King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light

Hezekiah in the Bible and on the ground

hezekiah-bulla

HEZEKIAH IN THE BIBLE. The royal seal of Hezekiah, king of Judah, was discovered in the Ophel excavations under the direction of archaeologist Eilat Mazar. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photo by Ouria Tadmor.

For the first time, the royal seal of King Hezekiah in the Bible was found in an archaeological excavation. The stamped clay seal, also known as a bulla, was discovered in the Ophel excavations led by Dr. Eilat Mazar at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The discovery was announced in a press release by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, under whose auspices the excavations were conducted.

The bulla, which measures just over a centimeter in diameter, bears a seal impression depicting a two-winged sun disk flanked by ankh symbols and containing a Hebrew inscription that reads “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.” The bulla was discovered along with 33 other stamped bullae during wet-sifting of dirt from a refuse dump located next to a 10th-century B.C.E. royal building in the Ophel.

In the ancient Near East, clay bullae were used to secure the strings tied around rolled-up documents. The bullae were made by pressing a seal onto a wet lump of clay. The stamped bulla served as both a signature and as a means of ensuring the authenticity of the documents.

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Hezekiah, son and successor of Ahaz and the 13th king of Judah (reigning c. 715–686 B.C.E.), was known for his religious reforms and attempts to gain independence from the Assyrians.

ophel-excavation

The Ophel excavation area at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Andrew Shiva.

In Aspects of Monotheism: How God Is One (Biblical Archaeology Society, 1997), Biblical scholar P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., summarizes Hezekiah’s religious reforms:

According to 2 Chronicles 29–32, Hezekiah began his reform in the first year of his reign; motivated by the belief that the ancient religion was not being practiced scrupulously, he ordered that the Temple of Yahweh be repaired and cleansed of niddâ (impurity). After celebrating a truly national Passover for the first time since the reign of Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:26), Hezekiah’s officials went into the countryside and dismantled the local shrines or “high places” (bamot) along with their altars, “standing stones” (masseboth) and “sacred poles” (’aásûeµrîm). The account of Hezekiah’s reform activities in 2 Kings 18:1–8 is much briefer. Although he is credited with removing the high places, the major reform is credited to Josiah (2 Kings 22:3–23:25).

Hezekiah’s attempts to save Jerusalem from Assyrian king Sennacherib’s invasion in 701 B.C.E. are chronicled in both the Bible and in Assyrian accounts. According to the Bible, Hezekiah, anticipating the attack, fortified and expanded the city’s walls and built a tunnel, known today as Hezekiah’s Tunnel, to ensure that the besieged city could still receive water (2 Chronicles 32:2–4; 2 Kings 20:20).
 


 
Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2015? Find out >>
 


 
sennacherib-prism

The Sennacherib Prism on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Photo: Hanay’s image is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/ Wikimedia Commons.

On the six-sided clay prism called the Sennacherib Prism as well as other annals of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib details in Akkadian his successful campaigns throughout Judah, bragging that he had Hezekiah trapped in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage.” According to the Bible, however, Sennacherib ultimately failed to capture Jerusalem before his death (2 Kings 19:35–37).

The bulla discovered in the Ophel excavations represents the first time the royal seal of Hezekiah has been found on an archaeological project.

“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,” Eilat Mazar said in the Hebrew University press release.

Bullae bearing the seal impressions of Hezekiah have been published in Biblical Archaeology Review. In the March/April 1999 issue, epigrapher Frank Moore Cross wrote about a bulla depicting a two-winged scarab. The bulla belonged to the private collection of antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff.1 In the July/August 2002 issue, epigrapher Robert Deutsch discussed a bulla stamped with the image of a two-winged sun disk flanked by ankh symbols—similar to the one uncovered in the Ophel excavations. Both bullae published by Cross and Deutsch bear a Hebrew inscription reading “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.”
 


 
In her book Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem, Eilat Mazar describes her continuation of the excavations of her famous grandfather, Professor Benjamin Mazar, at the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
 


 
The Hebrew University press release explains the iconography on the Ophel bulla and other seal impressions of Hezekiah:

The symbols on the seal impression from the Ophel suggest that they were made late in his life, when both the royal administrative authority and the king’s personal symbols changed from the winged scarab (dung beetle)—the symbol of power and rule that had been familiar throughout the ancient Near East, to that of the winged sun—a motif that proclaimed God’s protection, which gave the regime its legitimacy and power, also widespread throughout the ancient Near East and used by the Assyrian kings.

ophel-medallion

The prize find of the so-called Ophel treasure unearthed in the Ophel excavations is a gold medallion featuring a menorah, shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photo by Ouria Tadmor.

The renewed excavation of the Ophel, the area between the City of David and the Temple Mount, occurred between 2009 and 2013. Under the direction of third-generation Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar, the excavation unearthed another extraordinary find: the so-called Ophel treasure, a cache of gold coins, gold and silver jewelry and a gold medallion featuring a menorah, shofar (ram’s horn) and a Torah scroll.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on December 3, 2015.
 


 

Notes:

1. See also Meir Lubetski, “King Hezekiah’s Seal Revisited,” BAR, July/August 2001.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Hezekiah’s Religious Reform—In the Bible and Archaeology by David Rafael Moulis

Ancient Latrine: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible?

Isaiah’s Signature Uncovered in Jerusalem
Evidence of the Prophet Isaiah?

Hezekiah’s Tunnel Reexamined

The Ophel Treasure

Precursor to Paleo-Hebrew Script Discovered in Jerusalem

Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem: A Remarkable Archaeological Adventure

Did I Find King David’s Palace? by Eilat Mazar
As published in the January/February 2006 issue of BAR
 


 

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  • Degraft says

    King Hesekiah was a great King who had intimate relationship with God.He received a message from God through Prophet Isaiah,He talked back to God and YAWEH granted him 15 more years to live again.This discovery must spur on many BELEIVERS on to fix their hope in God and be assured that that same God is so near to answer our prayer when we call on Him.
    SHALOM!

  • Ray says

    Probably fake – I don’t see how King Hezekiah would use symbols of Egyptian gods especially with his reputation of hating them. The two winged sun and the ankh (the cross with a circle on the right side) are both Egyptian religious symbols that Jews would have seen as false worship of false gods. King Hezekiah was know for eradicating that type of worship from Judah and Israel. You can’t be know in Jewish History for eradicating something and at the same time use it. I wouldn’t be surprised that’s why she found it in rubbish or trash.

  • DEBRA BERNS says

    What has been overlooked in this significant announcement regarding the “winged sun disk and an ankh being a symbol of life” is the fact that God set backwards the path the Sun travels the ecliptic, 18 years fulfilling two “signs” He gave the prophet Isaiah to tell Hezekiah. [1]

    The “second sign” extended his life 15 years, while the 3 years of the “first sign” that include a shmitah and Jubilee year are reaching their “last day” fulfillment today! These two miraculous prophetic “signs” are written in three separate books of the Bible. [2]

    Here’s the most important “overlook”; God extended Hezekiah’s life 15 years because he had NOT produced an heir to continue the “seed of Jesse”.

    Do you think that maybe the reason Hezekiah changed his seal or signet at this time from the winged scarab or dung beetle, to the symbol of the “winged sun” was to proclaim and thank God for protecting Jerusalem and destroying 185,000 soldiers of Sennacherib’s army and giving Him the glory for “returning backward” the path of the SUN and extending his LIFE 15 years!

    Hezekiah’s symbol of a sun with sheltering wings DOES point to a Messiah he would have NEVER SIRED had not God extended his life 15 years so he could CONTINUE the “seed of Jesse” who returns on the day of the LORD as that “Sun of righteousness” with healing in his wings! [3]

    Had not God set backwards His ecliptic 18 years in 701BCE, the 6000 years of man would have come to an end on 1 Nisan 2000 or April 6, 2000, so in reality we have been and are living in the 18 returning years God returned backward His ecliptic for Hezekiah, that will end on or before 1 Nisan 2018 or March 17, 2018.

    The two “signs” return in reverse order, the 15 years extended to Hezekiah counted out on 1 Nisan 2015 or March 22, 2015 and the 3 years of the “first sign” began their count out on March 23, 2015.

    [1] 2 Kings 19:29-31 and 2 Kings 20:6-11
    [2] 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 37-39
    [3] Malachi 4:1-6
    Shalom, Gavriel

  • Robert says

    What’s most astonishing to me is that the archeologists failed to identify this bulla when they found it in 2009. According to their own account, they mid-read it! Yet it is such a distinctive object and one they should have been familiar with because of the other examples that are known. Either they are totally incompetent or they had a reason to hold this back until now. One thing it for sure – this find confirms the authenticity of other bulla that where not found in an archeological context.

  • Ijeoma Irene says

    wooow, am so thrilled!!!! do bring out more discoveries…

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