A new article in Biblical Archaeology Review reveals that scientists may have discovered a clay seal bearing the name of the prophet Isaiah.
The article, “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?” was written by archaeologist Eilat Mazar. As reported by National Geographic, the seal was found at an excavation site in Jerusalem and is determined to be 2,700 years old. There is a strong possibility that the ancient Hebrew writing on the damaged seal may have read “Belonging to Isaiah the prophet.”
Isaiah is described in the bible as an adviser to King Hezekiah, who ruled from the late eighth to the early seventh century B.C. If confirmed as belonging to the prophet, the seal would be the first artifact connected to him outside of the bible – an exciting find for Old Testament archaeology!
The clay seal, or bulla, was recovered along with 34 others during the author’s Ophel excavations in 2009. Mazar states, “Each of the Hebrew bullae [seals], measuring about 0.4 inches in diameter, had been stamped with a seal bearing the name of its owner. These were created by first placing soft clay on a tied ligature and linen sack or papyrus, whose negative impressions are clearly seen on the bulla’s reverse side, and then pressing the seal against the clay. Among the bullae found in the debris, only five show papyrus negative impressions on their reverse side. One of these is the bulla impressed with the personal seal of King Hezekiah.”
The seal in question was inscribed with the name “leyesha‘yah[u]”, which indicates belonging “to Isaiah”. Below appears the word nvy. The damage to the bottom part of the bulla makes it impossible to know what, if anything, was inscribed after those letters. However, Mazar speculates that this second word may have been followed by an aleph, which would translate the word into “prophet”.
But the lack of an aleph is significant. Mazar notes that without an aleph following the word nvy, it is possible that the word was simply someone’s name or hometown.
However, the close proximity of the two seals (less than 10 feet) is strong evidence to the contrary. Mazar states: “Finding a seal impression of the prophet Isaiah next to that of King Hezekiah should not be unexpected. It would not be the first time that seal impressions of two Biblical personas, mentioned in the same verse in the Bible, were found in an archaeological context. In our City of David excavations (2005–2008), the seal impressions of Yehukhal ben Sheleḿiyahu ben Shovi and Gedaliyahu ben Pashḥur, high officials in King Ẓedekiah’s court (Jeremiah 38:1), were found only a few feet apart. Furthermore, according to the Bible, the names of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah are mentioned in one breath 14 of the 29 times the name of Isaiah is recalled (2 Kings 19–20; Isaiah 37–39). No other figure was closer to King Hezekiah than the prophet Isaiah.”
Though uncertain, the strong evidence for the clay seal belonging to the prophet Isaiah is certainly an incredible find in Old Testament archaeology. For the full article by Eilat Mazar including pictures of the bulla, click here.
Lindsay Rudegeair is Managing Editor of the Magis Center blog