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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  • Doug says

    Wow, so much verifiable history concerning the young king Hezekiah. Gotta be tough being an atheist today….

  • Paul says

    Good point, Down-under-writer, and all the other commentators who also refer to the so-called “reforms” of King Hezekiah (while unknowingly heaping up undeserved accolades on Hezekiah for his waste of human resources in this regard), as is mentioned in 2 Kings 18:4, in which Hezekiah oversaw the destruction of the high places (bamot),the sacred pillars (matzevot), the Asherah poles (asherah)and the bronze serpent (Nechushtan) that was venerated since the time of the wanderings in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). However, in an article written by the editor of BAR entitled “The Mystery of the Nechushtan,” from the March/April 2007 issue of BAR, mention is made of the fact that although King Hezekiah had rebelled against the Assyrian King Sennacherib, he eventually capitulated as was recorded in 2 Kings 18:14-16, and gave much more tribute to Assyria than was mentioned in the Bible, according to the account of Sennacherib on a prism written in cuneiform. Thus:
    “The destruction of the Nechustan, a removal of Egyptian symbolism, was part of the overall elimination of Egyptian symbolism, demonstrating Judah’s loyalty to the new, all-powerful Assyrian hegemon” (p.63).

  • downunderwriter says

    After reading Ezekiel 8, and the abomination of God’s people worshipping the sun(oh, is that why Judah was now in Babylonian captivity??), one wonders why anyone would have any depiction of a sun or anything Egyptian on a seal or anything else. You wouldn’t come within a bull’s roar of it, would you???
    downunderwriter David

  • Paul says

    Older is better, and the video for “Black Hole Sun” with the special effectd may seem a bit crude compared with the computer-generated graphics we’ve taken for granted and even allowed ourselves to become enamored of such artists and performers who have exploited the cutting edge of technology, even though they may lack talent-wise (like the Biblical serpent who was more crafty than all the beasts of the field that Yahweh Elohim had made, yet he was slimy and manipulative, Genesis 3:1) and even a film producer was recently recognized for the accurate depictions of humans being preyed upon by prehistoric reptiles. So it’s refreshing to see an even cruder representation of what could represent a black hole during the musical sequence of “I am the Walrus” on the film, “Magical Mystery Tour,” that is shown in the upper left among the passengers on the mystery trip, while the sacred procession moved off in the distance comprised of “egg-people” accompanied by a retinue of dancing animals and cops and a person of low stature who follows behind and just takes it all in.

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