Michael Welch's Review of "LMLK--A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 1"

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Personal Seals





Mr. G.M. Grena, in just a few years of learning about LMLK handles, has produced a magnificent book!!!  It is interesting that even though the LMLK handles have been known since at least 1868 {f/n #1} with the discoveries of Sir Charles Warren under the Temple Mount, that only in the last five to ten years has their impact begun to be fully understood by two publications of two very talented men--Dr. Andrew G. Vaughn's doctoral dissertation in 1996 which became published in 1999 by SBL & ASOR as Theology, History, and Archaeology in the Chronicler's Account of Hezekiah (THACAH), and Mr. G.M. Grena's "LMLK--A Mystery Belonging To The King vol. 1" (LMLKv1), published in 2004 by 4000 Years of Writing History, Redondo Beach, CA.  Dr. Vaughn laid a foundation upon which Mr. Grena expanded greatly.  Perhaps the most significant area of research for both men started out as a side issue for each one--the paleographical study of Hebrew letters found on the Personal seals of the Hezekian royal officials by Dr. Vaughn; and the paleographical study of Hebrew letters found on the LMLK seals by Mr. Grena.  The LMLK letters have been studied since the end of the 19th - beginning of the 20th century, but never have they been presented so clearly as in Mr. Grena's book and companion CD-ROM.

#1 I believe Mr. Grena got it right.  It was neither 1867 like Dr. Neil Asher Silberman ("Digging for God and Country", [New York:  Random House, 1982] p. 94) nor 1869 like Dr. Vaughn (THACAH, p. 183) have stated, but probably late in 1868 as Mr. Grena (see LMLKv1 p. 110) has stated.

We all owe Mr. Grena a great debt of gratitude for the information provided in this book and on his LMLK Research Website!!!!!  It is obvious that Mr. Grena has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and effort, traveling and doing the research it takes to get to and photograph the different LMLK collections, firsthand when possible, and digging out the many publications for research.  His photographs of the many hundreds of LMLK handles that he has actually held in his own hands are excellent!!!!!  I know personally that he is a very generous person.  He has with enormous discipline, energy, fun, and uniqueness presented the materials in an interesting and fresh way.  His clear film template of the 21 known LMLK seals is the best analysis chart done on LMLK seals to date.  It surpasses even Dr. Andre Lemaire's chart in the presentation of the different seal types and in the accuracy of the actual size of the seals {f/n #2}.  His classification of the different pottery types is groundbreaking {f/n #3}.  Since all we have left are the seal impressions and the pottery, these two subjects are crucial in figuring out what the LMLK seals', Personal seals', and LMLK jars' functions were.  His presentation of another type of LMLK jar, a smaller Type 467 is significant {f/n #4}.  His drawings of the LMLK icons, ideas on iconography, noticing that the Beth-Resh ligature of the H4C LMLK seal matches the Siloam Tunnel inscription pretty much exactly {f/n #5}, statistics on known quantities of handles {f/n #6}, and many other aspects of the LMLK phenomenon make his book the place to go for LMLK information!!!!!!!

#2 Compare Figure 39 of LMLKv1 to Plate VIII of Eretz-Israel vol. 15, 1981.

#3 Not only is his attempt to categorize the LMLK jars' pottery by color and layers significant, but his noticing that LMLK Pithoi seem to be made out of a different clay, perhaps like the Jerusalem area Motza clay, as exhibited on the inscribed Gibeon handles shows that the origin of the pottery's clay is not set in stone.  Just as Dr. Jan Gunneweg has found that the majority of the Dead Sea Scroll jars are found to have not originated in Qumran or Jerusalem (see video entitled "Dead Sea Scrolls:  Voices From The Desert" [Discovery Channel, 2000]), further, more careful sampling of the clays at the different sites in Israel needs to be done to create a complete catalogue of the clays of Israel.  See LMLKv1 pp. 80, 90-93, particularly p. 80.

#4 See LMLKv1 p. 79.

#5 See LMLKv1 p. 172.

#6 See LMLKv1 pp. 74-77.


My main criticism of Mr. Grena is his lack of specific page numbers pointing out exactly where other authors' ideas are located.  But a bigger criticism has to be given to the scholarly world.  Why has no comprehensive study of the LMLK phenomenon been done previously in the English language?  Certainly the subject is important enough.  The analysis of the Personal Seal handle of Eliaqim servant of Yawkin set the stage for the erroneous dating of Hebrew Paleography and Archaeological Strata for most of the 20th century, and the ripple effects are even being felt today {f/n #7}.  It is clearly understandable why the handle would be dated to the last kings of Judah and the Babylonian Destruction instead of King Hezekiah and the Assyrian Destruction, but what happened to the 1980s (after Dr. David Ussishkin's landmark correction to King Hezekiah and the Assyrian Destruction of Lachish by Sennacherib {f/n #8})?  Could not an analysis of all the known Personal Seal handles and LMLK seals been done back then?  I welcome this new age of study ushered in by Dr. Vaughn and Mr. Grena!!!!!!!!!!

#7 See pp. 23-24 of "Inscribed Seals:  First Temple Period Hebrew, Ammonite, Moabite, Phoenician and Aramaic" by Ruth Hestrin and Michal Dayagi-Mendels (Jerusalem:  Israel Museum, 1979).

#8 See pp. 28-60 of "The Destruction of Lachish by Sennacherib and the Dating of the Royal Judean Storage Jars" by Dr. David Ussishkin (TA vol. 4 #1-2, 1977).


As Mr. Grena has told me {f/n #9}, unless a book is uncovered that is from the time of King Hezekiah specifically explaining why the LMLK jars were made, how they were made, and what their function was, all we have is theories.  In the final analysis that is what we still have today--just theories.  Sometimes theories become facts and are integrated into archaeological dating, paleography, and other aspects of Israelite History.  Sometimes these theories are accurate and do a lot of good.  Sometimes these theories are inaccurate and set a lot of inaccurate ideas in motion that are hard to correct because they have become so ingrained in the scholarly literature.

#9 Personal e-mail received from Mr. Grena on April 5th, 2003:  "...the only thing that will cause [LMLKv1] to fall on its face & not stand the test of time is if someone excavates a 2700-year old document describing the LMLK seals & jars in detail."

Mr. Grena's Theories fall into both categories, like everybody else's theories of the past 100+ years, accurate and inaccurate.

On p. 10 of LMLKv1, Mr. Grena says, "the preponderance of evidence indicates about half of the designs [of the LMLK seals] were made before Sennacherib's invasion (designated 'B.S.') and the other half shortly thereafter ('A.S.')."  This theory, which goes back at least to Prof. Aharoni {f/n #10}, will probably not hold up since at least one seal from each set has been excavated in pre-Sennacherib strata.  On the LMLK Research Website and in Mr. Grena's book {f/n #11} he mentions a G2T handle with Concentric Circles and a M2D handle found in an 8th-century B.C. stratum excavated in the City of David by Dr. Shiloh.  Mr. Grena uses the analogy of these two handles being in the minority in this instance, with the majority of other x2D and x2T handles belonging to the various 7th-century strata (or mostly fills) at the various sites in Israel, and thus this data should be thrown out or ignored.  I think a more proper analysis would be that these handles are clarifiers in a murky area (at least according to Mr. Grena, Prof. Shiloh probably had no idea that these handles were very important from a stratigraphical point of view).  They are much like the one or two YRSLM Pentagram handles that Prof. Avigad determined in his Jerusalem excavations to belong to the Hasmonean Period of Jerusalem {f/n #12}.  These few, clear examples clarified the date for the other known YRSLM examples.  We can look at Shiloh's City of David excavations as doing the same for the x2D and x2T types and the Concentric Circles' origins as well.  Prof. Avigad had noticed that the Concentric Circles were incised on a two-winged sun disc handle and then fired {f/n #13}.  Thus, the device or devices used in making the Concentric Circles existed at the time of the creation of the LMLK jars.  Surely Prof. Avigad knew the difference between incised-before-firing and incised-after-firing, and we can take his word for it.  Most of the LMLK handles, contrary to the popular written views, are not that well-fired.  They are mostly gray medium-fired ware, so Mr. Grena should not be surprised if a gray dot appears in the photographs.  Usually the slip that covers the gray ware is red or well fired, but it is only a millimeter or two thick, so it would be easy for the Concentric Circles' anchor hole to have a gray center {f/n #14}.

#10 See LMLKv1 p. 192 or "Excavations at Ramat Rahel:  Seasons 1959 & 1960" by Yohanan Aharoni (Universita' Degli Studi di Roma and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1962) p. 52.

#11 See the Stratigraphy page of the LMLK Research Website and LMLKv1 pp. 335-336.

#12 See pp. 77-78 of "Discovering Jerusalem" by Dr. Nahman Avigad (Jerusalem:  Shikmona Publishing Company Ltd. in cooperation with Israel Exploration Society, 1980).

#13 See LMLKv1 pp. 222 and 314 or "Ancient Agriculture in the Judean Desert" by Lawrence E. Stager [1975] p. 169, f/n 58 and "Judean Jar Handles Bearing Concentric Circles" by Chang-Ho Ji (NEASB vol. 46, 2001) pp. 11-12.

#14 See editorial note by Grena embedded within Ji's article quoted on p. 314 of LMLKv1.

The reading of the LMLK Seals must be from the top to bottom.  The history of looking at literally thousands of West Semitic seals over the past 100+ years surely shows us that the possessive prepositional prefix Lamed is the place to begin reading a seal.  It works for all four of King Hezekiah's personal seals.  A closer examination of the four personal seals (retained on clay bullae) of King Hezekiah shows us that he had a liking for Egyptian/Phoenician iconography.  Since the recent discovery of these four seals represented on bullae probably too were preserved in a destruction caused by Sennacherib, we have a chance to look at four more pre-Sennacherib examples.  Surely the engravers of the LMLK seals were influenced by King Hezekiah's choices for his personal seals.  He liked the scarab and the sun disc.  The exact six-rayed sun disc motif central device shows up on the thirteen sun disc LMLK seals.  The three rays at the top are shorter than the three rays on the bottom {f/n #15}; the disc is not really flat, but more of a ball.

#15 See the cover photograph on BAR vol. 28 #4 (July/August 2002) or the recent book "Biblical Period Hebrew Bullae:  The Josef Chaim Kaufman Collection" by Robert Deutsch (Tel Aviv:  Archaeological Center, 2003).  With the recent discoveries and publications of King Hezekiah's bullae in the Moussaieff, Kaufman, and Chaya collections, it becomes clear that the two-winged sun disc personal seal of King Hezekiah provided the design for at least the central device of the thirteen two-winged sun disc LMLK seals.  It is my opinion that all thirteen two-winged sun disc LMLK Seals looked this way, even the G2T and M2T.  I believe a recent G2T example in the April, 2004, Archaeological Center auction clearly shows this on the bottom.  The few examples that Mr. Grena has used for his drawings were just poorly executed stamps.  If, however, it is proven that Mr. Grena is correct about the G2T and M2T drawings, then I consider these lines as engraver's errors, adding more weight to the theory that the LMLK jars' creation was a Hurry Up And Get The Job Done Before Sennacherib Gets Here event.

The idea that the 21 LMLK seals are God's symbol {f/n #16}, generally poorly impressed on the LMLK jars, sometimes ending up next to a mere human royal official's seal, is a poor one.  Surely the King of Kings could have had better seals, better containers, and better stampings.  After all, Yahweh had gold and silver vessels in His temple.  The idea that a shaky prophet Isaiah would engrave the x4C LMLK seals and write letters upside down and backwards is doubtful.  Is the God of the universe, who was able to rejuvenate Sarah at around 90 years of age to give birth to Isaac, incapable of working through an old man to cause him to create a seal without mistakes?

#16 See LMLKv1 pp. 365-369.

Under accurate, you can definitely say that Mr. Grena's analysis of the stamping of the LMLK seals and Personal seals as being so poorly executed that it could not have been done by potters is dead-on accurate {f/n #17}.  Both the LMLK seals and Personal seals of the royal officials were so poorly done that specific studies have had to be done by Dr. Vaughn to figure out what the Personal seals say.  Mr. Grena is correct that a large percentage of the LMLK impressions are unreadable {f/n #18}, probably about the same percentage holds true for the Personal seals.  Mr. Grena's correction of Dr. Vaughn's most glaring mistake made in THACAH--that the LMLK jars' reuse was extremely limited or almost nonexistent into the 7th century B.C.--is very good.  The point is that King Hezekiah existed into the 7th century and some of these jars had to as well.  It makes no sense to think that all of the jars that were not broken by Sennacherib's Destruction suddenly ended being used, when Dr. Vaughn himself said that large storage jars tended to be used for long periods of time {f/n #19}.  And the stratified existence of handles, even if they are mostly strays (not connected to restorable jars), makes much more sense if the LMLK jars' use continued into the 7th century until the jars were broken or forgotten.

#17 See LMLKv1 p. 353.

#18 See LMLKv1 p. 364.

#19 See THACAH p. 109.

There is an inherent weakness in using the seal sets as a chronological expander of time.  By grouping the 21 LMLK seals into four or five groups {f/n #20}, Mr. Grena has probably limited himself to four or five years of production instead of all 29 years of King Hezekiah's reign.  One would have to look at each seal as representing an individual year.  It is very difficult to do so.  The M4C and Z4CY seals have between one and five examples known so far {f/n #21}.  It makes more sense that the seals were grouped together to accomplish their purpose.  You could as easily say that the five groups of seals were made at the same time, or a few days apart, or a few months apart.  A little separation in time would, or just the choice of LMLK seals used by the royal officials doing the stampings, much better explain why there are only a few impressions of one seal and many of another seal.  Just as the royal officials used four or five of their personal seals to stamp the jars, King Hezekiah did the same thing.  It did not mean that the royal officials stamped the seals years apart; it just meant that they were affluent enough to have and carry more than one seal to do the job at hand.

#20 It is clear to me, by his drawings of five seal sets on the back cover of LMLKv1, and on the Seal Sets page of the LMLK Research Website, and his statement that five sets were made (on p. 351), that these seals are looked at as groups much more than individual seals or pairs of seals.

#21 When You correlate Mr. Grena's first hypothetical seal pair, the M4C and Z4CY seals, with his statement that the starting point of the LMLK Pithoi was for the "great abundance" (see LMLKv1, p. 348) of offerings to God under Hezekiah's religious reformation, there is a big problem---there are just a handful of jars to handle the offerings.  A much better way of looking at the seals are groups of five or six per city.  The Z4CY seal is so sparse because it was created to fix the incorrect Z4CI stamp, but it was caught and redone too late; almost all of the stamping had been done.  The most stamped seals were stamped by the choice of the royal officials doing the stamping, yet there seems to be a goal of MMShT, Sokoh, and Ziph being pretty equal in their provision of LMLK Jars and Hebron being double to perhaps triple.

Another problem that Mr. Grena faces is one that Dr. Vaughn got correct and greatly expanded in his book--THACAH and his articles by himself and with Dr. Gabriel Barkay--that is the very large corpus of the personal seals of the Hezekian royal officials {f/n #22}.  The personal seals of the royal officials are obviously connected to the LMLK seals.  Whenever one is catalogued, you can add that as a LMLK Jar handle.  This is an important point and expands the LMLK corpus by around three hundred more handles {f/n #23}.  Dr. Vaughn uses various handles from Beth Shemesh, an 8th-century B.C. site, to show how the LMLK Jar creation and use was a late 8th-century B.C. (before Sennacherib) occurrence {f/n #24}.  I believe Dr. Vaughn got it right in the Creation part and somewhat wrong in the Reuse part as mentioned above.  The LMLK jars, all of them, were created in the late 8th century B.C. before Sennacherib came.  The Personal Seal handles are an integral part of figuring out the puzzle.  They make up in my opinion perhaps around 33 percent of the LMLK phenomenon; with the LMLK seals making up another 33 percent, the Concentric Circles making up another 33 percent and the various other marks and details making up the other 1 percent of the information.

#22 See THACAH pp. 80-219.

#23 I view all Royal Official handles as belonging to a LMLK jar and thus being part of the LMLK corpus.  The Royal Official seals have been found impressed next to LMLK seals on the same handle; next to LMLK Seal handles but by themselves on adjacent handles; and next to Concentric Circles.  The reason I emphasize this point is the great amount of significant date correlation that Dr. Vaughn was able to do with the Royal Official handles in THACAH.  I am not really that impressed with Vaughn's blanket use of dating every stratum that has a LMLK Seal handle or a Royal Official handle to the late 8th century B.C.  I am however very interested in the Beth Shemesh information and its ramifications on the origins of the LMLK phenomenon.

#24 See THACAH p. 165.

Nera/Shebna stamped his seal beside the H2U {f/n #25} stamp and the H2D {f/n #26} stamp each time with a different seal out of several that he had (at least five) {f/n #27}.  Does this mean that perhaps Nera/Shebna did all of the stamping of the LMLK Hebron seals, or was he just supervising the LMLK Jar process in some form or fashion?  My point is that Nera definitely stamped the H2U handle before Sennacherib came {f/n #28} and he probably {f/n #29} stamped both types before Sennacherib came.  The Personal Seals phenomenon found on the LMLK corpus of handles is unique, and so far no other similar feature has been recorded in the pottery corpus of the Middle East.  A very valid point was made by Robert Deutsch to me through an e-mail in April of 2003 concerning the Hezekian Royal Official Personal Sealers of the LMLK jars.  He said, "they were exterminated by Sennacherib".  Fifty to sixty royal officials such as Shebanyahu son of the King ("Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals" [CWSSS] by Nahman Avigad and Benjamin Sass [Jerusalem:  The Israel Academy of Sciences & Humanities, The Israel Exploration Society, & The Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1997] #662), Oreb the Nobian (CWSSS #693), and Eliaqim steward of Yawkin (CWSSS #663) would have had a good chance of being wiped out by Sennacherib's army, so I must agree with Deutsch.  When you use the Personal seals of the LMLK jars, which I consider to be 33 percent of the puzzle, an After Sennacherib chronology does not seem possible.  (How or why would you have such a large group of people involved in the LMLK Jars process after the Kingdom of Judah had been decimated by Sennacherib?)  Why were all of these Personal seals stamped at all?  The answer is Government Control.  King Hezekiah had procrastinated and waited to the last minute to prepare emergency provisions for his country.  The only way to remedy the danger was a massive Government Emergency Provisions enterprise.  He used existing jar sizes --pithoi, Type 484, and Type 467.  He did not invent anything new concerning pottery.  He used the same old rough type ware that had been in existence for a hundred years or more {f/n #30}.  What he did do was stamp it.  This was not a gradual process contrary to Dr. Vaughn and Mr. Grena's views {f/n #31}.  All the internal marks of the seals, the sealings, and the pottery {f/n #32} point towards a Hurry Up job with a Close Enough For Government Work type of attitude.  You have to look at the choices:  Dr. Vaughn says that King Hezekiah had been collecting taxes in the LMLK jars for years and had a strong infrastructure.  When the Assyrian Attack threat from Sennacherib materialized, King Hezekiah mobilized the jars.  Mr. Grena says that King Hezekiah may have created the jars from the beginning of his reign as offerings to God.  When the Assyrian threat under Sennacherib materialized, they produced more jars.  Prof. Aharoni rightly saw that it was unlikely for a single seal to have survived for years.  I agree.  I see the Jars as being created in about six months only for the use against the threat of Sennacherib.

#25 See pp. 33-34 of "Forty New Ancient West Semitic Inscriptions" by Robert Deutsch and Michael Heltzer (Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Israel:  Archaeological Center, 1994).

#26 See p. 256 and Photo 49 of "The Archaeology of the Land of Israel" by Yohanan Aharoni (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:  The Westminster Press, 1982).

#27 See THACAH pp. 121-122.

#28 See a late 8th-century B.C. example mentioned in THACAH pp. 208-209.

#29 No late 8th-century example has been found so far of this particular seal of Nera, so I have to say "probably".

#30 See LMLKv1 p. 120 and THACAH pp. 138-141.

#31 See LMLKv1 pp. 10, 376-378.

#32 It is interesting that the different pottery variations (chocolate brown, pink, red, tan, gray, and fluorescent orange) bear a good majority of the possible 21 LMLK seals and the 50 to 60+ Royal Official seals.  This also makes me think that they were all stamped during a relatively short time span.

A new, careful study of percentages needs to be done in order to understand the distribution of the LMLK jars.  Are there more Ziph handles because there are more Ziph seals?  Are there fewer Sokoh handles because there are fewer Sokoh seals?  Are there more Concentric Circles marks and Royal Official seals stamped next to two-winged sun disc LMLK seals because there are five more two-winged sun disc seals?  Was there a mixing of all the seal types at Hebron?  As Dr. Na'aman has suggested {f/n #33}, Hebron may have served as the main distribution center of the LMLK jars, and it was the largest district which produced the most jars, at least twice as many, maybe even three times as Mr. Grena has shown {f/n #34}; there would have been a mixing of jars and no clear cut method is reflected by the handle types found at various sites.  Perhaps this is why Hebron shows up as the center of Mr. Grena's bull's-eye map {f/n #35}, because it was the main distribution center.  However, their destination at many sites in many ways become irrelevant because you do not know if the handles represent a jar that was reused or resent or just what was going on.  Perhaps sites like Lachish and Beth Shemesh show some insight into this problem more clearly than sites that were not destroyed by Sennacherib.

#33 See LMLKv1 p. 261 or "Hezekiah's Fortified Cities & the LMLK Stamps" by Nadav Na'aman (BASOR 261, February 1986) p. 15.

#34 See LMLKv1 pp. 74-76.

#35 See LMLKv1 p. 53.  It is interesting that Mr. Grena, when he started his research (see LMLKv1, p. 57), could not resist throwing his dart at MMST, and he hit Eshtemoa.  I think the main reason why others have not guessed it is the consonants are pretty much backwards to match MMST.  Mr. Grena faces a bigger challenge when he tries to come up with a meaning for MMST for one of his four votive messages since it is not known from the Bible.

Regardless of what theories you accept or disagree with, like I have said before, the major benefit of Dr. Vaughn's and Mr. Grena's work is their presentation of Paleo-Hebrew letters found on the Personal seals and the LMLK seals.  Why are there so many variants, so much so that the greatest epigraphical minds of the 20th century dated the LMLK seals to 750 B.C. (Dr. Andre Lemaire {f/n #36}) and around 640-609 B.C. (Drs. Albright, Lapp and Cross {f/n #37}).  Even Dr. Nahman Avigad dated some bullae belonging to the period of King Hezekiah to the period of Jeremiah {f/n #38}.  Is it possible that the "men of King Hezekiah" had been copying down the sayings of King Solomon and Northern Israelite documents as well (Prvbs.25:1)?  They liked the archaic letter types, the extra tics on the Zayins and Yods, plus they were using the current Hebrew letter types.  All of this caused a blurring of the Hebrew writing system to where if you do not have the name of a character mentioned in the Bible found on an inscription, it is very difficult to date a Hebrew inscription based on paleography alone from 900 to 600 B.C. (in my opinion of course).

#36 See LMLKv1 p. 224 or "Remarques sur la Datation des Estampilles 'LMLK'" by Andre Lemaire (VT vol. 25 # 3, July 1975) pp. 678-679.

#37 See LMLKv1 p. 203 or "Judean Stamps" by Frank Moore Cross, Jr. (Eretz-Israel vol. 9, 1969) p. 20.

#38 Personal E-mail from Dr. Andre Lemaire, May, 2004.

Hopefully these last ten years of LMLK research by Dr. Vaughn and Mr. Grena will have started afresh an interest in the LMLK phenomenon that will last throughout the 21st century!!!!!

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This page was created on June 26, 2004, & last updated on June 26, 2004