The 2,100-year-old Hebrew inscription on a piece of limestone unearthed in Jerusalem is the earliest-known mention of the full name of the city that is spelled as it is today, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.
The name was inscribed on part of a Roman structure dating to the 1st century B.C.E., which was discovered during a salvage excavation prior to the paving of a road near the Binyanei Ha’uma convention center, at the entrance to Jerusalem. The artifact was found by IAA archaeologist Danit Levy.
To be precise, the inscription is written in Aramaic, the local lingua franca of that era, in Hebrew letters, and appears on a stone column drum from an earlier building that was reused in the Roman structure. It reads: “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem.”
Inscriptions mentioning Jerusalem during the First and Second Temple periods (from about 1000 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.) are extremely rare, and typically use abbreviated spellings of the city’s name, according to Israeli archaeologists Dr. Yuval Baruch, head of the IAA’s Jerusalem district, and Prof. Ronny Reich, of the University of Haifa, who have researched the new find. No other example of the fully spelled-out name of Jerusalem has been found to date on artifacts from such an ancient era; the only other known instance is an inscription on a coin from the Jews’ Great Revolt against the Romans, at the end of the Second Temple Period.
Who Hananiah or his father Dodalos were will probably never be known, say the experts. Hananiah was a common name in ancient Jerusalem, as it is to some degree today as well. Dodalos is another story: Baruch and Reich suspect it may be a variation of Daedalus, the name in ancient Greek mythology of an artist and craftsman. Perhaps, says Baruch, the Jewish Dodalos and his son Hananiah were craftsmen as well – employed at the ancient pottery factory that was also unearthed in the vicinity.
David Mevorach, senior curator of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine archaeology at the Israel Museum, where the inscription was put on display on Tuesday, notes that the person who wrote the inscription must have wanted to stress that the Hananiah in question, whoever he was, hailed from Jerusalem. Since the piece of limestone bearing the name was repurposed, says Mevorach, it is not possible to know its original location.
Baruch explains that the city’s name is an amalgamation of two ancient Canaanite words: “Yeru” (founded) and “Shalem” (the name of an important Canaanite god); thus, the name means “the city founded by the god Shalem.” The common, ancient form of the city’s name, pronounced “Yerushalem,” was spelled with only one Hebrew letter yod, whereas the modern version, pronounced “Yerushalayim,” has two yods. During the Second Temple era, Baruch says, the city was usually referred to as Yerushalem.
Baruch and Reich note that the unusual full spelling, with that second yod, appears only five time in the Bible – out of a total of 660 mentions of the name of the holy city: in Jeremiah 26:18, Esther 2:6, 2 Chronicles 25:1, 2 Chronicles 32: 9, and 2 Chronicles 25: 1. Not that the context was necessarily a pleasant one: The first mention of the name, in Jeremiah, is: “Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts: “‘Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps [ruins].”
Near the place where the inscription was unearthed during the roadwork in the city, archaeologists have found what appears to be the site of a pottery factory, which they believe operated for at least 300 years, from the Hasmonean period up until the end of the Roman era.
“This is the largest ancient pottery production site in the region of Jerusalem,” says IAA archaeologist Levy, who adds that during Roman times – notably during the reign of King Herod the Great – the factory initially produced cooking vessels, but later manufactured roofing tiles, bricks and pipes.
Among the discoveries at the site were remains of kilns for firing the pottery, storage areas, plastered water cisterns, and ritual baths – a sign of the Jewish presence there.