Earliest Inscription of Jerusalem’s Full Name Discovered on Stone Pillar

A unique inscription was discovered last winter by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) during their excavations near Binyanei Ha’Uma, at the northern approach to Jerusalem. Written in Aramaic script, the letters had been carved into a limestone column drum dating to the First Century CE and read:

“Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem”

This inscription is intriguing in part simply because inscriptions mentioning Jerusalem at all during the 1st and 2nd Temple periods are quite uncommon. “But even more unique” Dr. Yuval Baruch of the IAA, and Prof. Ronny Reich of Haifa University explain, “is the complete spelling of the name as we know it today, which usually appears in the shorthand version.”

 Danit Levy, Director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, beside the inscription as found in the field. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, IAA

Danit Levy, Director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, beside the inscription as found in the field. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, IAA

This full spelling is known in only one other instance during the First Century CE, on a coin from the Great Revolt (66-70 CE). It is also found in Biblical writings, but only in 5 of the 660 times Jerusalem is mentioned. More commonly the city’s name was abbreviated, or spelled with only one “yod” in the Hebrew script. Here, the use of two “yods” is just as the people of Israel pronounce it today - Yerushalayim. This inscription is the earliest use of the modern spelling.

Who was Hananiah and his father? Why did Hananiah specify Jerusalem as his home? These questions are somewhat difficult to answer because the column, which would have originally belonged to a different building, was reused as part of a later Roman structure. Even though the stone was not found in its original location, where Hananiah carved the inscription, archaeologists are able to piece some of the puzzle together using discoveries from the surrounding area.

 The archaeological excavations at Binyanei Ha'Uma. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, IAA

The archaeological excavations at Binyanei Ha'Uma. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, IAA

The IAA has been excavating the Binyanei Ha’Uma area for several years. According to Danit Levy, the excavation’s Director who discovered the inscription, the area is “the largest ancient pottery production site in the region of Jerusalem.” This “potters quarter” produced ceramics for Jerusalem for over 300 years, from the Hasmonean Period through to the Late Roman era. In light of this, Dudy Mevorach, Chief Curator of Archaeology at the Israel Museum, says “it is likely that he (Hananiah) was an artist-potter, the son of an artist-potter.”

 The Inscription as it was found in the excavation. Photo: Danit Levy, IAA

The Inscription as it was found in the excavation. Photo: Danit Levy, IAA

While the inscription’s mention and spelling of Jerusalem is certainly enough to make it an important and informative discovery, it also may shed light into the nature of Greek influences during the First Century CE. Within the potters quarter the IAA has revealed numerous ritual baths, or mikva’ot, which attest to a Jewish population. However, Mevorach explains that the name “Dodalos” may not have been Hananiah’s actual father, but rather an adopted family name derived from “Daedalus,” a mythical Greek artist.

 The unique inscription from Jerusalem, as displayed at the Israel Museum. Photo: Laura Lachman, Courtesy of the Israel Museum

The unique inscription from Jerusalem, as displayed at the Israel Museum. Photo: Laura Lachman, Courtesy of the Israel Museum

Visitors will be able to see this fascinating 2,000-year-old inscription in the Israel museum’s new display presenting unique artifacts from the capital. In addition, studies regarding the inscription will be presented at the museum as an opening to the “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region” Conference taking place this week. 

The important and interesting cooperation between the IAA and the Israel Museum, brought to light in the handling and display of new finds, provides an opportunity for the public to be exposed to important discoveries from all over the country, learning about the ancient cultures that developed in Israel over generations.
— Prof. Ido Bruno, Director of the Israel Museum

Credit: Blue Roof Video Productions, Courtesy of The Israel Museum

Courtesy of the IAA

Abby VanderHart: FIAA Contributor