Ancient bowl engraved with rare Hebrew inscription discovered in Jerusalem

An archaeological finding from the Hasmonean Period is sparking interest because of its unique inscription. 

A chalk stone bowl engraved with a rare Hebrew inscription – “Hyrcanus” – dating to the Hasmonean Period some 2,100 years ago, during which the Chanukah story took place, was discovered during archaeological excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the Givʽati Parking Lot in the City of David, the original urban core of ancient Jerusalem.

“Hyrcanus” was the name of two of the leaders of the Hasmonean dynasty.

According to researchers, this is one of the earliest examples of the appearance of chalk vessels in Jerusalem. These vessels were widely used, mainly by Jews, because they ensured ritual purity.

The bowl was discovered beneath the foundations of a mikvah, a ritual bath, which was also dated to the Hasmonean period and was part of a complex of water installations that were also used for ritual bathing.

The Givʽati parking site in the City of David is among the largest excavation areas opened in Jerusalem. The excavations at the site have so far uncovered a wealth of artifacts from different periods. Of these findings, the artifacts with writing on them have sparked special interest, especially when it appeared that they could be deciphered.

It is difficult to ascertain whether the Hyrcanus whose name is engraved on the bowl was a high-ranking person, or perhaps simply an ordinary citizen during the Hasmonean period. Since there are few vessels in the archaeological record of this period which are engraved with names, it is not known whether this type of engraving was a routine act or a special tribute.

“The name Hyrcanus was fairly common in the Hasmonean period,” said Dr. Doron Ben-Ami of the IAA and Professor Esther Eshel of Bar-Ilan University. “We know of two personages from this period who had this name: John Hyrcanus, who was the grandson of Matityahu the Hasmonean [leader of the Maccabean revolt] and who ruled Judea from 135–104 BCE, and John Hyrcanus II, who was the son of Alexander Jannaeus and Salome Alexandra; however, it is not possible to determine if the bowl belonged specifically to either of them.”

About a year ago, remains of the Greek (Seleucid) Akra fortress were exposed in the Givʽati parking lot. This was the famous fortress built by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in order to control the city and monitor the activity in the Temple, which was eventually conquered by the Hasmoneans. The bowl was found a short distance from where the remains of the fortress were revealed.

By: World Israel News Staff