The prophet Isaiah continues to make headlines here in the land of Israel. This time, it’s in the form of a bulla, or clay impression, found in Jerusalem.
The hand of the Prophet Isaiah himself may have created an 8th century BCE seal impression discovered in First Temple remains near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, according to Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar.
Naysayers claim that although letters of the prophet Isaiah’s name can be read on the seal, they can be interpreted in other ways.
My fellow tour guides debate the merits of this small piece of clay as well. Would noble and modest Isaiah have used a stamp proclaiming himself a prophet, they ask? Are the missing letters indicative of our jumping to conclusions we’d like to make? Is this in fact one of the widely recognizable seals that our prophets used, according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin, 101b)?
Scholars are now debating the significance of the drawings found on the seal, in an attempt to interpret the significance of this choice of symbol:
The clay impression is inscribed with letters and what appears to be a grazing doe, “a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem,” according to an article in BAR magazine.
Isaiah prophesied during the time of King Hezekiah, who ruled the Kingdom of Judah from 727 – 698 BCE. At this time, the northern Israelite Kingdom feel to the Assyrians in 721 BCE and 20 years later King Hezekiah successfully pushed back the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, with special fortifications and an internal water channel still seen today.
The Isaiah bulla was discovered in wet-sifted material that was taken from an Iron Age layer close to bedrock, near a foundation trench cut for a wall of a Herodian vault. It was found ten feet away from where Mazar’s team in 2015 had discovered an important, intact bulla with the inscription “of King Hezekiah of Judah.”
“It should not come as a surprise to discover this bulla
next to one bearing King Hezekiah’s name, given the symbiotic
relationship of the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah described in the Bible,” said Mazar.
The names of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah are mentioned in one breath 14 of the 29 times the name of Isaiah is recalled (2 Kings 19–20; Isaiah 37–39). No other figure was closer to King Hezekiah than the prophet Isaiah, Mazar points out.
Are these First Temple Period seals a direct hello from our past? Perhaps we cannot prove it for certain, but we can learn from our biblical heritage that sometimes what it says in our ancient text, comes to life for us now – with the renewed Jewish presence in the land of Israel.
We respect our past in order to look towards our future. Join us in this exciting journey!