April 2017

Everything in life leaves its mark on the world.  A deer passing through the forest leaves a trail of broken branches and browsed bushes.  A rabbit living in your garden can be easily detected.  Homes with bicycles and skates in the driveway make the presence of children.  We cannot pass through life without leaving our mark on the people and places of this world.

So many years separate us from the life and times of the Bible that it sometimes makes it difficult for us to recognize that this narrative is about real people and real places.  But every now and again, a scrap of archaeological evidence surfaces that anchors the Biblical text in space and time.  This is precisely what happened to Hershel Shanks, writing for Biblical Archaeological Review, found a seal with the fingerprint of Baruch, the scribe, friend and confidant of the prophet Jeremiah.  This seal was found in the private collection of an Israeli who lives in London.

The seal, technically called a bulla, is a lump of clay impressed with the scribe’s mark.  It reads, in three lines of Hebrew letters, “Belonging to Berekhyahu, son of Nerijahu, the Scribe.”  Berekhyahu is the complete name of Baruch and means blessed.  The suffix yah is a form of Yahweh, the personal name for God.

The Bible contains the shortened form of the scribe’s name, without the suffix.  When God told Jeremiah of the disasters that would strike Judah if it did not mend its wicked ways, “Jeremiah, called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote down in a scroll, at Jeremiah’s dictation, all the words which the Lord had spoken to him” (Jeremiah 36:3-4).

In the normal course of events these scrolls would be rolled up and tied with a cord.  A lump of clay (a bulla) would be affixed to the cord and stamped with the mark of the scribe.  This bulla is unique because we can not only identify the scribe, but we also have a partial fingerprint, left on the soft clay when he affixed the seal.  The scroll it identified turned to dust long ago, but the imprint of the papyrus fibers remains for us to see on the back of the seal.

The original manuscripts from the Old and New Testaments have not survived to modern times.  Today’s oldest manuscripts are but copies of copies, the originals having been lost to time.  With this though in mind, there is something strangely moving about this intimate link to a Biblical writer who lived and worked more than six centuries before Christ.  The characters of fairy tales and myths do not leave fingerprints, but real men and women like Baruch, leave their mark on the world.  And that should give us cause to pause and reflect on the possibility of some future generation having their faith strengthened by something we unwittingly leave behind.


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