A rare 2,500-year-old seal bearing the name of an "exceptional" woman has been discovered in Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday.
Found in a large ancient building in the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, the seal dates back to the era of the First Temple, which, according to the Hebrew Bible, was constructed by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. and then destroyed 400 years later.
"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," excavation directors Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, said in a statement.
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The seal, made of semi-precious stone, bears the mirror-writing of "to Elihana bat Gael" carved in ancient Hebrew letters. It means "Elihana daughter of Gael."
Such seals 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," the archaeologists said.
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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 owned a seal shows her high social status.
"She was exceptional compared to other women of the First Temple period: she had legal status which allowed her to conduct business and possess property," the archaeologists said.
Hagai Misgav, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, noted that most of the women's seal that are known today bear the name of the father rather than that of the husband.
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"Here, as in other cases, this might indicate the relatively elevated status of Elihana, which depended on her original family, and not on her husband's family," Misgav said.
"It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence even after her marriage and therefore her father's name was retained; however, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period," he added.
Legal and financial independence for women was a rare thing in those times.
According to the Book of Proverbs, an ideal wife was responsible for providing for the needs of her household when her husband was engaged in public and legal affairs at the city gate.
"She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands ... Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land," it stated.
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Elihana was one of the few exceptions. Another one was Babatha bat Shimon, a female land owner who had legal status, according to documents from the Second Temple period preserved in the Judean desert.
"But as generally speaking, evidence of legal and financial independence in the bible and archaeology are rare, and it seems that the exception to the rule indeed sheds light on the rule itself," the researchers said.