Seal may point to the earliest evidence of the Biblical prophet Isaiah

seal-evidence-biblical-prophet-isaiah_1Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; Photo by Ouria Tadmor.

History has a rather complicated relationship with the Biblical figure of Isaiah. To that end, the traditional view suggests that Isaiah, a Biblical prophet who possibly lived during 8th century BC, was responsible for authoring all the 66 chapters of the renowned Book of Isaiah. The other view alludes to how many of the later chapters of the text were composed almost hundred years after the timeline of Isaiah. However, this time around, beyond Biblical references, researchers may have come across the first known archaeological evidence of Isaiah. The possibility emerges from the discovery of a 2,700-year old seal (also called a bulla) that bears the name of the prophet.


Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; Photo by Ouria Tadmor.

The original Hebrew version of ‘Isaiah’ translates to Yesha’yahu, which was the name found on the seal. Now the very name Isaiah means ‘YHWH saves’ or ‘Yahu saves’, and this sobriquet was used by other Biblical personalities. In essence, while ‘Isaiah’ does appear on this 8th century BC seal, researchers are still not sure if it directly refers to the Biblical prophet in question. At the same time, the letters on this clay-made object are followed by NVY – which does pertain to the first three letters of the Hebrew word for a prophet and is spelled ‘nun-beit-yod-aleph’. But this ‘aleph’ part is very difficult to determine since the seal was found to be broken at the particular section. As lead author Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said –

We appear to have discovered a seal impression, which may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah, in a scientific, archaeological excavation. The absence of this final letter…requires that we leave open the possibility that it could just be the name Navi. The name of Isaiah, however, is clear.

However, beyond the name and potential title on the seal, the factor that could ‘augment’ the possibility of it being a physical evidence of Biblical prophet Isaiah rather relates to the location where the object was found. To that end, the bulla was found just 3 m (10 ft) away from the famous seal engraving of King Hezekiah (originally discovered in 2015 – pictured below), at the Ophel, in East Jerusalem situated between the “City of David” archaeological site and the Temple Mount. And according to the Hebrew Bible, Isaiah was one of the chief advisers to Hezekiah, the ruler of Judah.


Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; Photo by Ouria Tadmor.

One particular Biblical episode talks about how the prophet convinced the king to fight against the Assyrian army that laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC. And when the battle took place, an ‘angel’ devastated the sieging Assyrian army. As for non-Biblical sources, Hezekiah was mentioned as being contemporary to the time when the neighboring northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians (circa 720 BC) – while his own Kingdom of Judah was spared from plunder because of timely tributes to Sargon, the ruler of Assyria. But Sargon’s successor Sennacherib did unsuccessfully siege Jerusalem in 702 BC (or 701 BC), which was under Hezekiah’s protection at the time – though the reasons for the rare Assyrian military failure are not clear.

So considering all these factors, while the name on the seal doesn’t provide any conclusive proof of the prophet, it does hint at the plausible chance that the object may have belonged to the Biblical Isaiah. Moreover, it should also be noted that bullae such as the specimen were only used by people of high status during the time, which further enhances the archaeological value of the fascinating find. As Mazar clarified –

The discovery of the royal structures and finds from the time of King Hezekiah at the Ophel is a rare opportunity to reveal vividly this specific time in the history of Jerusalem. The finds lead us to an almost personal ‘encounter’ with some of the key players who took part in the life of the Ophel’s Royal Quarter, including King Hezekiah and, perhaps, also the prophet Isaiah.

The study was originally published in the journal Biblical Archaeology Review.

Source: National Geographic