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.