Recent digs next to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount have uncovered a small inscribed clay seal that seems to have been involved with worship at the 1st-century (New Testament-era) Temple. Its inscription has a shortened form of the name of God (“Yahweh”) in Aramaic.
A first of its kind find, indicative of activity in the Temple, was recently discovered: a tiny item that probably “certified” the ritual purity of an object or food in the Temple Mount compound and in the Second Temple.
The official press release from the IAA (a more permanent link here) says the seal was found in excavations near the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount. All of the excavated soil in this area was wet-sifted. (This process involves soaking and then sifting soil/debris. It’s meticulous and a bit messy, but makes it easier to identify small objects.)
According to the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists Eli Shukron of the IAA and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “The meaning of the inscription is ‘Pure for G-d’. It seems that the inscribed object was used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple, and it was imperative they be ritually pure… To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period.”
Ferrell Jenkins notes that this kind of seal could have been used in a situation described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV)
A “gift” such as an animal, grain or a libation (drink offering) would have to be certified as ritually clean in order to be presented at the Temple. Worshipers either brought their offerings to a screener who provided them with a token like this one, or possibly purchased a certified offering at a booth and received the purity token with it. The token and the offering would then be presented to the presiding priests at the altar.
As Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica puts in, “The fact that it happens to be announced on both Hanukkah and Christmas is, I’m sure, entirely coincidental.”