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Deep Purple: In first, ‘biblical persimmon’ engraving found on 2,000-year-old seal discovered in Jerusalem

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The plant, which is famously mentioned in the Bible, Talmud and throughout history, was used ‘as one of the more expensive ingredients for producing the Temple incense, perfume, as well as medicines and ointments’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

It was an ordinary day for volunteers and archaeologists sifting through soil by Jerusalem’s Western Wall foundation stones when, suddenly, they stumbled across an ancient purple stone. 

The tiny oval stone, according to the City of David and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), dates back 2,000 years and was discovered at Jerusalem’s Emek Tzurim National Park. It had an engraving of a plant never depicted before – the biblical persimmon plant, which is mentioned in the Bible, Talmud and several historical sources.
The stone, made of a precious amethyst and holds a range of shades of purple and lilac, “served as a seal during the Second Temple Period.”

The researchers Eli Shukron, Prof. Shua Amorai-Stark and Malka Hershkovitz, who studied the findings, explained that “on the precious stone, there are two engravings next to each other.” “The first engraving shows a bird, probably a dove, and next to it appears a long, round, thick branch with five fruits on it,” they explained. “After examining the findings, the researchers believe that the plant that appears on the stone is the persimmon perfume plant.”

This plant, the researchers said, was used “as one of the more expensive ingredients for producing the Temple incense, perfume, as well as medicines and ointments.”

It also went under several names “including biblical persimmon, bosem or balsam, and even the Balm of Gilead.”

Even more fascinating, the famous first-century historian Flavius Josephus stated that Roman general Mark Antony, the figure of which the famous Shakespear play Anthony and Cleopatra is based, “gifted valuable persimmon orchards that formerly belonged to King Herod, to his beloved, Cleopatra.”

“Some commentators identify the persimmon in the list of gifts given by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon,” the City of David and IAA added.

According to archaeologist Eli Shukron, who conducted the IAA and City of David excavations of the Western Wall’s foundations, “this is an important find because it may be the first time a seal has been discovered in the entire world with an engraving of the precious and famous plant, which until now we could only read about in historical descriptions.” 

The dove and biblical persimmon plant found engraved on the ancient 2,000-year-old stone seal.
(Photo Credit:  Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)

Shukron and the research team pointed out that towards the end of the Second Temple Period, “the use of stone stamps expanded and became more common, but in most stamps discovered so far with plant engravings, it is common to find plants that were common in Israel at the time: vines, dates, and olives, which are among the seven species.”
But, stressed Amorai-Stark, “on this stone seal, we immediately noticed that the fruit that appears on it is unlike any of the fruits we have encountered to date.” 

Following their research, the team believes that the plant on the stone is the famous “Balm of Gilead,” or biblical persimmon.

Shukron emphasized that the balsam plant “is a positive symbol because beyond the fact that it was used to produce perfumes and medicines, the ancient persimmon,” which he stressed is not at all similar to today’s persimmon, “was attributed magical and ceremonial properties and is one of the ingredients used for making the Temple incense during the Second Temple Period,  which is when this seal was made.” 

Adding to this Amorai-Stark said that the dove insignia on the ring “is also a positive motif in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish world. It symbolizes wealth, happiness, goodness and success.” 

Discussing who may have owned the ring, Amorai-Stark said that if the engraving is, as they believe, to be the biblical persimmon plant, then it’s likely that the seal owner was most probably a wealthy Jew, “since the production and trade that took place around the persimmon plant was tightly controlled at the time by Jews living in the Dead Sea basin, where the fruit was grown.”

“I guess the owner of the seal was a man who owned a persimmon orchard, and when he came to the craftsman who made the ring for him, it is possible he may have brought a branch of persimmon so that the craftsman knew what to carve on the stone,” she added. 

Concluding, Shukron said that such a find allows archaeologists “to get a glimpse into the daily lives of the people who lived in the days of the Second Temple, the glory days of Jerusalem.”

Other fascinating discoveries made at the Emek Tzurim National Park include the seal of King Hezekiah, coins from different periods of Jerusalem, arrowheads and jewelry.

**Featured Image: The rare purple 2,000-year old stone seal. (Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai/City of David)

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