The Hebrew text on this seal gives the name of the seal’s owner, his father’s name, and the word "prepared" or "fashioned," followed by the letters y-h-. One proposal is that this is the Arabic name Yahya, but there are other known Hebrew seals that end with the phrase "May Yahweh have mercy" or "The work of Yahweh," which may be the phrase included here. We do not know whether the find of this seal testifies to the existence of a Jewish community in eleventh-century Nishapur, or if the seal had been preserved because its foreign letters were believed to ward off evil. Arabic seals with random Hebrew and Syriac words, as well as ancient seals to which Arabic phrases have been added, are both well documented.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Seal with Hebrew Inscription
Geography:Excavated in Iran, Nishapur
Dimensions:H. 1/16 in. (0.1 cm) W. 1/2 in. (1.2 cm) D. 1/16 in. (0.2 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1940
Carnelian Ring Sealstone
The personal seal, which served in the Near East long before the advent of Islam as an individual official signature (as well as a very effective means of securing goods), was essential to the conducting of business affairs. According to tradition, the prophet Muhammad was told that his letters to foreign rulers would be taken seriously only if stamped with a personal seal. He thereupon ordered a seal made in the form of a ring. Whether or not this story is true, the seal ring was certainly the most common way to carry a seal. Sometimes the inscription was cut into the metallic top of the ring, although it was probably more common for the inscription to be cut into a stone that was then set in the usual manner. Among the many stones employed as seals, carnelian was by far the most popular. We do not know whether this was, as Pliny (citing Zenothemis) affirmed, because it did not pull away the wax upon which it was being impressed. Certainly carnelian has other qualities that recommend it for this use: availability, toughness, and resistance to abrasion. Seals were also commonly applied to clay and, after application of ink to the surface of the seal, to paper.
Early Islamic sealstones were made from many kinds of stones and came in many forms, This sealstone is made of fine dark red but highly translucent carnelian and is unusual among Islamic-style seals tones of this period for being inscribed in Hebrew. The form of the stone is characteristic of those from Iran of the tenth and eleventh centuries; note, for instance, the similarity in form between this stone and the silver ring MMA 40.170.201. Literally hundreds of seals tones are known from the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries with this form and similar proportions. The present stone is also unusual in the amount and type of information it supplies. A reading of the inscription was kindly offered by Christopher Brunner:
'wzr'dl proper name
sstwhtn father's name plus suffix of attribution, -n/an
wr'sty "prepared, fashioned"(?)
yhy ("function uncertain")
If the third line does indeed read "prepared, fashioned," there is a good possibility that the "yhy" is the name of the seal cutter, perhaps some equivalent of the Arabic name "Yahya"; indeed, on certain Arab-Sasanian coins the mintmaster's name is inscribed in abbreviated form.
[Jenkins and Keene 1983]
1. Allan, James. "Khatam, Khatim." The Encycfopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4. Leiden, 1978.
2. Pliny. Natural History, vol. 10. Translated by D. E. Eichholz. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1962, p. 235.
Inscription: In Hebrew. See catalog entry on pp. 19–20 in [Jenkins and Keene 1983] for a discussion.
1937, excavated at Sabz Pushan in Nishapur, Iran by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's expedition; 1940, acquired by the Museum in the division of finds
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Islamic Jewelry in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 22–August 14, 1983, no. 3b.
Keene, Manuel. "The Lapidary Arts in Islam." Expedition (1981). no. 3b, p. 29, ill. (b/w).
Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn, and Manuel Keene. Islamic Jewelry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1983. no. 3b, pp. 19–20, ill. (b/w).
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is one of the most comprehensive in the world and ranges in date from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Its more than 15,000 objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions from Spain to Indonesia.