The technology may be new, but the concept is ancient. Today's pop-up tops and shrink bands assure us that no one has tampered with our food or drink bottles. In the time of Judah Maccabee, clay seals did the trick.
Only special olive oil squeezed from the first drops of olives could be used to light the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple. This oil was made and stored in earthen vessels sealed with a special clay seal, guaranteeing their purity. Most artisans carved these seals out of stone and then pressed them into clay.
Clay seals played a crucial role in the miracle of Hanukkah. When the Maccabees returned to the desecrated Temple, they searched everywhere for oil to once again light the menorah. But all they could find were vessels with broken seals. Even if they contained oil, the broken seal meant that the oil was likely impure. To their great joy, one vessel was found with the seal still intact. It contained enough oil to light the menorah for one day, but God performed a miracle and the oil burned for eight days and nights.
To make your own clay seal:
- 3-inch square paper cup
- sweet potato
- barbecue skewer
- air-dry clay
- Sketch your seal design on a paper scrap. What are some images that would be appropriate to use for Temple vessels? What personal touches can you include on your seal? Keep the design simple because you will have to carve it. Remember that if you include letters, they need to be drawn backwards. Stamps create a reverse image!
- Cut a sweet potato in half.
- Place the sketch paper on the potato's flat surface.
- To transfer the image, use a barbecue skewer to poke holes along the pattern you drew. Remove the paper when you are finished, and you will see a connect-the-dots version of your sketch on the potato. Use the skewer to carve slowly and connect the dots, creating wide, deep lines.
- Once you have finished carving, clean up the image as much as possible by removing excess pieces of carving.
- Gently press the potato stamp into a small piece of clay. A reverse image of your carving will appear. If the potato is sticking to the clay, try putting some flour on the surface of the potato to trap moisture.
You can use your stamp over and over again to make your personalized tamper evident seals. For example, put some objects in a shoe box, then put some clay over the spot where the box and lid meet. Press your stamp into the wet clay, then let it dry. Your box is now sealed and you'll know right away if someone has tampered with it.