Seal the Deal

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Middle School students learning about ancient alphabets

This article is intended to share the sort of work I did with my 5-7th grade students in New Jersey. It combines art, archaeology, grammar, Bible Studies and Jewish History.

Where to begin?

I think it’s best to begin with the City of David, since their motto is “Where it all began”. The Old City of Jerusalem is also my hometown, so I am always excited to share experiences about the special place I was privileged to grow up in.

During several archaeological digs on the site, several dozen bullae have been unearthed in what must have been an administrative structure. Bullae are clay impressions of seals, which would typically enclose a document. The significance of these seals is tremendous: They are all from the period of the First Temple in Jerusalem, and several of them have names which correspond to biblical figures who were instrumental to the saga of the pending destruction of Jerusalem. One of these can be seen in this video (subtitles included):

The video is set to start at the point relevant to this article, and you are free to watch the whole thing if you like. For the Hebrew speakers, here is a video by Tamar Shiloh about the dramatic story of their discovery.

More and more bullae are being discovered, and they are shedding light on important details relevant to understanding the Biblical stories. A famous example of these is King Ezekiah’s seal, which has been found just recently. It is discussed in my article about Hezekiah, Taharqa and Sennacherib. This past year (2016), a seal with the name of a woman was found, and more and more are being discovered.

My students have been learning about a range of topics, from the Biblical studies and Hebrew grammar to the development of the alphabet in Mesopotamia. As we learned about Ancient Hebrew (from Proto Canaanite to Paleo Hebrew and even Phoenician alphabets), we summarized what we learned in an art project: Make your personal seal.

Students saw several examples of ancient seals and ornaments with inscriptions on them, and then made their own. They had to be written in Ancient Hebrew, and in reverse, so that each student may make their own bulla.

Below is an example of seals that were made by the students. The material is Fimo – a colorful clay, easy to bake at home. The first one is my own, reading “[belonging] to Nachliel Selavan” with a faint impression of a sheep (Se-lavan in Hebrew means “white sheep”). Since I have a fascination with Egyptian Scarab Seals, I fashioned mine as a scarab (second image below).

These seals and ornaments are of several students, and their corresponding bullae. The bullae are from fresh clay, which has not been baked yet.

And finally – what a beautiful idea: My 5th grade student wrote her mother a letter, and sealed it with her own personal seal. Isn’t that sweet!

 

To summarize.

This is a middle school art project (which can be executed on other levels as well), which summarizes grammar (this bears explanation, which I hope to share in another article), History (Ancient Hebrew) and Bible Studies. When you put it all together like this, the students will surely come out with a long lasting impression!

Bonus: Watch the making of impression seals!

 

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