eilat
Mazar’s excavations (Mazar 2009: 69, and pers. comm.)
have come to light. It seems that, in this respect, profes-
sional archaeologists were no less responsible for the pre-
vious dearth of provenanced Judahite bullae before the
21st century than were the site looters and the demand
by the antiquities market.
e bullae uncovered in well-recorded stratigraphic
contexts of controlled excavations are among the most
important discoveries made in Iron Age strata in Israel.
At the same time, still larger numbers of unprovenanced
bullae are known from the antiquities market. Tracking
back their occurrence, it seems that most of the large
collections emerged as assemblages appearing gener-
ally aer the Six-Day War (1967), through to the turn
of the century, with major peaks occurring during the
early 1970s and the late 1980s. e forgeries trial that
occurred in Israel between 2004 and 2013 has seemingly
aected this ourishing trade, most likely as a result of
the increasing awareness of the existence of forgeries
and the decline in the demand for palaeo-Hebrew epi-
graphs.2 us, the largest collections of unprovenanced
Judahite bullae appeared in the antiquities market be-
tween ca. 1970 and 2000. Of these, the most notable were
2 Pers. comm. with three antiquities dealers from Jerusalem.
the lots from the Reuven Hecht and Yoav Sasson collec-
tions published by Avigad (1986; 1997), the Josef Chaim
Kaufman, and Shlomo Moussaie collections published
by Deutsch (2003a; 2003b), and a few other known lots.
Unknown numbers of other Iron Age bullae are kept in
additional private collections and smaller museums.
Two of these unprovenanced bullae are of particular
interest. In 1975, a bulla appeared in the antiquities mar-
ket, stamped with an oval seal 13 × 11 mm in size (Fig. 2:
le). e inscription, written in palaeo-Hebrew, reads:
lbrkyhw bn nryhw hspr ([belonging] to Berekhyahu
son of Neriyahu the scribe). is bulla (hereaer Be-
rekhyahu 1) was purportedly sealed by Baruch son of
Neriyah, the scribe to the prophet Jeremiah mentioned
in Jer 36:1–4 (see also Rollston in press). is bulla was
published by Avigad (1978; 1979; 1986: 27–28; 1997) by
permit of its purchaser, the Israeli businessman, donor,
and antiquities collector Dr. Reuven Hecht. is bulla
was donated by Hecht in 1976 to the Israel Museum in
Jerusalem and has been thereaer part of its collections
(reg. no. IMJ 76.22.2299). While the source of the bulla
may never be revealed, some rumors connected it with
the “burnt house” excavated by Shiloh in the City of
David where, as mentioned above, other bullae were re-
trieved in the course of legal excavations (Shiloh 1984:
19–20; 1986; Shiloh and Tarler 1986). But there were
other narratives linking it with dierent assumed cir-
cumstances of discovery (see Rollston in press). In 1996,
a second clay bulla surfaced in the antiquities market
with an identical inscription (hereaer Berekhyahu 2),
apparently stamped by the same seal (Fig. 2: right). is
specimen is kept now in the Moussaie collection in
London.
Fig. 1. Jerusalem and the boundaries of Judah in the Late Iron Age.
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149THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BULLAE OF BEREKHYAHU2014
Over the years, the two Berekhyahu bullae ignited
much excitement, allegedly for being two of the main
(though not the only) Iron Age epigraphs bearing familiar
biblical names. Indeed, among the many personal names
appearing on Iron Age bullae from legal excavations, there
are some belonging to gures known from the Bible. Such
are, for example, two names appearing on the bullae from
Area G in the City of David, including Gemaryahu son
of Shaphan (Shoam 2000: 33, B 2), a high ocial in the
court of King Jehoiakim, and Azaryahu son of ilkiyahu
(Shoam 2000: 43, B 27), probably a member of a priestly
family mentioned in the Books of Chronicles (Schnei-
der 1988). From Lachish, where a group of 17 bullae was
discovered inside a pottery juglet (Aharoni 1975: 19–22,
pl. 47:27), one bulla bears the name of Shevanyahu, the
servant or son of the king (Aharoni 1975: 21, pl. 20:5),
clearly a high ocial operating within the administra-
tive or clerical system of Judah. Several other names of
high ocials, sometimes familiar from the Bible, also ap-
pear on some as yet unpublished bullae from the more
recent excavations in Jerusalem (Mazar 2007). However,
the Berekhyahu bullae are directly related to a prophetic
gure—the scribe and friend of Jeremiah, according to
one interpretation, or the royal scribe, according to an-
other—and hence are of special interest. As such, they
have ignited considerable excitement, especially in the
popular archaeological literature. e March/April 1996
issue of Biblical Archeology Review featured an article on
Berekhyahu 2, referring to the clear impression of a n-
gerprint on the upper le side of it as the “ngerprint of
Fig. 2. e two bullae of Berekhyahu son of Neriyahu the scribe, as viewed from the sealed and reverse sides. Le: Berekhyahu 1; right:
Berekhyahu 2 (photo by the authors).
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150 GOREN AND ARIE BASOR 372
Jeremiah’s scribe” (Shanks 1996). More recently, the two
Berekhyahu bullae were ranked h out of the ten major
archaeological discoveries of the past century relating to
the biblical world, inferior only to the Dead Sea scrolls, the
Tel Dan inscription, the “Ketef Hinnom” amulets, and the
Galilee boat (Schoville 2002).
During the last decade, a research project applying
systematic laboratory examinations on numerous Juda-
hite bullae from recorded excavations in Jerusalem and
other Judahite sites has been carried out in the Labora-
tory for Comparative Microarchaeology at Tel Aviv Uni-
versity (Arie, Goren, and Samat 2011; Gadot, Goren, and
Lipschits 2013; Goren and Gurwin 2013; Goren, Gurwin,
and Arie 2014; Gurwin, Goren, and Lipschits in press).3
is study was aimed at providing analyses of some as yet
undetermined technical aspects of the Judahite bullae.
Since it is widely believed that bullae were used to seal
documents or small parcels issued by certain authorities,
ensuring the discreet reading of a message or the opening
of the parcel only by authorized individuals, the rst at-
tempt was aimed at disclosing the geographical origin of
the bullae through the composition and probable prove-
nience of their clays, in order to map the administrative
network of Judah during the middle to the end of the
Iron Age. is was based on the common assumption
that bullae could have sealed letters or clerical documents
written on papyri, which were then circulated within the
closed system of the Judahite bureaucracy. erefore, the
initial question was whether the material composition
of a given assemblage of bullae would reect sucient
similarity to justify their assignment to a single site, or
whether the analysis would show that they were made of
clay from dierent locations. To this end, minute samples
were extracted from the bullae by the peeling technique
(see Goren, Finkelstein, and Na’aman 2004: 11–12 for the
technical details), and examined in thin sections under
the petrographic microscope. e petrographic deni-
tion of each sample was then supported by physical and
chemical examinations under a variable vacuum (“envi-
ronmental”) scanning electron microscope (SEM). In ad-
3 e authors gratefully acknowledge funding for this project from
the Horowitz Foundation on behalf of the Interdisciplinary Center for
the Conservation and Study of Historical Heritage in Israel (ESHMOR),
and the Early Israel framework on behalf of the New Horizons program
of Tel Aviv University. e follow-up of this research is supported by
Israel Science Foundation (ISF) grant no. 947/12 entitled “e Admin-
istration of Judah under Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian Rule.” A
major part of the study of the provenance of bullae from Jerusalem was
undertaken by Ms. Shira Gurwin, now at the Eretz-Israel Museum in
Tel Aviv, as part of her M.A. thesis done under the supervision of the
rst author and Oded Lipschits. We are grateful to Eilat Mazar from the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Ronny Reich from the Zinman Insti-
tute of Archaeology, Haifa University; and Eli Shukron, Fawzi Ibrahim,
Debi Ben-Ami, Hava Katz, and Michael Saban of the Israel Antiquities
Authority for enabling us to study these bullae.
dition, the structural and technical aspects of the bullae
were examined based on surface observations under a
stereomicroscope, with magnications ranging between
10× and 100×. ese were made in order to record min-
ute details of the “substrate” (namely, the papyrus, fabric,
or parchment to which the bulla was secured), the cord
impressions, the ngerprints and other imprints, and
of course the seal impressions. ese examinations at-
tempted to address some technical questions, such as the
general nature and ne details of the typical formation
processes of bullae in Iron Age Judah.
e bullae studied in this research in petrographic
thin sections and under the SEM include 36 bullae from
a group comprising 51 items, uncovered in Area G at
the City of David by Shiloh (1984: 19–20; 1986; Shiloh
and Tarler 1986; Shoham 2000; Brandl 2000), two bul-
lae found by the British expedition at Lachish (Tufnell
1953: 348; pls. 44A:172–73; 45:172–73), an assemblage
of 17 bullae discovered by Aharoni at Lachish (Aharoni
1975: 19–22, pls. 20–21), and another bulla retrieved
from Beth-Zur (Sellers and Albright 1931: 8–9). In addi-
tion, 85 of the bullae discovered in E. Mazar’s excavations
in the City of David (Mazar 2007: 67–69) were analyzed
(Gurwin 2010), together with 45 items out of the nearly
170 bullae discovered near the Gihon Spring in the City
of David, dating to the late ninth–eighth centuries ...
(Reich, Shukron, and Lernau 2007: 156–57). All these
form the main reference group for the present study, in-
cluding altogether 186 bullae, all from legal excavations
and recorded provenance. To this, we may add similar
analyses of about 100 more unprovenanced bullae from
several private collections, including 20 bullae from the
Yoav Sasson collection published by Avigad (1986). is
study was complemented by the analysis of 22 bullae as-
sociated with the “Samaria Papyri” from a cave in Wadi
ed-Daliyeh, dated to the middle third of the fourth cen-
tury ... (Gurwin, Goren, and Lipschits in press).
e results of this study revealed many aspects, some
of which had gone unnoticed previously, concerning the
technology of bullae production by the Judahite scribes
during the ninth to sixth centuries ... ese results have
some signicant implications that aect our understand-
ing of the role of clay bullae in the clerical and bureau-
cratic administrative system of the later part of the Iron
Age (Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011; Goren and Gurwin
2013; Goren, Gurwin, and Arie 2014). With these details
in mind, it is only natural to address now some of the most
intriguing unprovenanced bullae discussed in the litera-
ture, including the two above-mentioned bullae ascribed
to Berekhyahu son of Neriyahu the scribe.4 Given this
4 e two bullae of Berekhyahu son of Neriyahu the scribe were
examined between 2004 and 2013. Berekhyahu 2 was studied by request
and special appointment issued by Mr. Shukka Dorfman, director of
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151THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BULLAE OF BEREKHYAHU2014
background, such comparison can address several ques-
tions concerning their possible provenance, technology,
and presumed authenticity. For reasons explained below,
we decided to add a third bulla, bearing the seal impression
reading: lg’lyhw bn hmlk ([belonging] to Gealiyahu son of
the King [Avigad 1986: no. 6, Israel Museum reg. no. IMJ
76.22.2301]), henceforth referred to as Gealiyahu 1.
Formation Process
Microscopic study of the reverse sides and edges of
over 200 bullae from legally controlled excavations re-
vealed the imprint of the substrate material, which from
the eighth century ... onward was almost always pa-
pyrus, and the cord that had tied it around the document
to which the clay bulla had been attached. is basic fea-
ture has already been noted by numerous scholars deal-
ing with the matter. However, relatively little attention
has been directed toward the process of bullae produc-
tion, as reected by the microscopic details of the seal-
ings. It is clear that some of the discussions of the way
bullae were used to seal documents were inuenced by
the more current use of sealing wax, by some misguided
preconceptions, or merely by some poor observation ap-
parently with the aid of low-powered magniers. Sadly,
this myopia appears in the introduction to the inuen-
tial book by Avigad (1986) as well as other publications.
However, the properties of wax are completely dierent
from those of clay, and, in contrast to pottery produc-
tion, for example, the technology of attaching clay bul-
lae over papyri, fabrics, parchment, and the like is now
extinct, and our knowledge cannot be supported by any
ethnographic or other analogical data. Nevertheless, the
examination of the bullae under a common stereomi-
croscope can be very telling and can reveal many facts.
When examined under such equipment, two types of
cord impressions can usually be distinguished on the
reverse side of the bullae: hollows created by cords that
were completely embedded in the clay (Fig. 3:1), and a
set of impressions of cords that were not completely en-
cased by the clay but only impressed into it (Fig. 3:2).
ese sets of cord impressions were separated by the two
dierent disk-shaped layers of clay, which were put one
above the other when wet, with the cord rolled between
them and under the lower one (Fig. 4). In the process,
ngerprint marks were oen le around the edges, re-
ecting a series of pressings made in shaping the nal
the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), as part of the investigation of se-
lected artifacts from the antiquities market. Berekhyahu 1 was studied
aer a written request was sent to one of the authors (YG) on Decem-
ber 23, 2008 by Ms. Michal Dayagi-Mendels, then the chief curator of
archaeology in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. It was reevaluated aer
a request by the second author aer his appointment as curator of the
Iron Age in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
contour of the sealing and oen blurring the contact line
between the clay layers.
To be sure, the original users of the clay bullae were as
much concerned about their authenticity as present-day
museum curators, archaeologists, and antiquities collec-
tors. Hence, this rather complicated shaping method was
employed specically to prevent the fraudulent removal
and manipulation of bullae from the documents they
sealed. Because bullae served as certicates, or the equiv-
alent of today’s signature combined with a logo heading,
measures had to be taken to prevent fraud. Because the
results of our recent studies suggest that in most (if not
all) cases, epigraphic bullae were used from the eighth
century ... onward to seal legal documents and con-
tracts, rather than letters (Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011;
Goren and Gurwin 2013), the formation of a bulla around
a sealed document as well as its treatment aer removal
from it needed to be made in a sophisticated way that
would ensure the complete association between the bulla
and the cord. is fact was apparently underestimated by
past scholars (i.e., Avigad 1986; 1997), who presented an
overly simplistic view of the way bullae were constructed
and utilized.
e credit for rst noticing the complexity of bulla
formation, or at least discussing it in the literature,
should be given to Baruch Brandl. In an attempt to ex-
plain the possible method used to form the bullae from
Shilohs excavations, Brandl (2000) suggested that they
were made of an elongated, at, ovoid lump of clay. is
lump was placed over the cord that had been rolled sev-
eral times around the papyrus. en the cord was tied
over the clay, which in turn was folded over the knot
and pressed in order to seal it. en the clay was sealed
while still wet and set to harden. Brandl’s observations
represent the rst attempt to examine closely the pattern
of bulla construction through careful study of their de-
tails. Yet our microscopic examinations and simulations
with clay, papyrus, and ad hoc seals made of dentists’ wax
(Fig. 5:1) revealed a somewhat dierent pattern (Arie,
Goren, and Samet 2011), which can be summarized as
follows: First, the papyrus document was folded into a
at elongated rectangle (Fig. 5:2, showing it by mistake
as rolled). e cord was then wrapped around it several
times (Fig. 5:3). Next, a at lump of clay was pressed
against the cord (Fig. 5:4). e cord was then wrapped
several times around both the papyrus and the lump of
clay (Fig. 5:5). Aer this, another at lump of clay was
placed over both the cord and the rst lump and pressed
onto them (Fig. 5:6). e top of the two-tiered lump of
clay with string in the middle was then impressed with
the sealing ring (Fig. 5:7). While the ring was still pressed
into the clay, the edges of the bulla were smoothed by
ngers, leaving a set of ngerprints all around (Fig. 5:8).
e seal was then removed, leaving the clay bulla securely
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152 GOREN AND ARIE BASOR 372
Fig. 4. Close-up of the two sides of the bulla of Hilkiyahu son of Ma’as, discovered in Starkey’s excavations at Lachish. Note the two clay layers,
which were put slightly oset and thus can be seen from both sides (photo: Y. Goren).
Fig. 3. Close-up view under the stereomicroscope of a typical Judahite bulla viewed from the lateral side, showing the papyrus impres-
sion and two sets of cord imprints, one crossing the bulla internally (1) and the other partly pressed into the lateral side (2) (photo:
Y. Goren).
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153THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BULLAE OF BEREKHYAHU2014
attached to the folded and tied document (Fig. 5:9). Aer
drying, it became impossible to open the document with-
out breaking the bulla or cutting the cord. Our examina-
tions indicate that all the Iron Age bullae bearing papyrus
impressions from documented and legally controlled ex-
cavations that we have examined thus far were formed
by this method. In several cases, when the two lumps of
clay were placed slightly oset, the border between them
can be clearly seen either on the reverse or the side of
the bulla (Fig. 4). ese steps seem to have escaped the
attention of most scholars who have previously studied
Judahite bullae (i.e., Avigad 1986: 13–14; 1997: 31–41;
Deutsch 1999: 13–16).
e study of the two Berekhyahu bullae under the ste-
reomicroscope indicates that while they are identical to
each other in terms of their formation process, they dier
signicantly from the above-described chain of operations
that typies the excavated Judahite bullae. A general look
at their lateral side (Fig. 6) reveals that they both engulfed
only a single cord and, signicantly, a crude one as op-
posed to the delicate strings that le their impressions in
most of the provenanced bullae that we analyzed. e thick
and clumsy cord in Berekhyahu 1 and 2 penetrates through
the clay at about the center of their thickness from one side
to about two-thirds of their diameter, then pulls out and
forms a loop that is partly pressed into the clay in the op-
posite direction. Aer the loop the cord was unraveled to
its bers, indicating that this part was near the end of the
cord. is phenomenon can be seen on both Berekhyahu
1 and 2 under somewhat higher magnications, especially
when the lateral side is inspected from an oblique angle
parallel to the exit of the cord from the clay (Fig. 6). ere-
fore, as opposed to every other provenanced bulla that was
examined thus far, the two Berekhyahu bullae had to be
hanging at the end of a looped and partially unraveled
twined cord which penetrated them only partially, from
the edge to slightly aer the center of the unstamped side.
Yet at the same time, these were not “hanging sealings,”
Fig. 5. Simulation of the production process of a Judahite bulla (see the text for details) (photo: Y. Goren, hand modeling by Nettah Halperin).
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154 GOREN AND ARIE BASOR 372
because the impression of a coarse-fabric papyrus on their
reverse, to be discussed later, indicates that they were alleg-
edly attached to a document of some kind. is anomalous
feature did not escape the attention of Avigad (1986: 19;
1997: 175–76), who commented, “e string impressions
here are curved, and the lumps of clay seem to have been
applied to the loops of the knots. ese grooves are es-
pecially thick and the actual bers of the string are still
extant.” Because in this context Avigad referred also to
Gealiyahu 1, we examined it too and found exactly the
same phenomenon. In fact, it is very dicult to suggest any
practical function for this situation, which is unparalleled
by any of the bullae found so far in recorded excavations.
Indeed, single-layered bullae enclosing a set of cords
appear in the Persian period, in the fourth-century ...
“Samaria Papyri” from Wadi ed-Daliyeh. e papyri and
bullae from Wadi ed-Daliyeh oer a unique opportunity
to study an assemblage of later specimens, still intact and
found with their cord, some even still attached to the pa-
pyrus. Together with the Elephantine papyri, this is the
only empirical evidence for the standard use of clay bul-
lae during the later Persian period, thus shedding more
light on the formation process of bullae in this era as
compared with the earlier Iron Age. Technological study
of 22 bullae from Wadi ed-Daliyeh (Gurwin, Goren, and
Lipschits in press) revealed that, on their reverse side,
papyrus imprints and sometimes minute pieces of pa-
pyri were seen clinging to the clay or caught in a delicate
curve of it. On some of the bullae, a single set of cords
was identied, passing through the center of the bulla and
around the papyrus, whereas on other bullae, two sets of
cords were visible, one running through the center of the
bulla and around the papyrus, and the other around the
back of the bulla. ese two groups, representing dier-
ent technologies of designing and forming bullae, were
recognized through this analysis. e rst group displays
a “partial securing technology” and includes bullae that
have one set of cords passing through the ball of clay. is
Fig. 6. Views under the stereomicroscope of the lateral side of Berekhyahu 1 (Photos 1–2) and Berekhyahu 2 (Photos 3–4), showing the unusual
cord and papyrus impressions (photo: Y. Goren). e two holes in Berekhyahu 2 were reportedly made by a TL laboratory with no further details.
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155THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BULLAE OF BEREKHYAHU2014
group of bullae contains only the negative impressions of
the material to which they were axed. is technique
of sealing involved pressing one lump of clay against the
sealed object, securing both with the cord; aer this, an-
other piece of clay was placed over the cord and pressed
onto the rst lump. e second group displays a “maxi-
mal securing technology” and includes bullae that have
two separate sets of cords: an internal set, similar to the
rst group, and an external set that ran along the back
of the bullae. ese bullae contain both the negative im-
pressions of the material to which they were axed and
the impression of the external cords. is technique of
sealing involved wrapping the object with the cord and
pressing the rst lump of clay against the cord; the cord
was then wrapped around both the sealed object and the
lump of clay; aer this, another piece of clay was placed
over the cord and the rst lump and pressed onto them.
Only then was the document sealed with a sealing ring.
However, this practice was not utilized in the Iron Age.
Moreover, such bullae were always surrounding a bunch
of cords penetrating the clay completely from one side
to another and never tied loosely to the end of a single
looped twine.
Another signicant issue is related to the imprints of
the papyrus on the lateral side of the bullae. In contrast
to all the provenanced bullae that we examined, Berekh-
yahu 1 and 2 display the imprint of a coarse pattern of
parallel grooves, similar to that of a corn leaf, rather than
the delicate mesh-type imprint of a common papyrus (cf.
Figs. 2 and 6 with Figs. 3 and 4). Because so far we have
observed only papyrus imprints on Judahite bullae later
than the early eighth century ... (Gurwin 2010), this
imprint on Berekhyahu 1 and 2 stands out as a unique
and unparalleled feature. However, it appears also on
Gealiyahu 1, as indeed Avigad (1986: 19) noticed.
To sum up, one signicant aspect of Berekhyahu 1
and 2 is concerned with their formation process. ese
bullae are unique in that instead of being formed by the
two-clay-layers method, they were created each from a
single ball of clay that was applied around the last part of
a thick cord, which was bent into a loop near its end. is
phenomenon is completely absent in the eighth to sixth
centuries ..., when bulla formation was consistently
based on the two-layer method. If this was done over a
folded papyrus, it is dicult to comprehend how such
a bulla could function to seal any document or how it
could remain attached to it.
Clay Selection
Based on the petrographic data, combined with the
SEM results, the raw material of all the examined bul-
lae from Jerusalem is readily identied as fabrics which
are, in fact, Quaternary alluvial beds derived from
Terra Rossa soils (Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011; Gadot,
Goren, and Lipschits 2013; Goren and Gurwin 2013;
Goren, Gurwin, and Arie 2014; Gurwin, Goren, and
Lipschits in press). e bullae from Lachish were made
of local rendzinal soil (Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011). It
should be emphasized that none of the Iron Age bullae
that we have examined so far were made of clay and
marl geological formations, such as the local Moza and
Teqiye clay formations, even though these were exten-
sively used for pottery production in Judah throughout
the ages (Goren, Finkelstein, and Na’aman 2004, with
references therein).
In thin section and under the polarizing microscope,
the clay of the bullae from Jerusalem appears to be non-
calcareous, ferruginous, and usually silty. is fabric is
typied by a reddish-tan to dark matrix in thin section,
highly optically active to nearly opaque under crossed
polarizers, with silt ranging between 5% (rare) to nearly
20% (common). e silt is mainly quartzitic, but it oen
contains some accessory heavy minerals, of which horn-
blende and zircon are the most common. e coarser
components, when they exist, are made of ne sand con-
taining mainly quartz or limestone. Other minerals or
rock fragments that rarely appear in the inclusions are
chert or chalcedony.
Terra Rossa soils occur on hard limestone and do-
lomite exposures in the semiarid to subhumid Medi-
terranean climatic zones. is soil material is eroded
downslope, forming colluvial-alluvial soils. All the soil
materials in Israel include, to varying extents, aeolian silt
of desert origin. Carbonate rocks do not contain silt-size
quartz grains, but large amounts of such grains occur in
the soils that developed on these rocks. In the bullae from
Jerusalem, only in a few cases was nearly non-silty Ter r a
Rossa used, indicating the employment of soil from an
in situ exposure (Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011; Goren
and Gurwin 2013). ese petrographic examinations
were enhanced by the SEM-EDS analyses. e latter were
made on the entire surfaces of the bullae rather than on
samples extracted from them.
To sum up, both the petrographic and the SEM anal-
yses revealed that all of the bullae from the City of Da-
vid in Jerusalem were made of Terra Rossa soil, having a
more or less constant mineralogical composition of silt
and temper inclusions. As in the case of the bullae forma-
tion processes, it seems that strict epistolary rules dic-
tated this raw material selection, which was intended to
ensure that the bullae would dry without shrinking and
present clearly the minute details of the seal impression.
Because all types of soils in Israel contain some wind-
blown silt of desert origin, which acts as delicate natural
temper, they tend to be less plastic than purer clays from
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156 GOREN AND ARIE BASOR 372
formations such as the Moza and the Teqiye. Our simu-
lations (such as in Fig. 5) revealed that if the clay is too
plastic or wet, the seal tends to stick to the clay and pro-
duce a blurred impression when pulled back. By using
silty clay, which was oen sealed when nearly “leather
hard,” as evident from the cracks that many bullae have
on their edges, clear impression could be achieved easily
without the clay clinging to the seal. However, for this
reason, the bulla could not be simply pasted over the
papyrus and the cords, for which reason the two-layer
method described above was required.
Petrographic and SEM-EDS examinations of Be-
rekhyahu 1 and 2 indicate that they were made of clay
from the Moza formation. is is evident by the con-
tents of dolomitic silt, the high contents of clay and iron
minerals, and the fabric anities as seen in thin sec-
tion under the polarizing microscope, together with the
SEM-EDS results (for further petrographic properties
and references to this category, see Goren, Finkelstein,
and Na’aman 2004: 263–64). It should be mentioned that
the small sample taken from Gealiyahu 1 provided ex-
actly the same results. While clay from this formation
was and still is used by potters in Jerusalem and Hebron,
it was not used for bullae during the Iron Age. Of course,
this notion was not known before our publication of the
rst material studies ever to be made on Judahite bullae
during the rst decade of the 21st century (Arie, Goren,
and Samet 2011). However, it may be assumed that this
technical preference was well known to the Judahite
scribes over generations during the Iron Age, as evident
by their apparent sole use of this raw material.
Firing
Clay bullae were originally dried but not red, due
to the obvious reason that re would destroy the docu-
ments, the cords, or any organic materials attached and
sealed by the bullae. is phenomenon greatly aects the
preservation of bullae in the archaeological record, be-
cause it is very unlikely that unred small lumps of clay
would survive over millennia in the ground in humid or
subhumid climatic zones. For this reason, nding bullae
in excavations is generally uncommon. Indeed, recent
analyses of Iron Age Judahite bullae from Jerusalem and
several other sites, as well as unprovenanced bullae from
some private collections, have shown that the vast major-
ity were probably preserved due to their exposure to re,
which brought about their sintering to ceramic phase
(Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011; Goren and Gurwin 2013).
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. e rst
is the assemblage of bullae from Wadi ed-Daliyeh, which
were originally found still attached to their papyri. is
remarkable state of preservation undoubtedly owes its
existence to the extremely arid conditions of the desert.
Some of the papyri discovered at Elephantine in Upper
Egypt (Porten 1992; 1996) similarly still bore their bul-
lae, though they dated somewhat earlier (h century
...). From the Iron Age, the only instance of unred
bullae that we have encountered so far is the small hoard
of 17 items that was found in a sealed juglet in Lachish
(Arie, Goren, and Samet 2011). e preservation of these
unred bullae, though in relatively poor condition, was
undoubtedly due to their unique protection by the intact
sealed juglet.
Because many of the Judahite bullae were found in
their complete shape, the question arises whether they
were still coupled together with their document when
red, or might they have been separated by cutting the
cord and ring them intentionally to preserve them for
reference. e group of bullae from Lachish undoubt-
edly indicates that at least some bullae were separated
from the documents that they sealed in such a manner,
as evidenced by the papyrus impressions on their lateral
side, and kept for reference. Yet the fact that they were
unred hints at an unintentional ring in the other cases,
rather than deliberate baking.
When tested with a wet brush on a hidden part, the
clay of the two Berekhyahu bullae (and also of Geali-
yahu 1) retained its plasticity, indicating that it was
never red to a sintering stage. For all the above reasons,
and unless these bullae were discovered in extreme arid
conditions—a possibility negated by the patina on them
(discussed below)—it seems highly unlikely that these
artifacts could be authentic.
Patination
When examined under a magnier or a stereomi-
croscope, Berekhyahu 1 and 2 and also Gealiyahu 1 ap-
pear to be coated by two dierent materials. e rst is
a dark, wax-like polish that coats only the surface, as
evident by areas where drilling was reportedly made by
a TL (thermal luminescence) laboratory (Fig. 2). SEM-
EDS analysis indicated only carbon, suggesting a glue of
some sort. e other is a whitish, calcareous-like gritty
lm of patina-like matter. is patina-like material is vis-
ible mainly in the depressions and crevices on both sides.
Patina is the natural crust that is created over the surface
due to the absorption or loss of various elements. It is
commonly thought that the process of patination is slow;
thus, genuine patina may be seen as an indicator of the
antiquity of an item. is common knowledge is recog-
nized by many archaeologists, antique dealers, and col-
lectors alike. While one can readily accept that genuine
patina formed over an item is younger than the design,
there are several diculties in evaluating its age. In the
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157THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BULLAE OF BEREKHYAHU2014
creation of patina, two factors play a crucial role. e rst
is the composition of the substrate over which the patina
is processed. e second is the environment—that is, the
nature of the sediment, pH, temperature, and humidity
that surround it.
In principle, the rst coating material, whether wax
or glue of some kind, does not disprove the authentic-
ity of the bullae. at is, because we know nothing of
the history of their discovery and handling prior to the
time period of our analysis, the rst coating material
could have resulted from substandard storage, handling,
or “restoration” practices of an owner or dealer in the
past. However, the petrographic and SEM examinations
of the patina revealed a calcitic composition. e patina
is spread over the surface in a gritty manner. Calcitic pa-
tina is created in the Mediterranean subhumid climatic
conditions that prevail in Judah from the precipitation of
calcium carbonate in groundwater. When the tempera-
ture or composition of the ground environment is chang-
ing, the carbonate recrystalizes from the groundwater to
form a calcitic coating over rocks and other surfaces.
is reects cycles of wet and dry events, oen over a
long elapse of time. While in theory such coating can oc-
cur over the surface of a small unred clay object, these
processes should aect also the water-absorbing unred
clay, which would cause the object to crack and crumble.
Hence, the presence of calcitic patina on an unred bulla
should result a priori in its destruction. Accordingly,
none of the above-mentioned unred bullae (from La-
chish or Wadi ed-Daliyeh) bears any patina. In contrast,
most of the bullae from Jerusalem that we examined did
have calcitic patina, but they were all found by our testing
to be red and well-sintered. Under these circumstances,
the patina-like gritty calcitic material on the surfaces of
Berekhyahu 1 and 2 and Gealiyahu 1 could not have been
created under natural conditions on these unred items
in the Mediterranean subhumid climatic zones of Judah,
including Jerusalem. e association of the gritty calcitic
coating of the bullae with the glue may therefore be in-
terpreted as an attempt to attach the powdered calcitic
matter to the surface in order to replicate a patina-like
process. While the contradiction between the unred
state of the clay and the presence of calcitic patina over
it could not fool an expert, it could deceive a potential
enthusiastic collector.
Conclusion
e two bullae of Berekhyahu son of Neriyahu the
scribe are modern creations, reecting a series of tech-
nological misconceptions, anachronisms, and techno-
logical errors. Gealiyahu 1 is identical to them, most
likely from the same forger’s hand. ese technological
misconceptions and technical errors represent the state
of the research at the time when these counterfeits were
revealed, sold to collectors, and published by academics.
All these lines of evidence put together clearly point at
modern creation. As mentioned by our colleague Chris-
topher Rollston (in press) in another article tackling this
issue, the present publication unfortunately may serve
as an improved protocol for future forgers, whose work
may become increasingly sophisticated. It is an unfortu-
nate circumstance that these bogus artifacts could “star”
for several decades in some of the scientic literature,
in museum showcases, and in the popular literature, as
emblems of Iron Age epigraphs. While many other bullae
from the antiquities market that we examined, includ-
ing some mentioning royal names (to be published else-
where), were found to be authentic with great certainty,
the Berekhyahu bullae raise again the problem of unprov-
enanced artifacts being published without any systematic
and serious laboratory analysis. Of course, laboratories
and archaeological scientists may be divided in their
opinions, as has happened with many other biblical-era
artifacts discussed recently by the media and elsewhere.
But if there are serious doubts, the public should be made
aware of them, and the scientic community should take
extra measures to avoid the uncritical, irresponsible pub-
lication of fakes that results in the contamination of our
hi story.
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... First, since the provenance of the latter items is unknown, their geographical dimension is completely lacking. Second, the authenticity of these artefacts is questionable (see, e.g., Rollston 2003;Goren et al. 2005;Aḥituv 2008, 9-11;Goren and Arie 2014). Scholarly research cannot be based on questionable data. ...
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In a recent article Goren and Arie (2014) concluded that the two unprovenanced bul- lae of Berekhyahu the Scribe “are modern creations, reflecting a series of technolo- gical misconceptions, anachronisms, and technological errors.” Both bullae were impressed by the same seal and contain the Palaeo-Hebrew inscription: LBRKYHW BN NRYHW HSPR, i.e. “Belonging to Berekhyahu, Son of Neriyahu, the Scribe.” Their use is confirmed by the imprints of material texture and cords on their reverse sides. Having previously studied the bullae, and having recently reexamined “Bulla 1” in particular, the current authors have come to the conclusion that the arguments presen- ted by Goren and Arie do not stand up to scrutiny. Naturally, this does not prove the authenticity of these bullae. In addition they also respond to epigraphic questions rai- sed by Rollston (2003; 2016) which they believe do not stand up to close scrutiny either. What can be said is that the last word has not been spoken. Regardless of the fact that the bullae lack provenance, the very fact that they refer to a well-known biblical character (the scribe Baruch) necessitates a fair examination.
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Preliminary reports on the soon to be released Samsung note 7, suggests that the new device will incorporate an iris scanner to be used for biometric authentication. It is clear that over the past number of years, vendors of personal digital devices, consider biometric authentication of a human as a possible replacement for pin, password and pattern based authentication mechanisms currently in use. Behavioural biometrics is often used to strengthen existing authentication mechanisms. A digraph is commonly associated with the behavioural biometric known as keystroke dynamics. A password is firstly tested for correctness against the reference password on file. This is followed by a second step, where the biometric behavioural aspect is tested. The unique rhythm that a user exhibits when the password is entered forms part of the authentication process by using a digraph approach. This paper utilizes the EyeWriter to test if the digraph approach can be used in eye tracking to create a behavioural biometric to authenticate a person. The test was performed on 20 candidates and the results from this test indicated clearly that the behavioural aspect can fundamentally be used for behavioural biometric authentication in a one-to-one biometric authentication approach.
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Two reasons lead many scholars today to think that the Israelites were not able to produce long, literary works during the 10th and 9th centuries BCE. First, there is a dearth of Hebrew inscriptions from that time; second, the Israelites did not have the necessary socio-economic resources until the 8th century BCE. This article critically assesses these two lines of reasoning in light of current research in the epigraphy and archaeology of the Southern Levant. In addition, it provides several elements which indicate that the necessary conditions for the production of long texts were present in Judah/Israel in the early royal period.
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A bulla fragment was found in the excavations of Tel Aviv University at the City of David/Silwan. It is made out of local terra rossa soil, and the reading is: קם // ---לך --- The names אחיקם and אליקם are the best candidates for the name in the upper register. The title “עבד המלך” is the best candidate for the title in the lower register. The seal's quality and the reconstructed title of its bearer indicate that it was used by a high official in the royal Judahite administration.
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Finally, two persons mentioned in the Bible are positively identified with the persons named on two recently discovered seal-impressions.
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