Pure for God

Only $85!

Only $85!

I subscribe to Meridian Magazine. This past week I kept noticing that the same article was appearing in every issue, by Maurine Proctor, titled “Stumbling upon a Treasure in Jerusalem.” I finally opened the page and read it, and then learned why it kept being repeated; it was actually a sort of essay-advertisement for a necklace based on a reproduction of a bulla (the impression made from a seal) that had been discovered as part of an archaeological dig in the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem in 2011. The inscription on the bulla had the letters DKA LYH, which was interpreted as Aramaic deka leyah, “Pure for God.” The presumption of the archaelogical team was that the seal had been used to stamp items declared as ritually pure and therefore acceptable for use in the temple. Meridian is selling these reproductions for $85 each; the gold-plated ones have sold out, but silver-plated ones are still available in limited quantity.

I was particularly struck by the fact that the Proctors had given these to their daughters, and they were suggesting them as gifts for daughters at various stages of life or sister missionaries upon receiving their call. I wondered why they only seemed to see this as a valuable gift to a girl as opposed to a boy (as you can see, a number of commenters pointed this out in the comments on the article). It looked as though they were seeing this as a sort of chastity pledge necklace, like a virginity ring or something. I thought their use of this item for that purpose was interesting, and that perhaps there was a blog post there.

As I looked into this, however, I found something even more interesting: the inscription on the bulla doesn’t mean “pure for God” at all. I learned this based on comments from Professor Shlomo Naeh of Hebrew University, where he is the head of the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies. I find his comments on this compelling. You may read them here.

In short the inscription DKA LYH does not mean deka leyah “pure for God.” Rather, it is an inscription that has to do with temple administration, written using shorthand abbreviations. The DK is short for dekhar, which literally means “male” but was used in Aramaic to signify a ram. The A is the letter aleph and signifies a Sunday, the first day of the week. The L does indeed mean “to/for.” The YH is not a short form of the divine tetragrammaton (usually “LORD” in English); rather it is an abbreviation for Yehoyariv, which was the priestly family that had the first temple shift of the year according to the 24 priestly courses (you will see this family given as Jehoiarib in 1 Chronicles 24:7, where the 24 courses for the priestly families are set out).

What does this mean? Well, when you bring a sacrifice to the temple, it would be accompanied by other sacrifices of flour, wine and oil. These sacrificial commodities had to be purchased at the temple itself to assure their purity. The temple office had an internal system for dealing with this. You would make payment there and be given a bulla like this one. The bulla would then be used to purchase the additional sacrificial commodities.

We can read a little bit about these mechanics in the Mishnah, Shekalim 5:3-5:

MISHNAH 3. THERE WERE FOUR SEALS IN THE TEMPLE, AND ON THEM WAS INSCRIBED [RESPECTIVELY] ‘CALF’, ‘RAM’,19 ‘KID’, ‘SINNER’.20 BEN ‘AZZAI SAYS:  THERE WERE FIVE AND ON THEM WAS INSCRIBED IN ARAMAIC [RESPECTIVELY] ‘CALF’, ‘RAM’, ‘KID’, ‘POOR21 SINNER’, AND ‘RICH22 SINNER’. [THE SEAL INSCRIBED] ‘CALF’, SERVED FOR THE DRINK-OFFERINGS23 OF KINE, BOTH GREAT AND SMALL,MALE AND FEMALE; [THE ONE INSCRIBED] ‘KID’ SERVED FOR THE DRINK-OFFERINGS OF FLOCKS, BOTH GREAT AND SMALL, MALE AND FEMALE, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THOSE OF RAMS; [THE ONE INSCRIBED] ‘RAM’ SERVED FOR THE DRINK-OFFERINGS OF RAMS ALONE; [THE ONE INSCRIBED] ‘SINNER’ SERVED FOR THE DRINK-OFFERINGS OF THE THREE ANIMALS [OFFERED] BY LEPERS.24

MISHNAH 4. IF A MAN REQUIRED DRINK-OFFERINGS HE WOULD GO TO JOHANAN WHO WAS THE OFFICER OVER THE SEALS, AND GIVE HIM MONEY AND RECEIVE FROM HIM A SEAL. THEN HE WOULD GO TO AHIJAH WHO WAS THE OFFICER OVER THE DRINK-OFFERINGS, AND GIVE HIM THE SEAL, AND RECEIVE FROM HIM DRINK-OFFERINGS. AND IN THE EVENING THESE TWO [OFFICERS] WOULD COME TOGETHER, AND AHIJAH WOULD BRING OUT THE SEALS AND RECEIVE MONEY FOR THEIR VALUE. AND IF THERE WAS MORE [THAN THEIR VALUE] THE SURPLUS BELONGED TO THE SANCTUARY, 25 BUT IF THERE WAS LESS [THAN THEIR VALUE] JOHANAN WOULD PAY [THE LOSS] OUT OF HIS OWN MEANS; FOR THE SANCTUARY HAS THE UPPER HAND.

MISHNAH 5. IF A MAN LOST HIS SEAL HIS CASE WAS DEFERRED UNTIL THE EVENING.26 IF THEN THEY FOUND [MONEY OVER] TO THE VALUE OF HIS LOST SEAL THEY GAVE [IT] TO HIM, BUT IF NOT HE HAD NOTHING. MOREOVER, ON THE SEALS WAS INSCRIBED THE NAME OF THE DAY [IN ORDER TO GUARD] AGAINST IMPOSTORS.27

(19) Lit., ‘male’, the Aramaic name of the ram.

 This is one of the bullae described in the text above.

To me, this understanding makes the bulla way more important and cool! it’s a window into actual temple administration. Such a bulla would be extremely rare due to the limited excavations permitted in the vicinity of the temple mount.

But it has nothing to do with keeping your precious daughters virginally pure until their temple weddings.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    By the way, this is my 450th post here at BCC.

  2. J. Stapley says:

    This is really cool, Kevin. Thanks for the context and analysis.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    …and impressive (450!). You are consistently a great writer. I always enjoy reading what you have to post.

  4. Glad you posted this. Sometimes I can be pretty gullible.

  5. Both cool and hilarious. Thanks Kevin. If this is making money off of a temple administrative process, even an ancient one, isn’t that pretty much the definition of priestcraft…..just sayin’.

  6. Fascinating post, and a standing ovation for Karen’s comment.

  7. Laurel Lee's Blog says:

    It felt like a money making effort when I first read about the necklaces in Meridian. Interesting to find out what it really means!

  8. 450 posts! We’re all the better for your contributions, Kevin. Thank you.

  9. Maryland Musician says:

    Once in a great while I will visit the Meridian magazine site, and I did notice the necklace. I was immediately curious since I have just come back from a two-week tour of Israel in February with MHA. I was trying to talk myself into buying one, and then thought, nah, I’ve been there and have seen the real McCoys in various forms. I’m glad I didn’t bite!!

  10. Darn you Kevin. Do you know how painful it is to remove a “Pure for God” tattoo? In post 451, I supposed you’ll tell me that the olivewood oil vial I purchased is not really made from an olive tree that was alive at the time of Christ.

  11. Rechabite says:

    May YH bless Kevin Barney for this!

  12. Jason K. says:

    Great post, Kevin. I love the way that you’ve subjected what is basically kitsch to real analysis. We who are about to geek out salute you.

  13. So if I bring my fiancée to the temple, and she’s wearing one of these necklaces, I can trade her in for a virgin suitable for sealing ordinances? That’s the message I’m sharing with the YM this week.

  14. BHodges says:

    Too bad your measly blog post will never compete with their marketing plan, Kev. Nice try!

    Happy 450th, too!

  15. Pedantery to follow
    Dekhar is cognate with Hebrew zakar (e.g. in the pairing zakar u- neqevah, “male and female.”) The initial consonant in the root is d-underline (the voiced th sound you make when you say “the”), which became Z in Hebrew, but D in Aramaic. The vowel reduction pattern is different in Aramaic, which is why you get schewa in the first syllable instead of -a- in Hebrew.

    A similar divergence is Heb. zahab for “gold” but Arm. dehab. Arabic has kept the earlier consonants, with a d-underline, d, and z; there we find dhahab.

  16. Wow, Kevin! 450!!

    “it was actually a sort of essay-advertisement” That’s unfortunate. I hate those fake newspaper ads. It’s a kind of sketchy misleading thing that somehow manages to offend more strongly for its tackiness than its dishonesty.

  17. Proctor Priestcrafts — there’s some catchy alliteration in that!

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Ben, right, in that Mishnah quote the first word for ram is the Hebrew with the z, but the second use is the Aramaic with the d.

  19. This makes it way cooler, but since I have covenanted not to be involved in priestcraft, I will have to pass.

  20. 450! Congrats. Always worth reading too.

  21. Fascinating. Thanks!

  22. This makes me happy in all the worst ways. It appears that this “Pure for God” jewelry phenomenon may have started as a Jewish thing, however. Google “Pure for God” + “necklace” and you’ll see a lot of Jewish shops selling “Pure for God” seal jewelry, including that exact necklace AND including “Pure for God” cufflinks–so some of our Jewish friends may have been deluded about the meaning of the seal, but at least they’re misapplying it to both sexes.

  23. Besides the fact that its ugly and there’s no way I would wear that…

  24. Jacob H. says:

    Your posts never disappoint, Kevin.

  25. Of note, Meridian Magazine is not accepting posts about Kevin’s writeup.

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Assuming that these seals were not composites, but that the temple keeper of seals had on hand in his office a separate seal for each possible situation, by my calculations he would have had access to 672 different seals (four basic seals, x 7 (one for each day of the week), x 24 (one for each priestly course).

    Also, we don’t know that the named priestly families that existed when Chronicles was written still existed at, say, the time of Christ. If not, it doesn’t really matter, those names were still used as a sort of weekly temple calendar. So when you combine a day of the week with a priestly name, that particular combination of day and week will only occur twice in an entire year. Thus, when the Mishnah (the last line in the segment quoted above) says MOREOVER, ON THE SEALS WAS INSCRIBED THE NAME OF THE DAY [IN ORDER TO GUARD] AGAINST IMPOSTORS, this seal does indeed meet that qualification, being redeemable in this case only on the first day of the first priestly course.

  27. melodynew says:

    Fascinating post. And congrats on the 450, Kevin. Well done.

    So, does this have anything to do with the money-changing going on in and around the temple at the time of Christ? The whole “Jesus used a whip” thing? Also, whether it does or doesn’t, I’m a slut for God. Like Esther. So, I don’t want one of those necklaces anyway.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    melodynew, yes, the same principle is in play. Whether it was the moneychangers (for payment of the annual half-shekel temple tax or offerings) or this case (the purchase of sacrificial commodities), one could not make the ultimate payment with secular money, which generally had inappropriate graven images on it. That’s why there needed to be this elaborate mechanism for making payment of the ingredients for the drink offering to go along with the animal sacrifice.

  29. Your last comment to melodynew clarifies so much, I was really confused as to why there needed to be an in between currency in the first place. Definitely cooler than the “pure for God” explanation.

    Also, selling/purchasing replicas of historical artifacts seems like fair game to me – supplying something interesting to those who see value in it. Doesn’t seem like priestcraft to me, nobody’s promising salvation or blessings for the purchase, right? Also, I doubt they’re trying to get the praise of the world by selling it, imo.

  30. melodynew says:

    Thanks, Kevin. I remember hearing about this. And also about the problem of only the wealthy or religious aristocracy so-to-speak gaining access to the temple. And that Christ, in part, was speaking to this issue when he cleansed the temple.

  31. 450? Kevin, you’re amazing! (Also, you’re approximately 2/3rds of the way to 666. :) )

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Ziff, I’m planning on just skipping 666 and going straight from 665 to 667…

  33. It could only have been more entertaining had the inscription turned out to be something like a fertility/fecundity prayer.

  34. So, does this have anything to do with the money-changing going on in and around the temple at the time of Christ?

    I think, melodynew, that it has something to do with the money-changing going on in and around Meridian Magazine.

    Seriously, though, when did the LDS latch on to that horrible evangelical habit of making Jesus our marketing buddy? I first started noticing a few daring YM/YW back when “WWJD?” bracelets became all the rage amongst our Gentile brethren and sisters; since then, any cute little way to make money from sacred kitsch seems to have become fair game for Mormonization. A “Mormon Missionary Door Knocker” even made the “Gadgets for God” page at Ship-of-Fools.com. I’ve probably seen that thing advertised at Meridian, too, and with a straight face.

  35. I just want to say that I don’t think the Proctors are making a lot of money from the sale of these necklaces. They are selling them for less than you can buy them from the company they are getting them from. And I’m sure it’s that company that has translated the seal as meaning “pure for God.” The Proctors probably thought it was something their readers might enjoy, and nothing to do with priestcraft. I might have been tempted to order a necklace if I could have afforded it, and I have been thinking of ordering some earrings from the company in Jerusalem. I thought it would be nice to wear them to the temple. However, with Kevin’s explanation of the real translation, I will not be doing so. But don’t be too hard on Maureen. She’s been duped as to the meaning just like everyone else.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    Sharee, yes, it was the original excavators who came up with the “pure for God” meaning, as I mention in the original post.

  37. My daughter has enquired about the possiblity of getting a “purity amulet” in .357 Mag, maybe an S&W 640. I’m a little skeptical, since BYU seems to be depending on all of those cupcakey/gum chewing Mutual lessons as adequate protection for young women on campus.

  38. MarkinPNW says:

    Iconoclast, if she can handle full-power .357 loads in something as light as a S&W 640, she’s a better man, er, woman, er shooter than I am, and more power to her. I can barely handle standard .38 loads in my Taurus 85.

  39. steve frasier says:

    Kevin,
    Additional research on your part may have been in order before you accepted Prof. Naeh’s “new” interpretation. In scholarly circles his remarks have received a lot of criticism. He had to make some real stretches to get the seal to read the way he says it does. So, it is actually more likely that it does in fact read “Pure for God”. With that said, there are many discussions of HOW the seal was used which may or may not follow the model put forth by Meridian. BTW, it was the Israeli Antiquities Authority(IAA) who discovered this artifact and gave the meaning “Pure of God” to it not Meridian or the City of David that sells the pieces Meridian is offering. The IAA also quoted parts of the Mishnah in coming up with its interpretation.

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    A couple of people in this thread seem to have read me as attributing the interpretation “pure for God” to Meridian; a careful reading of the OP will show I attributed it to the excavators of the find, which is what was reported in news reports. I would be interested in reading the critiques of Naeh
    you mention; are any of these available online, and if so could you point us to them?

  41. Kevin Barney says:

    I just did some searching on the internet, and I’m not finding any critiques of Naeh’s explanation. I did find a brief report of the original finding and explanation of the “pure for God” reading, and you’re right, they cite this same Mishnah passage I quote. But between that original report and Naeh’s critique of it, Naeh is clearly correct. The seals mentioned in the Mishnah were used to track purchases of (already pure) sacrificial commodities, not to certify purity of items brought into the temple. So I am certainly very open to being corrected, but I don’t see anything out there that contradicts this purchase tracking reading of that Mishnah passage, and to me that is the most compelling evidence as to how a bulla such as this would have been used. But again, I will happily review and report on contrary scholarly arguments if you will link or produce them in this space. Thanks for writing and contributing to the discussion.

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