publisher colophon

41. Seal of [the Jews of] Avignon

Dimensions: 25 × 35 mm. Matrix.

Location: Calvet Museum, Avignon, No. J. 371.†

Bibliography: Frey, 1936, No. 667; Blumenkranz, 1965–66, No. 2, 1 (2); Bedos, 1980b, No. 3 (1).

Jean-Baptiste Frey, in his two-volume study of Jewish inscriptions from the third century B.C. to the seventh century of the Christian era, mentions a rectangular bronze seal. In the center of this seal (which seems to be a stamp used on products such as bread, clay, or glass for identification purposes rather than a seal for documents) a five-branched candelabrum, flanked on each side by a citron, is shown. The inscription is composed of four capital Latin letters, one at each corner; if impressed, they would read, left to right, top to bottom, IANV. Other combinations are possible. Bernhard Blumenkranz proposes reading the stamped letters from right to left, top to bottom, giving us AVIN, which he believes would stand for the old Roman name of Avignon, Avin[ionnensis]. The seal is said to date from around the fourth century and thus would be outside the limits of this study. This writer, however, believes that the case for its being a seal of Avignon or being a seal for the Jews of Avignon (or, indeed a seal for Jews anywhere else) is not proven.

Jean-Baptiste Frey prefers the reading of the impression from left to right, which produces IANV, probably standing for Ianv[arius], that is, of or belonging to the month of January, named after the Roman god Janus. This writer shares his opinion.* There would be no reason for people using Latin letters to read from right to left, and Blumenkranz’s assumption that they were Jews trained to think in Hebrew but using Latin letters is difficult to accept. It should also be mentioned that Januarius (San Gennaro, the famous patron saint of Naples) was a leading saint of the Catholic Church who was alive only a short time before this seal is believed to have been made.

Whether No. 41 is a Jewish seal is also questionable. The Talmud specifically forbids making a menorah in a shape exactly like those in Solomon’s Temple (that is, with seven branches), and thus variations of five, six, or eight branches are permitted. It does not follow, of course, that a five-branched light holder is automatically Jewish. The first Arab invaders of Syria issued coins showing on the obverse, in Kufic Letters, “Mohammed Apostle of God” and on the reverse a five-branched cande-labrum. Christians also used candelabra with different numbers of branches as religious symbols. The strongest argument for this stamp being Jewish is the association with citrons, though the usual convention is for the citron and the lulab to be represented together with the menorah. Whether the seal is Jewish or not, however, the case for its being a seal for the Jews of Avignon is weak.


*One can always play word games to arrive at the conclusions we desire. Assuming that the V is a true V and not a U, if we read the impression left, from top to bottom, to right, top to bottom, we get IN AV, which could mean In Av[inionnensis] or “In Avignon.”

*One can always play word games to arrive at the conclusions we desire. Assuming that the V is a true V and not a U, if we read the impression left, from top to bottom, to right, top to bottom, we get IN AV, which could mean In Av[inionnensis] or “In Avignon.”

Jean-Baptiste Frey prefers the reading of the impression from left to right, which produces IANV, probably standing for Ianv[arius], that is, of or belonging to the month of January, named after the Roman god Janus. This writer shares his opinion.* There would be no reason for people using Latin letters to read from right to left, and Blumenkranz’s assumption that they were Jews trained to think in Hebrew but using Latin letters is difficult to accept. It should also be mentioned that Januarius (San Gennaro, the famous patron saint of Naples) was a leading saint of the Catholic Church who was alive only a short time before this seal is believed to have been made.

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.