The impression of Prophet Isaiah’s personal seal may have been found in Jerusalem.
Excavations in the Ophel – an area just below the Temple Mount – found the seal mark, called a bulla, in undisturbed Iron Age remains, just 3 meters (10 feet) from where the bulla of King Hezekiah of Judah was found in 2015.
The extraordinary object, which is estimated to be around 2,700 years old, was found by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University. She reported on her discovery Thursday in the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine.
“We appear to have discovered a seal impression, which may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah, in a scientific, archaeological excavation,” Mazar wrote.
The finders believe the bulla was discovered in situ – undisturbed all this time – outside what had been the ancient kingdom’s royal bakery.
Half an inch (1.3 centimeter) wide, the bulla bears the name Yesha’yah[u] (the Hebrew name of Isaiah) in ancient Hebrew script, followed by the letters N-V-Y – which are the three first letters of the word for prophet (navi, spelled nun-beit-yod-aleph).
Whether the word did indeed end with the aleph will never be known since the seal was damaged after the first three letters, Mazar explains. So theoretically, it could have been the seal of some other Isaiah.
Isaiah’s period was also that of King Hezekiah, the 12th king of the Kingdom of Judah, who ruled from around 727 B.C.E. to around 698 B.C.E. Mazar points out that finding the bulla of the prophet right by that of the king “should not come as a surprise,” given their symbiotic relationship as described in the Bible.
Hezekiah had been essentially a vassal king of the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib. The Jews, however, rebelled: King Hezekiah apparently also caused the famous Jerusalem tunnel to be built to Gihon Spring, assuring the city residents of water even under siege.
The rebellion did not go well initially, and the Assyrians counterattacked, besieging Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E. The mightily upset king then sought counsel from his prophet.
“In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him: ‘Thus saith the Lord: Set thy house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isaiah 38:1).
The king repents of his evil ways and prays for succor, which is forthcoming:
“Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying: ‘Go, and say to Hezekiah: Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will add unto thy days 15 years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city” (Isaiah 38:4-6).
Perhaps the deity did defend the city, as the biblical narrative suggests. The Assyrians did not conquer Jerusalem, though, according to their narrative, they spared the city not because of awe but because Hezekiah bribed them.
The discovery of Hezekiah’s seal in 2015 has helped sway an age-old argument over the history of Jerusalem: Was it a major city and the capital of a powerful kingdom? Or merely a village on a hilltop with great public relations?
The finding of the seal lent credence to the narrative that it had, after all, been a major city during the Iron Age. As Julia Fridman noted in Haaretz at the time, Hezekiah’s seal had actually been found inside the royal building in Jerusalem where it had actually been used 2,700 years ago, thus proving its authenticity.
Finding the prophet Isaiah’s seal (if that’s what was found) more or less where it had been used also lends credence to the narrative of ancient Jerusalem as the Judahite capital. Though again we stress that it could have been the seal of Isaiah the scribe or sandal-maker – after 2,700 years, categorical proof is challenging.
It bears adding that archaeology has been slow to adopt radio-carbon dating for remains found in Jerusalem, but a massive effort is now starting. We know that the city has been occupied for about 7,000 years, but do not know if it really was the capital of a mighty kingdom, let alone a mighty united kingdom under David and Solomon.
In any case, it can be said that the seals, first of Hezekiah and now possibly of the prophet himself, lend credence to at least their existence. Perhaps more evidence will reveal who beat who, and how.