The Israel Antiquities Authority just announced the discovery of a clay seal (bulla) bearing King Hezekiah’s personal seal. The object was discovered in situ in 2009 but just recently deciphered in its entirety. The iconography is interesting and is described below.
Newly-Discovered bulla with Hezekiah’s royal seal. (Photo by Ouria Tadmor, courtesy of Hebrew University)
Here is an excerpt from the press release. Take note of the analysis, including toward the end.
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First seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king ever exposed in situ in a scientific archaeological excavation. Discovery brings to life the Biblical narratives about King Hezekiah and the activity conducted during his lifetime in Jerusalem’s 1st Temple Period Royal Quarter
See video at http://www.keytodavidscity.com (Video is copyright of Dr. Eilat Mazar and Herbert W. Armstrong College)
The Ophel excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of Dr. Eilat Mazar, have unearthed an impression of the royal seal of King Hezekiah (727–698 BCE).
Measuring 9.7 X 8.6 mm, the oval impression was imprinted on a 3 mm thick soft bulla (piece of inscribed clay) measuring 13 X 12 mm. Around the impression is the depression left by the frame of the ring in which the seal was set.
The impression bears an inscription in ancient Hebrew script:
“לחזקיהו [בן] אחז מלך יהדה“
“Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah”
and a two-winged sun, with wings turned downward, flanked by two ankh symbols symbolizing life.
The bulla originally sealed a document written on a papyrus rolled and tied with thin cords, which left their mark on the reverse of the bulla. This bulla came to light, together with many pottery sherds and other finds such as figurines and seals, in Area A of the excavations (2009 season), supervised by Hagai Cohen-Klonymus.
The bulla was discovered in a refuse dump dated to the time of King Hezekiah or shortly after, and originated in the Royal Building that stood next to it and appears to have been used to store foodstuffs. This building, one of a series of structures that also included a gatehouse and towers, was constructed in the second half of the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon) as part of the fortifications of the Ophel — the new governmental quarter that was built in the area that connects the City of David with the Temple Mount.
The bulla was found together with 33 additional bullae imprinted from other seals, some bearing Hebrew names, their reverse showing marks of coarse fabric and thick cords that probably sealed sacks containing foodstuffs.
Dr. Eilat Mazar said: “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.”
… A video about this discovery is available online at http://www.keytodavidscity.com (video is copyright of Dr. Eilat Mazar and Herbert W. Armstrong College).
… The seal impression was found during the wet-sifting of earth layers from the excavation in the Emek-Zurim wet-sifting facility, directed by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Dvira, under the auspices of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Ir David Foundation. The bulla was discovered by Efrat Greenwald, a member of the Ophel expedition, who supervised the wet-sifting of the excavation material. Reut Ben-Aryeh, who prepared the Hebrew bullae from the Ophel excavations for publication, was the first to identify it as a seal impression of King Hezekiah. Students and alumni of Herbert W. Armstrong College from Edmond, Oklahoma participated in the excavation.
… 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.
This change most likely reflected both the Assyrian influence and Hezekiah’s desire to emphasize his political sovereignty, and Hezekiah’s own profound awareness of the powerful patronage given his reign by the God of Israel. While the changed Royal administrative symbol imprinted on the King’s jars used the motif of a sun with wings extended to the sides, Hezekiah’s personal changed symbol had a sun with sheltering wings turned down and a life-symbol at the end of each wing. This special addition of the symbol of life may support the assumption that the change on the King’s personal seal was made after Hezekiah had recovered from the life-threatening illness of shehin (II Kings 20:1-8), when the life-symbol became especially significant for him (ca. 704 BCE).
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Some readers may want to note that while this discovery involved archaeologists from Hebrew University, it also included U.S. students and alumni from a college in Oklahoma. See what volunteers can discover on a dig?
Update: Robert Deutsch notes that another impression made from the same original seal was previously published in two periodicals. What are the odds of finding two impressions from the same royal seal of a biblical king?
Deutsch also notes, “1. The incuse area around the impression indicates that the seal was set in a bezel of a ring while it was used to impress the bulla. 2. The left side of the bulla is slightly damaged by the finger of the king ! Its finger-print is partly preserved!”