publisher colophon

127. Seal of Jacob Son of Joel

*Yaa[ko]b b[en] Hak[adosh] Yoel Gulkah

*Jacob Son of the Holy Joel of Gulche

Dimensions: 23 mm. Impression.

Location: Archives of the Lorraine Region, Metz; State Museum de la Porte de Hal, Brussels, No. 20663.

Bibliography: Ouverleaux, 1883.

This extraordinary seal is one of the few known to this writer from the medieval period which shows the face of a Jew. In the field is a head, seen full face, bearded, with long hair, wearing a rather truncated Jew’s hat or possibly a skull cap. Above the hat is what seems to be another more conventional Jew’s hat from which depends a cloth framing the head on both sides. The meaning of this upper decoration is not known; it might refer to a stylized prayer shawl thrown over the head in mourning. The Hebrew legend runs round within two solid lines. Despite the deformation of several letters, the reading given above makes the most sense.

Part quittance from Koblenz, December 26, 1397, sealed by Byfegin. Main Provincial Archives of Koblenz, 33 C 23.

Seal of Cardinal Guillaume, Montpellier, 1381–83. Municipal Archives of Montpellier.

Our information on this seal comes from Émile Ouverleaux’s 1883 article. The document and seal illustrated are in the files of the archives of the Lorraine region at Metz but originated in Luxembourg, which in the fourteenth century was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The document, drawn up in German,* is dated January 5, 1378 (January 4, 1379, New Style). In it Jacob of Gulche, a Jew living at Koblenz, declares that Frederic Walpole of Waltmanshusen, Herman of Brandenbourg, Henri Meynfelder from the Rhine, all gentlemen, and Rolman Schilling of Nyderlandstein, squire, owe him 150 florins, but that he acquits Herman of Brandenbourg of his part of the debt.

According to the article, Gulche is an ancient name for Jülich, a town near Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), now in Germany. The seal is extraordinary in its depiction of a human head, and it is also unusual for Hebrew seals (though less unusual on seals of Jews with Latin or vernacular legends) to show their place of residence on the seal. The document gives evidence, as noted in other records, that the Rhineland Jews, and those from Trier and Wittlich as well as Koblenz, had extensive monetary transactions in Luxembourg, their more important customers being the lords von Neuerburg and Berburg.

The addition of kadash—abbreviated to the Hebrew letter kof in the inscription—before the name of the father may simply mean that the son wanted to point out that his father was a very pious man, but it could also mean that the father died a martyr to his faith. Shortly before this period the Jewish massacres and burnings caused by the Black Death had taken place in German-speaking areas, and for this reason this writer suggests the possibility that the wrapping around the head on the seal represents a prayer shawl used in mourning.

No. 127, seal of Jacob of Gulche, attached to debt and part quittance agreement from Koblenz, January 5, 1378 (reduced in size).

Portrayal of one’s own likeness on a seal would seem to be against the fundamental canons of Jews in this period. Although a Halakhic distinction is made in the Talmud between a figure in relief and a figure engraved, seal striking by its nature creates a full head in relief. However, about a century earlier Jews in Poland controlling the mints issued small bracteates or inscribed metal coins which showed Jews full face wearing the Jewish hat used in Poland at that time; three such are shown here. As noted earlier in other contexts, our sharp distinctions often are based on knowledge of customs that were in practice breached or disregarded.* This seal could have used as a model not only the coins issued by the Polish Jews but standard European bracteates showing the heads of rulers full face in exactly the same pose, as shown here in an example from Saxony.

Button bracteates issued by Jewish mint lessees of Premyslaus II, Duke of Greater Poland, 1279–96. Marian Gumowski, Hebräische Münzen im Mittelalterlichen Polen. Akademische Druck-u.Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria, 1975.

Bracteate from Meissen, Saxony, late 13th century.


*Ouverleaux says “rédigé en latin,” but only the date is in Latin, the rest of the document being in German.

*A concise analysis of this problem is in Carmel Konikoff, The Second Commandment and Its Interpretation in the Art of Ancient Israel, particularly pp. 90–99.

*Ouverleaux says “rédigé en latin,” but only the date is in Latin, the rest of the document being in German.

*A concise analysis of this problem is in Carmel Konikoff, The Second Commandment and Its Interpretation in the Art of Ancient Israel, particularly pp. 90–99.

Our information on this seal comes from Émile Ouverleaux’s 1883 article. The document and seal illustrated are in the files of the archives of the Lorraine region at Metz but originated in Luxembourg, which in the fourteenth century was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The document, drawn up in German,* is dated January 5, 1378 (January 4, 1379, New Style). In it Jacob of Gulche, a Jew living at Koblenz, declares that Frederic Walpole of Waltmanshusen, Herman of Brandenbourg, Henri Meynfelder from the Rhine, all gentlemen, and Rolman Schilling of Nyderlandstein, squire, owe him 150 florins, but that he acquits Herman of Brandenbourg of his part of the debt.

Portrayal of one’s own likeness on a seal would seem to be against the fundamental canons of Jews in this period. Although a Halakhic distinction is made in the Talmud between a figure in relief and a figure engraved, seal striking by its nature creates a full head in relief. However, about a century earlier Jews in Poland controlling the mints issued small bracteates or inscribed metal coins which showed Jews full face wearing the Jewish hat used in Poland at that time; three such are shown here. As noted earlier in other contexts, our sharp distinctions often are based on knowledge of customs that were in practice breached or disregarded.* This seal could have used as a model not only the coins issued by the Polish Jews but standard European bracteates showing the heads of rulers full face in exactly the same pose, as shown here in an example from Saxony.

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
242-244
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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