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Her material legacy is small — an oval-shaped semi-precious stone less than an inch across, engraved with 12 ancient Hebrew letters — but it speaks volumes.

Seal belonging to Elihana bat Gael.

Seal belonging to Elihana bat Gael.

It speaks so loudly because the 12 letters — written backwards so they would make a positive imprint when pressed into soft wax or wet clay — signify “leElihana bat Gael,” which we would translate as “belonging to Elihana daughter of Gael.”

And why is that so significant? Because ancient Hebrew seals bearing women’s names are rarer than hen’s teeth. This seal was found in a controlled archaeological dig in a part of Jerusalem called the “City of David” — and it dates to the First Temple period.

The First Temple building where Elihana's seal was found.

The First Temple building where Elihana’s seal was found.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the find, from a dig that started nine years ago in a parking lot near the Arab village of Silwan. The level archaeologists are assigning to the First Temple period was reached more than 30 feet beneath the surface. The seal, along with another one belonging to a man named Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu, was found in the remains of a substantial building constructed of impressive ashlars (shaped stones) that the archaeologists believe was an administrative center.

The seal of Sa'aryahu ben Shabenyahu.

The seal of Sa’aryahu ben Shabenyahu.

The First Temple period, which extended from Solomon’s construction of the temple in the 10th century to its destruction in 587 BCE, is typically thought of as a very male-dominated culture.  Elihana’s seal, however, which may originally have been set into a ring, testifies to the reality of a woman who would have been able to own property and conduct business. Seals could be used to seal contracts or letters, or to mark property such as large jars used for storing wine, grain, oil, and other goods.

With the Martha Stewart Marshall month of preaching (February) and International Woman’s Day (March 8) fresh in our memories, it’s good to be reminded that women of substance and influence are not a new phenomenon. In Elihana’s day, it would have been even more difficult than today for a woman to gain respect in the marketplace, but evidently, like the industrious woman of Proverbs 31, she succeeded.

Blessed be her memory.

Tony Cartledge

About Tony Cartledge

Tony W. Cartledge is contributing editor of Baptists Today, in addition to teaching Old Testament studies and various ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School. He formerly served as editor of the Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and as a pastor for 26 years. Tony is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Southeastern Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a Ph.D. He is the author of several books including the Smyth & Helwys commentary on First and Second Samuel and Telling Stories: Tall Tales and Deep Truths and several Bible study books for Nurturing Faith.