publisher colophon

21. Seal of David Son of Samuel/Mielet of the Portal

*David bar Shemuel Tsadi-Bet-Yod

*David Son of Samuel, a Righteous Man Will Live by His Faith*

Reverse of No. 21. Seal of Mielet of the Portal.



Seal of Mielet of the Portal

Dimensions: 28 mm. Impression.

Location: French National Archives, Paris, D5980.

Bibliography: Longpérier, 1859, 1872a, 1872b, 1873; Levy, 1861, p. 324; Jewish Encyclopedia, 1907, s.v. “Seal, “Pl. II, No. 30; Blumenkranz, 1965–66, No. 2, 21 (2); Bedos, 1980b, No. 2, 21 (2).

The bronze seal matrix, engraved on the respective faces, is in Hebrew and the vernacular. Longpérier (1859) states that it comes from the Midi and was cut at the end of the twelfth century or in the thirteenth century. The side with the Hebrew legend shows an arched doorway, rather crudely engraved, with a dot in the center, probably representing a keyhole. Two concentric lines separate the legend from the inner field and outer edge. The side with the vernacular legend has a more elaborately engraved doorway with what seems the upper part of a portcullis extending above, a small star on each side, and a classic fleur-de-lys within the doorway. The two same concentric lines separate the legend on this side of the seal as well. This is an excellent example of armes parlantes, the doorway shown representing the name Portal, a word which means the same in Spanish and Provençal as it does in English.

Albert Wolf of Dresden, one of the great early students and collectors of Judaica, used the obverse of this seal to illustrate his article on seals in the Jewish Encyclopedia. Both Longpérier and Wolf considered the last three letters of the Hebrew legend as a surname, thus translating the full name as David son of Samuel Tzebi (or Zebi). Though this is possible, the use of such a surname at this period in the Midi would be atypical, and this writer shares the view of Bernhard Blumenkranz and Brigitte Bedos that the three Hebrew letters at the end form the pious expression indicated.

Attempts have been made to find a relation between the names in Hebrew and in Provençal. Longpérier quotes Moritz Abraham Levy of Breslau who wrote, regarding this seal, that del Portal was a direct translation from the Hebrew ha-Shaari or “of the gate.” Henri Gross, who devoted an entire section of his Gallia Judaica (1897) to the name del Portal, which he considered a common family name among the Jews of Provence, felt that ha-shaari was more likely to be the translation of the name da Porta, del Portal deriving from the Hebrew min ha-shaar. In support of this theory, Gross referred to a savant of Lodève, Isaac, with this name in Hebrew. Moritz Abraham Levy is also quoted as thinking that the name Mielet is a diminutive of Samuel, as Mometus and Momet are derived from Clarimoscius. But this is speculation, and relating Hebrew and vernacular names is often merely an abstract linguistic game. As Abraham A. Neuman points out (1942, 2: 320), using the striking example of Nachmanides, called Bonastrug de Porta in the Christian community, these double names are not necessarily related.

Del Portal is a perfectly respectable Spanish—and probably Provençal—name. The reference could also be to the de Portella family, one of the aristocratic Sephardic names of Aragon. The Spanish provinces (and former country) of Aragon-Catalonia abut France in the area from which this seal, by its style, appears to come, which makes the thesis possible. Another great Sephardic family was that of de Porta, to which not only the famous Nachmanides belonged but also Benveniste de Porta, royal bailiff for James I of Aragon. Gustave Saige (1881) mentions a notation from 1306 of Isaac de Portes, a Jew of Nîmes, another variation. Henri Gross attempts to pinpoint geographical backgrounds for these names. He feels that del Portal very probably comes from the name of the locality de Portal (in Latin, Portalis), in the French department of Vaucluse, an area which includes the Comtat Venaissin, the papal enclaves where Jews had lived from earliest times. The name de Portes, Gross postulates, derives from an area called de Portes, in the French Department of Gard, west of Vaucluse, which was formerly part of Languedoc. And Portel, Gross states, probably derives from the Spanish locality Portel, near Valencia. Any of these theories may be true.

*That is:

*David Son of Samuel, a Righteous Man Will Live by His Faith*

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