BAR 38:02, Mar/Apr 2012
The Taxing Work of Archaeology
When April 15 rolls around this year, taxpayers may take some small comfort in the fact that taxes are by no means a modern invention. Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain both famously remarked about the certainty of death and taxes, and a recent archaeological discovery from Jerusalem has added to scholars’ certainty about a tax system in ancient Israel—or rather, Judah.
While wet sifting soil from the excavation of an ancient refuse pit on the eastern slope of the Temple Mount, workers at the Temple Mount Sifting Projecta discovered a small clay bulla, or seal impression, inscribed in ancient Hebrew. Although some of the letters had broken off, archaeologist and codirector of the sifting project Gabriel Barkay reconstructs the two lines of fragmentary text to read [g]b’n/lmlk, or “Gibeon, for the king.” This puts the new find in a special group of more than 50 so-called fiscal bullae, but it is the first of these to come from a professional excavation; all of the previous examples are from the antiquities market (the Temple Mount Sifting Project subsequently discovered a second example while sifting soil from Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron’s excavation near the Gihon Spring).