Seal impressions, known as “bulla”, are frequently found during archaeological excavations in Israel. They were created by pressing a seal or stamp, often set in a signet ring, into a soft piece of clay on the top of a string, which was tied around a linen bag or similar parcel. Over time, the clay hardened and survived through the centuries— the signature of the owner thus preserved. In ancient times seals identified the name and status of the owners.

Because these seal impressions are so tiny, having a diameter of about 10 millimetres, and are the same colour as the dirt being excavated, they are often missed during traditional onsite excavation methods. For this reason, excavated dirt is placed aside for later investigation using wet-sifting, where the soil is placed on a sifting screen and washed with water. Among the objects discovered in recent years using this technique are seal impressions believed to bear the names of some well-known individuals mentioned in the Bible.

King Hezekiah

A royal seal of King Hezekiah has been discovered in excavations by Dr Eilat Mazar at the southern wall of Jerusalem.The stamped clay seal measures just over a centimetre in diameter, bearing a two-winged sun disk flanked by ankh symbols (an Egyptian key-like cross) and containing a Hebrew inscription that reads “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah”. The use of these symbols suggests that Egyptian and foreign influences were current in the kingdom of Judah, even in the time of the reformer and faithful servant of Yahweh, Hezekiah (Isa 31:1).

This is the first time a seal impression bearing Hezekiah’s name has been found in an archaeological excavation. As Dr Mazar stated in explaining the uniqueness of the discovery: “Although seal impressions bearing King Hezekiah’s name have already been known from the antiquities market since the middle of the 1990s—some with a winged scarab (dung beetle) symbol and others with a winged sun—this is the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archaeological excavation”.

Under the direction of Dr Mazar, the excavation has unearthed a number of extraordinary objects including the so-called Ophel treasure, a cache of gold coins, gold and silver jewellery and a gold medallion featuring a menorah, a shofar (or ram’s horn) and Torah scroll.

The prophet Isaiah

Archaeologist Dr Mazar and her team have also discovered a small seal impression while excavating south of Jerusalem with the text: “[belonging] to Isaiah nvy.”2 Parts of the impression are missing or incomplete, but the text has been reconstructed to read: “[belonging] to Isaiah the prophet.”

Commenting on the reconstruction of the text, Dr Mazar stated: “Because the bulla has been slightly damaged at [the] end of the word ‘nvy,’ it is not known if it originally ended with the Hebrew letter aleph, which would have resulted in the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’ and would have definitively identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah”.3 When all the evidence is considered, it seems likely that the seal impression is that of Isaiah the biblical prophet.

The seal impression was discovered in a previously unexcavated area outside the south-eastern wall of the royal bakery. The area has been dated to the eighth-seventh centuries BC, the period of the prophet Isaiah and Hezekiah, king of Judah.

Nathan-Melech, servant of the king

A seal with the impression bearing the words in Hebrew: “belongs to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King,” has been discovered during excavation in the City of David along the south-eastern slopes of the Temple Mount.4 Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority have dated the seal to the close of the First Temple period, prior to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

The name Nathan-Melech appears only once in the Bible, in 2 Kings 23:11. He is described as an official in the court of King Josiah, in the record of the cleansing of the Temple precincts initiated by the king: “And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of Yahweh, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the suburbs, and burned the chariots of the sun with fire”.

The title “Servant of the King” (Eved HaMelech) occurs frequently in the Old Testament and, according to scholars, refers to a senior official close to Israel’s kings. The discovery was made inside the ruins of an important public building destroyed during the Babylonian invasion of Judah. Evidence of fire was found in burnt wooden beams and many charred pottery shards, as well as large stone debris. The size of the building and its fine architectural features such as decorative stonework and the remains of a polished plaster floor, testify to its importance.

Dr Mendel-Geberovich, who translated the text on the seal, stated in the announcement of the find by the Israel Antiquities Authority: “Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was in fact the owner of the stamp, it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together”.

These recent discoveries assure us of the accuracy of the historical record of the Bible, giving us confidence in the reliability of the Scriptures, God’s Word of truth.

References

  1. Robin Ngo, “King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light”, Bible History Daily, May 18, 2019 (originally published on December 3, 2015) online at https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/king-hezekiah-in-the-bible-royal-seal-of-hezekiah-comes-to-light/?mqsc=E3818791
  2. Megan Sauter, “Isaiah’s Signature Uncovered in Jerusalem: Evidence of the prophet Isaiah?”, Bible History Daily, May 19, 2019 (originally published on February 22, 2018) online at https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/prophet-isaiah- signature-jerusalem/mqsc=E4055547&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDaily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=ZE9A5TZ40
  3. Quoted in Leen Ritmeyer, “A Seal Impression of Isaiah the Prophet”, Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, 22 February 2018 online at https://www.ritmeyer.com/2018/02/22/a-seal-impression-of-isaiah-the-prophet/
  4. David Lazarus, “A Seal of the Servant of the King Uncovered in City of David”, Israel Today, March 31, 2019, online at http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/36326/Default.aspx