Tag Archives: jewelry

Gold Jewelry

A gold bell, 1 cm in diameter, with curved markings was discovered during wet-sifting of material from the drainage channel below the Herodian street near Robinson’s Arch. This is indeed a rare find. According to the press release “The bell looked as if it was sewn on the garment worn by a man of high authority in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period.” Not a regular item of jewelry. The only reference to golden bells in the Bible are bells on the vestments of the high priest (Exodus 28:33-34; 39:25-26).

And beneath upon the hem of it you shall make pomegranates of tekhelet and argaman (purple) and of scarlet, round about its hem and bells of gold between them round about.

Now you can hear the gold bell “tinkle” in this short video.

Jim Davila of the PaleoJudaica blog suggests that the women of Jerusalem wore bangles on their ankles which “tinkled” and had lots of jewelry (based on Isaiah 3:16-23). It seems plausible that they might well have worn bells as jewelry and that some of those bells might have been made of gold.

I find it fascinating that people were able to make a bell out of gold 2000 years ago. So I asked my good friend Michael Parkin, a sculptor and jeweler, if he could explain how it might have been constructed. This is his response:

It appears to have a seam on the right hand side so this is my best guess or at least how I would do it using first century methods:  First the bell’s maker formed 2 hemispheres using a rounded bit of (cow?) horn or antler and a wooden mallet to drive the metal into a depression in a piece of wood.  Each hemisphere would then be filled with either pitch (conifer sap mixed with dried powdered clay or perhaps beeswax (to hold its shape).  The surface decoration was probably done with a bronze tool shaped like a very dull cold chisel and driven using a mallet similar to but smaller than the one used to hammer on the horn tool.  The completed parts and a bit of gold wire (drawn or more likely hammered) could then be welded together in a tiny charcoal forge with a blow pipe to raise the temperature locally at the seam.

Photo courtesy of IAA

This reminds me of another rare find discovered in the excavations in the Givati parking lot across from Ir David, south of the Old City Walls. One gold earring was found, made up of a large pearl inlaid at the top center and surrounded by a coiled gold hoop. Two pendants hang below the focal pearl, each one with an emerald in a gold frame and a strung pearl. The earring was discovered in the ruins of a building that dates to the Byzantine period (4th-5th Centuries AD), but archaeologists at the site believe it is much older and that it was created during the Roman period, about 2,000 years ago.

Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulet

In 1979 Prof. Gabriel Barkay decided to do some archaeological research outside the walls of the Old City and decided on a ridge above the Hinnom valley by the Scottish Church of St. Andrew in Jerusalem.

He called the area Ketef Hinnom and did a survey that uncovered the remains of a Byzantine church with mosaic floor and some tombs hewn in the rock whose roofs had collapsed. With the help of 12-13 year olds from a youth group from Tel Aviv run by the Society for the Protection of Nature he began excavating. They found one bead – it was clear that the tombs had been looted in antiquity.

A boy by the name of Nathan was assigned to clean a nook underneath one of the burial benches. By chance he also had a hammer and after cleaning, he got bored and started banging on the floor of the nook. To his surprise the stone bottom broke revealing an entryway to another room full of treasure.

As Prof. Barkay explained:

“In [that] one chamber more than a thousand objects were found.  They included 125 objects of silver, 40 iron arrowheads, gold, ivory, glass, [ceramics, oil lamps,] bone and 150 semi-precious stones.  There was 60 centimeters (two feet) of accumulation filled with objects and skeletal remains…

Judy Hadley, a girl from Toledo Ohio, now a professor of Bible at Villanova University in Philadelphia, showed me a purplish-colored object looking like a cigarette butt.  It took us three years to unroll it properly.  It was 2.5 cm wide, about 1 inch.  When unrolled, it was 10 cm in length.  It was made of pure silver, 99% silver. Very delicately scratched on the silver were ancient Hebrew characters.  I saw it at the Israel Museum lab and immediately recognized the four letters of the Divine Name, YHVH.”

Courtesy of the Israel Museum

All the dirt removed from the tombs was stored in large plastic boxes donated by Tnuva [Israel’s largest dairy and today a billion dollar food conglomerate] and sifted under lab conditions. In the sifting, a second, smaller silver object, 4 cm in length, was also found. Both objects have the Priestly Blessings from Numbers 6:24-26 engraved on the silver in proto-Hebrew script.

The Lord bless you and protect you.
The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and grant you peace.

Because of the pottery and the script, the objects are dated to the 7th century BCE (while the First Temple was still standing), to the time of the prophet Jeremiah. These are the oldest examples that we have found of a Biblical text on an archaeological artifact, about 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the silver amulets received very wide public interest.  In the 1990s Dr. Bruce Zuckerman from the University of Southern California, an expert who specializes in photographing ancient texts (various Dead Sea Scrolls and the Leningrad Codex) arranged to photograph the amulets using the latest photographic and computer imaging techniques.  This made it possible to zoom in on every letter and even superimpose complete letters on broken letters, reconstructing broken letters in the scribe’s own peculiar style to better decipher those that were unclear. The result was that they were able to identify another biblical verse on the larger scroll, from Deuteronomy 7:9.

Know, therefore, that only the Lord your God is God, the steadfast God, who keeps His covenant faithfully to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Read the Life and Land blog for a first-hand report from Gordon Franz who as a 25-year old was at Ketef Hinnom working with Prof. Gaby Barkai. The two amulets are on display in the Archaeology wing of the Israel Museum. I can take you to Ketef Hinnom to see the First Temple period tombs where the amulets were found.