Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David
The inscription carrying the financial record.

Who was “Shimon” whose name appears on a 2,000-year-old Hebrew inscription that was uncovered in Israel Antiquities Authority excavations in the City of David?

A small fragment of a stone tablet was discovered in the Jerusalem Walls National Park, and it is bearing an inscription that records a financial transaction. The seven partially preserved lines of the inscription include fragmentary Hebrew names, with letters and numbers written beside them. One line includes the end of the name “Shimon,” followed by the Hebrew letter מ, an abbreviation of מעות (coins), and in the other lines are symbols representing numbers for the value in coins of the transaction. Some of the numbers are next to the letter ר, an abbreviation for רבעים (quarters).

Rendering of the Pool of Siloam and the pilgrimage road, Second Temple period. / Shalom Kveller, City of David Archives

A recent article by IAA Excavation Director Nahshon Szanton and Bar Ilan University epigraphist Prof. Esther Eshel published in the archaeological journal Atiqot (A Second Temple Period Inscription on a Stone Ossuary Lid from the City of David, Jerusalem), noted that four other similar Hebrew inscriptions have been documented so far in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, all marked with names and numbers carved on similar stone slabs and dating to the early Roman period. But this is the first inscription to date that was discovered within the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem under Roman rule.

According to the researchers, the inscription was carved with a sharp tool onto a chalkstone slab. Apparently, the stone slab was originally used as an ossuary (burial chest), which was commonly used in Jerusalem and Judea during the Early Roman period (37 BCE to 70 CE). Ossuaries are generally found in graves outside the city, but they have also been documented inside the city, perhaps as a commodity sold in a local artisan’s workshop.

Archaeological excavations at the pilgrimage road. / Kobi Harati, City of David Archives

The intriguing find was discovered in the lower city square, located along the Pilgrimage Road. This Road, extending some 600 meters, connected the city gate and the area of the Pool of Siloam in the southern part of the City of David with the gates of the Temple Mount, and essentially served as Jerusalem’s main street at the time. The discovery joins similar findings uncovered there, attesting to the commercial nature of the area.

The stone tablet on which the inscription was engraved was retrieved from a tunnel in a previous excavation at the site, which was dug at the end of the 19th century by British archaeologists Frederick Jones Bliss and Archibald Dickie, who excavated tunnels and pits along the Stepped Street. Although the inscription was found outside its original archaeological context, it was possible to date it to the early Roman period––the end of the Second Temple period, based on the type of script, the type of stone slab, and its similarity to other contemporary inscriptions.

This vessel was used to measure liquid volumes. It was discovered on the pilgrimage road. The newly discovered inscription joins this finding in attesting to the commercial nature of the area. / Kobi Harati, City of David Archives

The researchers believe “the everyday life of the inhabitants of Jerusalem who resided here 2,000 years ago is expressed in this simple object. At first glance, the list of names and numbers may not seem exciting, but to think that, just like it is done today, receipts were used in the past for commercial purposes, and that such a receipt has reached us, is a rare and gratifying find that allows a glimpse into daily life in the city.”

According to Szanton and Eshel, “the combination of the architectural and tangible space of the huge paved stones of the square that were preserved at the site, and the discovery of small finds in this area, such as the measuring table and the new inscription, allow us to reconstruct parts of the incredibly unique archaeological puzzle in one of the vibrant centers that existed in ancient Jerusalem. Each piece of information, and certainly an ancient inscription, adds a new and fascinating dimension to the history of the city.”


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