BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

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 announced 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.

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.


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.

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).

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.

——————

Subscribers: 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.

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.


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.

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


em>This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on February 22, 2018.

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11 Responses

  1. John Ayer says:

    Correct, the Bible does not say a plague. It says that the angel of the Lord smote them, to the number of a hundred and fourscore and five thousand, and when they arose in the morning, lo, these were all dead corpses. I reverently and respectfully suggest that the angel of the Lord opened a vent of some suffocating gas, which displaced the breathable air in the army camp. It would not have reached Jerusalem, the city set on a hill. I suspect Sennacherib’s royal pavilion was pitched on an eminence overlooking the army camp. If Scripture said that the horses were also slain, I would consider it practically certain, but while Lord Byron said so, Scripture does not. Half a century ago a vent from a volcanic lake in West Africa smothered all the villagers on the lake shore and all their livestock. I do not consider this conjecture a test of either faith or unfaith.

  2. Mary Wang says:

    Good news and proof with the aroma of His story!

  3. DAVID BENTLEY 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”?

  4. Clark Gear 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

  5. Jacob says:

    Was “prophet” an official title? A job description? Having “prophet” on your seal is a bit presumptuous. Sort of like finding a parchment signed “Saint Peter”.

  6. Mauricio Escobedo says:

    Greetings in the Name of the Lord. When I was in school, I was taught that there were two (or more) Isaiah’s and that the Biblical Book that bears his name was primarily Midrash, not history (not factual). Later in my life, I realized that we do not follow cleverly devised Jewish tales. It was then that I truly realized that many Seminary Professors are not even Christians. Today, I am pleased that archeologists (science) have discovered the SEAL of the real, non-fiction Isaiah. I want to share my joy with all of you. In addition, the discovery proves that Isaiah lived in the 8th Century BC, just as the Bible states, not during the Maccabean Period, as those who lied to me asserted. I am overjoyed.
    .
    Of course the skeptics and the haters can never be convinced. That’s OK. No one needs to prove the Bible to me (I am not a Fideist); In my life, I have seen the Lord, the Giver of Life, give Eternal Life to those who were lost. These archeological incidentals are just chocolate syrup on the dessert. But the dessert is delicious!
    .
    May this article bring as much joy to you as it did to me. Dr. Feinburg, Dr. Thomas, Dr. Curtis, Dr. Sailhammer, Dr. Struz, Dr. McGee, Dr. Mark Hanna and Dr. Francis Schaeffer would all be very pleased.

  7. David says:

    This is a really meaningful find, and great coverage Biblical Archaeology. This read is a great start to my day.
    Just last week my 10-year old daughter asked me how we know the Bible is true and Christianity is true when there are so many other religions. Finds like this affirm the Word of God.

  8. John says:

    BAS says: “……….Assyrians continue to assault Jerusalem even after Hezekiah pays them tribute; they do not withdraw until God sends a PLAGUE among them.”
    A plague is a’slight’ misrepresentation of the Bibles account. In the ASV of the Bible at Isaiah 37:36, it says: “And the angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and four score and five thousand, (185 000) and when the men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.”
    It is certainly NOT a definition of a plague, it was ONE angel of Jehovah that killed 185 000 Assyrian troops
    I copied this interesting comment: “At Nineveh archaeologists have found an account of the same events in the annals of Sennacherib. In the text, which is inscribed on a hexagonal clay prism, the Assyrian king boasted: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) . . . Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Sennacherib then claims that Hezekiah sent him “30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, . . . (and) all kinds of valuable treasures,” inflating the number of silver talents that he actually received.”
    “Note, though, that Sennacherib does not claim to have conquered Jerusalem. In fact, he says nothing about the crushing defeat his army suffered through divine intervention.”
    That seems to be a common problem with ‘kings’ in historical records……….with the exception of the Israelite kings, who readily admitted their defeats and short comings.

  9. John says:

    WOW!
    Sorry – not really.
    A Christian does not need archaeology to support his/her faith.
    A true Christian has faith that the entire Bible is God’s Word.
    Whilst it is interesting it is not the ‘backbone’ or a foundation of faith.
    Archaeology has drawn wrong conclusions many times, especially when it cannot find visible ‘proof’.
    As the apostle Paul said at Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the ASSURANCE of things HOPED for and a CONVICTION of things NOT SEEN. (ASV)
    Therefore a Christian does not need archaeology to show them that the Bible is God’s Word, they KNOW it is God’s Word, in its entirety, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21……..of the Bible canon.

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11 Responses

  1. John Ayer says:

    Correct, the Bible does not say a plague. It says that the angel of the Lord smote them, to the number of a hundred and fourscore and five thousand, and when they arose in the morning, lo, these were all dead corpses. I reverently and respectfully suggest that the angel of the Lord opened a vent of some suffocating gas, which displaced the breathable air in the army camp. It would not have reached Jerusalem, the city set on a hill. I suspect Sennacherib’s royal pavilion was pitched on an eminence overlooking the army camp. If Scripture said that the horses were also slain, I would consider it practically certain, but while Lord Byron said so, Scripture does not. Half a century ago a vent from a volcanic lake in West Africa smothered all the villagers on the lake shore and all their livestock. I do not consider this conjecture a test of either faith or unfaith.

  2. Mary Wang says:

    Good news and proof with the aroma of His story!

  3. DAVID BENTLEY 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”?

  4. Clark Gear 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

  5. Jacob says:

    Was “prophet” an official title? A job description? Having “prophet” on your seal is a bit presumptuous. Sort of like finding a parchment signed “Saint Peter”.

  6. Mauricio Escobedo says:

    Greetings in the Name of the Lord. When I was in school, I was taught that there were two (or more) Isaiah’s and that the Biblical Book that bears his name was primarily Midrash, not history (not factual). Later in my life, I realized that we do not follow cleverly devised Jewish tales. It was then that I truly realized that many Seminary Professors are not even Christians. Today, I am pleased that archeologists (science) have discovered the SEAL of the real, non-fiction Isaiah. I want to share my joy with all of you. In addition, the discovery proves that Isaiah lived in the 8th Century BC, just as the Bible states, not during the Maccabean Period, as those who lied to me asserted. I am overjoyed.
    .
    Of course the skeptics and the haters can never be convinced. That’s OK. No one needs to prove the Bible to me (I am not a Fideist); In my life, I have seen the Lord, the Giver of Life, give Eternal Life to those who were lost. These archeological incidentals are just chocolate syrup on the dessert. But the dessert is delicious!
    .
    May this article bring as much joy to you as it did to me. Dr. Feinburg, Dr. Thomas, Dr. Curtis, Dr. Sailhammer, Dr. Struz, Dr. McGee, Dr. Mark Hanna and Dr. Francis Schaeffer would all be very pleased.

  7. David says:

    This is a really meaningful find, and great coverage Biblical Archaeology. This read is a great start to my day.
    Just last week my 10-year old daughter asked me how we know the Bible is true and Christianity is true when there are so many other religions. Finds like this affirm the Word of God.

  8. John says:

    BAS says: “……….Assyrians continue to assault Jerusalem even after Hezekiah pays them tribute; they do not withdraw until God sends a PLAGUE among them.”
    A plague is a’slight’ misrepresentation of the Bibles account. In the ASV of the Bible at Isaiah 37:36, it says: “And the angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and four score and five thousand, (185 000) and when the men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.”
    It is certainly NOT a definition of a plague, it was ONE angel of Jehovah that killed 185 000 Assyrian troops
    I copied this interesting comment: “At Nineveh archaeologists have found an account of the same events in the annals of Sennacherib. In the text, which is inscribed on a hexagonal clay prism, the Assyrian king boasted: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) . . . Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Sennacherib then claims that Hezekiah sent him “30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, . . . (and) all kinds of valuable treasures,” inflating the number of silver talents that he actually received.”
    “Note, though, that Sennacherib does not claim to have conquered Jerusalem. In fact, he says nothing about the crushing defeat his army suffered through divine intervention.”
    That seems to be a common problem with ‘kings’ in historical records……….with the exception of the Israelite kings, who readily admitted their defeats and short comings.

  9. John says:

    WOW!
    Sorry – not really.
    A Christian does not need archaeology to support his/her faith.
    A true Christian has faith that the entire Bible is God’s Word.
    Whilst it is interesting it is not the ‘backbone’ or a foundation of faith.
    Archaeology has drawn wrong conclusions many times, especially when it cannot find visible ‘proof’.
    As the apostle Paul said at Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the ASSURANCE of things HOPED for and a CONVICTION of things NOT SEEN. (ASV)
    Therefore a Christian does not need archaeology to show them that the Bible is God’s Word, they KNOW it is God’s Word, in its entirety, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21……..of the Bible canon.

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