Isaiah’s Signature Uncovered in Jerusalem

Evidence of the prophet Isaiah?

isaiah-bulla

Isaiah’s Signature. This bulla (seal impression) reads “[belonging] to Isaiah nvy.” Is it the signature of the Prophet Isaiah? Photo: Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar.

Excavations in Jerusalem have unearthed what may be the first extra-Biblical evidence of the prophet Isaiah. Just south of the Temple Mount, in the Ophel excavations, archaeologist Eilat Mazar and her team have discovered a small seal impression that reads “[belonging] to Isaiah nvy.” The upper portion of the impression is missing, and its left side is damaged. Reconstructing a few Hebrew letters in this damaged area would cause the impression to read, “[belonging] to Isaiah the prophet.”

If the reconstruction stands, this may be the signature of the Biblical prophet Isaiah—the figure we encounter in the Books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announces this exciting discovery in her article “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?” published in the special March/April/May/June 2018 double issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Mazar’s team found the seal impression in an undisturbed area of Iron Age debris (dated to the eighth–seventh centuries B.C.E.) right outside the southeastern wall of the royal bakery, a structure that had been integrated into the city’s fortifications and had operated until the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. All of the excavated dirt from this area of the Ophel was wet-sifted, meaning that it was placed on a sifting screen and washed with water. This process revealed multiple finds—including Isaiah’s seal impression and an impression of the Judahite king Hezekiah—which had been missed during traditional excavation methods. Since each of these impressions has a diameter of about half an inch and is the same color as the dirt, it is easy to understand why they were not spotted in the field.

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Isaiah’s seal impression—called a bulla—was created by first placing a soft piece of clay on top of a ligature tied around a linen bag. Isaiah’s seal was then pressed into the clay, thereby sealing the parcel with his personal signature. The clay hardened and survived through the centuries, thereby preserving Isaiah’s signature.

Although most of the upper half of Isaiah’s bulla is now missing and its left side is damaged, archaeologists have been able to identify its imagery and inscription from what remains. The bulla is divided into three registers. The remains of a grazing doe, a symbol of blessing, can be seen in the top register. Written in ancient Hebrew, the name Yesha‘yah[u] (the Hebrew form of Isaiah) appears in the middle register, and the letters nvy are visible in the lower register. If the Hebrew letter aleph were added to the end of the word nvy, it would then become the word nvy’ (“navy’”), which means “prophet” in Hebrew. It is likely that the Hebrew letter vav appeared at the end of the middle register, representing the final letter of “Isaiah” (the “u” of “Yesha‘yahu”). Further, if the definite article heh (“the”) were added to the end of the name Isaiah (after the vav), the seal impression would read “[belonging] to Isaiah the prophet.”

isaiah-bulla-drawing

Isaiah the Prophet? The Isaiah Bulla is divided into three registers. The remains of a grazing doe can be seen in the top register. Written in Hebrew, the name Isaiah appears in the middle register, and the letters nvy are visible in the lower register. The drawing shows several reconstructed letters in blue: the Hebrew letters vav and heh at the damaged end of the middle register and the letter aleph at the damaged end of the lower register. If these letters were added, then the seal impression would read “[belonging] to Isaiah the prophet.” Drawing: Reut Livyatan Ben-Arie/© Eilat Mazar; Photo: Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar.

“Because the bulla has been slightly damaged at end of the word nvy, it is not known if it originally ended with the Hebrew letter aleph,” explains Mazar, “which would have resulted in the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’ and would have definitively identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah. The absence of this final letter, however, requires that we leave open the possibility that it could just be the name Navi. The name of Isaiah, however, is clear.”

The close relationship between the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah is reflected in the Hebrew Bible. Hezekiah, who ruled from c. 727–698 B.C.E., relied on Isaiah’s counsel throughout his reign—and especially when Jerusalem was besieged by Assyria.

When Hezekiah assumed the throne at age 25, Judah was a vassal-state of the Assyrian empire and paid tribute to Assyria regularly. Hezekiah stuck with this program for many years, but eventually he rebelled and stopped sending tribute. Anticipating an Assyrian attack, Hezekiah refortified Jerusalem. He strengthened its walls and, memorably, carved a 1,750-foot-long water tunnel from solid rock that ensured the inhabitants of Jerusalem would not be without water during a siege (2 Chronicles 32:2–4).
 


 
Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.
 


 
The Assyrian king Sennacherib responded to Hezekiah’s rebellion with force. He campaigned against Judah—destroying many Judahite cities, such as Lachish (depicted on the Lachish reliefs, panels from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, now on display at the British Museum in London), and ultimately besieging the capital city of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.

The prophet Isaiah said that Jerusalem would not fall to the Assyrians, and it did not—despite the Assyrians’ military might. This victory helped solidify the idea of the city’s invincibility. Even on the Sennacherib Prisms, where King Sennacherib recorded his victories, he never claims to have conquered Jerusalem—only to have besieged it, received tribute, and locked up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage.” 2 Kings 18:13–19:36 records that the Assyrians continue to assault Jerusalem even after Hezekiah pays them tribute; they do not withdraw until God sends a plague among them. The Sennacherib Prisms make no mention of a plague.

The seal impressions of Isaiah and King Hezekiah were found less than 10 feet apart in the Ophel excavations. If the recently identified bulla does indeed bear the prophet Isaiah’s signature, it seems fitting that it should be found so close to Hezekiah’s personal seal impression. Their legacy—together—continues even after death.

Learn more about Isaiah’s seal impression in Eilat Mazar’s article “Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature?” in the special March/April/May/June 2018 double issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Biblical Archaeology Review is the world leader in making academic discoveries and insights of the archaeology of the Biblical lands and textual study of the Bible available to a lay audience. Every word, every photo, every insight—it can all be yours right now with an All-Access membership. Subscribe today!

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Ophel Treasure
A “once-in-a-lifetime discovery” at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount

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

53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically by Lawrence Mykytiuk
 


 

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  • AI says

    Good news and proof with the aroma of His story!

  • DAVID says

    Interesting discovery. It would be amazing to have this link with the Isaiah, the prophet whose powerful messages on the suffering of the coming Messiah are relevant today. There are questions as you point out and I will add the obvious about the script. Hebrew during this period was different than what we know from the later texts. Also there was no v sound as the w was pronounced as it is in Arabic. (Nabi not Nav) And finally will this discovery help us understand the degree of differences in subjects, text and dating of what could be two or more “Isaiahs”?

  • Clark says

    All the Prophets beginning with Moses testify primarily of one thing, that is Messiah! Isaiah was notable among them for he was granted the understanding of the sufferings of Messiah before He would enter into His Glory. Chapter 53. He also understood that Messiah would be YEhovah calling Him the Arm of the LORD

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