51. Seal of Abraham Son of Saadia
Abraham bar Saadye
Dimensions: 33 mm. Matrix.
Location: Provincial Museum of Archaeology, Seville, No. 2981.†
Bibliography: Loeb, 1887; Kaufmann, 1887; Neuman, 1942; Cantera y Bureos and Millás Vallicrosa, 1956, No. 249; Baer, 1966, vol 1.
This small seal is in the form of a quatrefoil and is remarkably similar in shape to No. 50. Like that seal, the inner square is sharply differentiated from the four outer cusps. On the shield in the inner square is a large fleur-de-lys exactly like those in the four wings of the Todros Halevi seal. Letters, in groups of three, appear in each of the four wings. The design and grouping may have been influenced by cabbalistic amulets.
The seal was originally described in two 1887 articles, the first by Isidore Loeb and the second by David Kaufmann, with a rebuttal by Isidore Loeb. Kaufmann, referring to the lily-flower design on the shield, claimed it might be an example of armes parlantes, representing the family name, “lily” being Shoshan in Hebrew; thus Abraham belonged to the important Toledo Jewish family named Ibn Shoshan (sometimes spelled Shushan), whose arms were a lily flower. Isidore Loeb pointed out that the lily flower also appears on the seal of Todros Halevi, yet that family name was definitely not Shoshan. As he notes, the lily flower is a common symbol appearing on many seals and is often used purely as an ornament. The whole point of armes parlantes, of course, is the linkage of the name and symbol, so that Shoshan should appear on the seal itself to make Kaufmann’s hypothesis valid.
Nothing definite is known about the background of this seal. Baer and Neuman mention an Abraham ben Saadia who held the important political office of repositarius, that is, steward of the household, early in the reign of James I, king of Aragon and count of Barcelona (1213–76). If this Abraham is the owner of our seal, it predates the Todros Halevi seal by a century and was imitated by, rather than imitating, the better-known seal.