At the end of the late Nahman Avigad’s magisterial Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Sealsa appear a number of indices and lists that are not only helpful to scholars but also interesting to thumb through at odd moments. Leafing through the book recently, I came upon one that particularly fascinated me. It is a list of seals that are pictured and discussed in the corpus but that are now lost—or at least lost to us. We simply don’t know where they are! We have only pictures.
This corpus represents the lifework of the late Nahman Avigad. When he was not excavating in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, he traveled from collection to collection, indeed from country to country, searching for ancient stamp seals and seal impressions bearing inscriptions in Hebrew and other West Semitic languages. In all, he and Benjamin Sass, who updated and completed the work, catalogued 1,217 seals and impressions. By my count, 257 are listed in the category “Lost or Present Location Not Reported.” That’s more than 20 percent. In other words, more than one in five of the known seals is missing and can only be seen in mostly old pictures.