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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  • Lee says

    Witness: my years of journals of dreams include one that occurred in late 2014. That dream vividly impressed upon my imagination project into reality, five young negro men of ([Jew/Hebrew descent] colorfully setting in chairs or casually walking by tables placed randomly on a stage set {meditatively speaking The Word} in clubs and in barbershops). Young men alternately standing to speak the word lyrically and in continuous rhythm. And in an avant garde fashion.
    This last week of January 2016 and nearly a year later my studies lead to edification this past week by objective reading and spiritual teaching about stories of Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, king(s) of Judah). Then, three days ago my eyes found an internet Youtube broadcast of five young negro Americans teaching the word on a street corner in Queens, NY; very nearly depicting and recreating what happened in my dream. This young men emphasized to identify themselves as the true Jews and descendants biological tribes of near east and west geographically by Khemet/Nubia Africa by David/Solomon/Judah enslaved as blacks stolen and auctioned off into the America(s). Then, this very morning my studies were focused on Hezekiah in the writings on I and II Kings, bible timing, laws and commands, histories, chronicles, and lineages down from Judah’s tribes. Also studying the theorem, black people in the Americas are the original and the reality of God’s jews.
    Then, my attention was drawn to an email sent last night from my sister with whom I had no previous experience discussing nor email nor other contact about this subject. This email from my sister is forwarding through me, through my sister by the power of imagination of God in communication with imagination in all forms within our blessed use..

  • Paul says

    Correct, Truthseeker, the name of the solar deity Aton with its rays of sunlight ending in little hands may be alluded to in Exodus 15:17; “You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain, the place You made to dwell in, Yahweh – the sanctuary, my Lord (adon) which Your hands established.”

  • Paul says

    As commentator Robert #8 mentioned the Deuteronomist writer prohibited references to the Egyptian “ankh” symbol since it was a symbol of human sexuality, not unlike the ceramic models of fertility gods and goddesses with over-emphasized reproductive organs (not exactly good role models) from the nations around them, the return to the province of Judah after seven decades of captivity in Babylonia had led to a ban on ceramic Asherah/Astarte goddesses in the 5th century B.C.E. In fact it has become obvious from the magical incantation ceramic bowls used by Jews in Babylonia in the 8th century C.E. that the owl goddess Lilith was perceived as a demon who mated with a serpent demon named Samael along with their constant mating calls that would permeate the Babylonian culture like listening to that shrieking noise of a man and woman on nearly every radio in the ‘hood singing “it takes two to make it all right, it takes two to make it out o’ sight.” So it’s interesting that the pre-reform King Hezekiah had the two “ankh” symbols of procreative power below each wing of the solar disk which were this seal’s representation of the protective power of Yahweh of (heavenly) Hosts over the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. It would have been politically correct for Hezekiah to adopt these symbols to legitimize his rule because of the synchronizing the account of the forming of Adam out of clay with the creation of humanity by the Egyptian ram-headed god Khnum who is depicted creating the Pharaoh Hatshepsut on a potter’s wheel at her mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri, along with another identical figure who represents her “ka” or spirit and is also attended by the protective frog-headed goddess Heket who holds the “ankh” sign in each hand (“Ancient Egypt” by Lorna Oaks & Lucia Gahlin, pp. 346-347). This seal of the winged solar disk was likely fashioned at the zenith of Hezekiah’s power with the completion of the Siloam Tunnel water project in preparation for Sennacherib’s campaign, making the earlier seal depicting the beetle at a stage during his reign in which Hezekiah, whose name means “Yahweh is my Strength,” strengthened his resolve in response to Sennacherib’s predecessor, Sargon II and the Assyrian Empire’s ambitions to “cut off not a few nations” (Isaiah 10:7).
    Commentator Truthseeker is correct and it’s possible that the reference in Exodus 17:15-16 about name of the altar “Adonay Nissi” which means “my lord (adon) is my standard” may be an unedited reference to the “Aton,” the official deity of Pharaoh Akhenaton, who is depicted along with his queen and princesses as being the only ones depicted in art as recipients of the divine rays of the creator deity. The hands at the end of each ray of sunlight is likely behind the meaning of the interpretation provided concerning the the name of the official battle standard used in the war against the Amalekites; “It means, ‘Hand upon the throne of Yah!’ Yahweh will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages.” Hershel Shanks writes in his article, “The Mystery of the Nechustan,” about yet another seal impression from Hezekiah’s reign that depicted a two wing scarab beetle with an inscription that reads: “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, King of Judah” (BAR, March/April 2007, p.62) Above the beetle the inscription reads “yhdh,” or “Judah,” which contains the root word “yad” meaning “hand,” which could explain the meaning of “hand upon the throne of Yah” in the light of this beautiful discovery showing the evolution of a popular king’s reign in Jewish history as he solidified his anti-Assyrian alliances and borrowed the symbols of authority for his royal seal from Judah’s ally Egypt, symbols that were also adopted by the contemporary Nubian Pharaohs, who, like Hezekiah, also ruled over the united two lands of upper and lower Egypt. There’s more discussion:
    http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/exodus/who-was-moses-was-he-more-than-an-exodus-hero/

  • Truthseeker says

    Could this find give more credence to Sigmund Freud’s theory that the ancient Hebrews’ religion was an offshoot of Egyptian King Akhenaten’s revolutionary concept of monotheism?
    Here is Akhenaten’s shabti holding ankhs in each hand:
    http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/544684
    Here are Akhenaten, his wife Nefertiti and their daughter basking in the rays of the sun disk representing the one true God:
    http://cciv244sp2013.site.wesleyan.edu/files/2013/04/AIC_9600022.jpg

  • Paul says

    (Your comment is awaiting moderation)
    Be careful, Doug, we don’t want to offend atheists by making them feel left out. Particularly the rock musician who is a self-described “radical atheist” who believes in the physics of Stephen Hawkings (though no one else can understand it) and who also made a comment that Christians need to be taught a lesson (though he doesn’t say why but it probably has to do with the fact that fundamentalist Christians are generally supporters of the nation of Israel, against whom this artist has been a vocal critic). But then again this performer likes to dress up as a Nazi and seemed to want to incite schoolchildren to rise in revolt against their teacher in a film that he made about himself three decades ago. It just so happens that I visited the area in Nuremberg, Germany, three decades ago (that was near the train station along the winding jogging path decorated with flowers) I saw through the fence the podium from which Hitler incited anti-Jewish hatred at Zeppelin Field with ranks of uniformed men who carried their symbol of hatred mounted on standards that were similar to those carried by Neo-Assyrian soldiers which were spears mounted by circular emblems. The same type of battle standard was likely adopted by the Israelites in their battle against the Amalekites, as is alluded to in the name of the memorial altar built by Moses; “The Lord is my Standard” (Exodus 17:15). The serpent mounted on a pole in Numbers 21:9 is also a type of standard that represents the image of the cobra god Thoth whom the goddess Isis invoked when healing her son, the god Horus, after he was afflicted with a scorpion bite.
    Apparently the seer was well educated about the botanical theme parks that were a hallmark of Neo-Assyrian kings (not unlike Germany being famous for its flowers) when he says that they would be destroyed; “both soul and body, and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth” (Isaiah 10:18, KJV).
    https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:98-animate.gif#mw-jump-to-license

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