The Mark of a Prophet? This May Be the Signature of Isaiah
Back in 2009, archaeologists working near Temple Mount came across a collection of clay seals. One was identified in 2015 as belonging to King Hezekiah, an 8th century BC biblical king. Now, another of the seal impressions is making headlines for its possible connection to the prophet Isaiah. It seems to read “belonging to Isaiah the prophet” – but there is something missing.
The discovery is an exciting one for biblical archaeologists. As Robert Cargill, an archaeologist and professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, told Live Science it could “be the first archaeological and the earliest extra-biblical reference to the prophet Isaiah ever discovered.”
The Isaiah seal was found at Ophel, the location marked on this map, near Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Eilat Mazar/Biblical Archaeology Society)
An interesting prospect, but it is important to note that the seal has not be confirmed as definitely linked to the prophet. One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of that is the fact that the artifact is damaged. There seem to be some letters broken off, which means that the Isaiah referred to on the seal may just be a regular person.
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Eilat Mazar, an archaeology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, has written her report on the find in the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine. She describes the seal as divided into three registers; the upper section of the artifact is mostly missing, and the lower left side is damaged. What remains of the top register appears to be a grazing doe, which Mazar explains was “a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem.” The second line of script is said to read “leyesha‘yah[u]” – meaning “[belonging] to Isaiah.” One letter is apparently missing from the beginning of the line, but according to theTrumpet the letter can only be the Hebrew letter ‘vav’ (thus completing ‘Isaiah’).
However, it is the third line of the seal impression which could make or break the link to the prophet. It now reads ‘ nvy’, but there is the possibility that damaged portion of the seal may have had the letter aleph – turning the word into the occupation name for prophet. Missing the aleph, it would simply be a surname of a man named Isaiah.
No indication of a missing aleph has been found as of yet, but Mazar ponders on the possibilities:
“Could it therefore be possible that here, in an archaeological assemblage found within a royal context dated to the time of King Hezekiah, right next to the king’s seal impression, another seal impression was found that reads “Yesha‘yahu Navy’ ” and belonged to the prophet Isaiah? Is it alternatively possible for this seal NOT to belong to the prophet Isaiah, but instead to one of the king’s officials named Isaiah with the surname Nvy?”
Left: Drawing of the clay seal with the possible missing letters. Right: The seal of Isaiah. (Reut Livyatan Ben-Arie/Eilat Mazar)
The seal of Isaiah was found at the Ophel, a site located between the City of David and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was one of 32 clay seals found in an Iron Age debris pit. It has been suggested the seals were once used in a royal bakery.
Many seal fragments were found during excavations. (Eilat Mazar/Biblical Archaeology Society)
The seal of King Hezekiah was unearthed just 3 meters (about 10 ft.) from the artifact – something which Mazar believes further suggests an association with the prophet. As Newsweek points out, the prophet Isaiah was close to the king. He was the one who “advised the king following the conquest of the northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians.” Prophet Isaiah is also said to have foreseen the coming of the Messiah, the Virgin Birth, and the death of Jesus.
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This clay bulla featuring the seal of King Hezekiah was found in the same excavation area, just 10 feet from where the 'Isaiah' seal was discovered. (Ouria Tadmor/Eilat Mazar)
Mazar admits that the seal may not have belonged to the well-known prophet, but writes that the discovery holds significance either way,
“Whether or not the bulla we found in the Ophel excavations is the bulla of the prophet Isaiah, it remains, nevertheless, a unique and fantastic discovery. Finding this bulla leads us to consider the personality and the proximity of the prophet Isaiah as one of the closest advisors to King Hezekiah—not only with regard to the events of his time, but also in assessing them from an informed perspective and foreseeing their influence over future events.”
‘Prophet Isaiah’ by Antonio Balestra. (Public Domain)
Top Image: This 2,700-year-old seal impression contains the Hebrew name for "Isaiah" and may refer to the biblical prophet who lived at the same time. Source: Ouria Tadmor/Eilat Mazar