Isaiah’s Personal Seal Found?

Archaeologists may have found Isaah’s “autograph” during excavations in Jerusalem. This clay impression (bulla) was uncovered a few years ago along with others, including one belonging to King Hezekiah.  It was finally announced this morning in a press release. Dr. Eilat Mazar has an article on this find, calling it “a unique and fantastic discovery” in the upcoming issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The damaged bulla bears the inscription, “Yesha‘yah[u” (Isaiah), followed by the word “nvi” which, with the addition of the Hebrew letter aleph, would mean “prophet.” The area where the missing aleph should be located is damaged, so we can’t know if it was originally there. Without the missing aleph, the word “nvi” can be translated as a place name (“from Nob”). There is room for the missing letter, so is this the prophet Isaiah’s personal seal?

Seal-impression-CROP-1024x640

The Isaiah Bulla, a 2,700-year-old clay seal impression which potentially belonged to the biblical prophet. (Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar) The top portion (damaged) appears to have a motif (symbol or picture), likely a grazing doe according to Dr. Eilat Mazar. The middle line has the name of Isaiah in Hebrew, and the bottom line read “NVI” from right to left. If the damaged space to the left had a Hebrew aleph, the bottom line would translate as “prophet.”

The illustration below shows how the full circle around the inscription allows room for additional letters. The middle line in this drawing imagines the last letter of Isaiah’s name along with a letter for the word “the,” which would be expected if the bottom word is “prophet.”

Seal-impression-and-drawing

Drawing by Reut Livyatan Ben-Arie of the Isaiah Bulla, a 2,700-year-old clay seal impression which potentially belonged to the biblical prophet Isaiah. (Illustration: Reut Livyatan Ben-Arie/© Eilat Mazar; Photo by Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar)

Isaiah the prophet is frequently named alongside King Hezekiah in the Bible, so it is notable this Isaiah impression was found only feet away from Hezekiah’s personal seal. It could have belonged to another Isaiah, but several scholars who have weighed in say this seal could have belonged to the famous prophet.

Even though this could be the seal of the biblical Isaiah, we lack the letters that would confirm it. (This sort of thing happens a lot, but then we’re talking about very old, breakable objects.) This impression was found in a proper excavation, which makes it more authentic than many others seals we encounter. (Have you noticed how many seals on display in the Israel Museum have “Provenance Unknown” on the labels? How many of those might be fakes?)

Ophel_Shiva_big

Area of the Ophel excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Courtesy of Andrew Shiva)

As mentioned above, the Isaiah bulla was found just a few feet away from an intact seal impression that belonged to King Hezekiah, shown below.

Hezekiah bulla_Tadmor_big

The seal impression of King Hezekiah unearthed in 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 (Courtesy of Eilat Mazar; photo by Ouria Tadmor)

You can read a good article on the discovery here., plus another writeup by National Geographic. You may also enjoy this 12+minute video on the Isaiah impression discovery.

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About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister with the North Terrace Church of Christ and has participated in multiple archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke leads immersive study tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Israel, Jerusalem, New Discoveries, Short videos and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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