Did Archeologists Discover Isaiah The Prophet's Personal Seal?

Did a recent excavation in Jerusalem unearth an archeological artifact belonging to the Biblical prophet Isaiah?

“The Bible’s a fairy tale!”

“There’s no historical evidence for the Bible.”

“There’s no proof the people in the Bible were even real!”

“The Old Testament was written by some rabbis exiled in Babylon to create a mythical lineage of prophets, kings, and God’s blessings. None of it ever happened.”

How many of these have you heard from Humanists and Secularists nowadays? If you venture out into Post-Modern society, you’ll be assaulted with one or more of these eventually. Anyone with faith in the historical veracity of the Bible is sneered at by ignorant, left-wing pseudo-intellectuals, who relish mocking the Bible's accuracy.

One of the Left's favorite attacks is to malign the entire Old Testament as a Jewish propaganda myth created out of whole cloth. Obviously, that’s a massive insult to Jews, but it’s an equally terrible slap at Christians, since Jesus anchored his ministry and Messianic claims in the truth of those very Scriptures.

Well, the amazing truth is that archeological evidence keeps supporting the accuracy of the Bible, Biblical figures, and the historical existence of them. Take for example recent discoveries from excavations in Jerusalem by archeologist Eilat Mazar, where she almost certainly discovered the personal signature seal of the prophet Isaiah. Yes, the prophet Isaiah.

It is a round piece of clay (called a bulla) about the size of a coin with an impression sunk into it, written in ancient Hebrew. The upper portion is broken off and gone as well as a couple letters are missing on the fragment, but reconstructing it gives us the translation “… [belonging] to Isaiah the prophet.”

In ancient times, people throughout the Ancient Near East often carried a small engraved seal with their personal insignia, which would be pressed into clay or wax on official documents as a signature and as a preventative measure against tampering.

Isaiah’s bulla was discovered in the ruins of the ancient Royal Bakery in Jerusalem, near another bulla with the insignia of King Hezekiah. As you may remember, Isaiah was a prophet in the royal palace and also a close advisor to the king of Judah, so it makes sense that they would be found in the same vicinity. Both insignias were discovered in ruins dating from the 8th – 7th Century BC. This time frame matches when both men lived and when Assyria invaded Judah and laid siege to Hezekiah’s Jerusalem in 701 BC. The events of their lives are recorded in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and the book of Isaiah.

I'll give a quick explanation of the seal followed by a couple images of it. If my explanation is confusing, skip down to the pictures.

The fractured seal has the remnants of a doe (a symbol of blessing) at the top section of it, and two lines of ancient Hebrew writing underneath it. The Hebrew form of the name Isaiah - Yesha’yah[u] - is written on the first line with the last letter broken off – hence it is transliterated here with a [u] to signify it is missing the “u”. There is no doubt the name Isaiah is written here. Another letter heh could be missing after the Yesha'yahu, which would be the definite article “the”.

Below Isaiah’s name is written the Hebrew letters transliterated as nvy. The small section next to nvy is also broken away, which has room for the Hebrew letter aleph. Then it would be written nvy’, which translates to “prophet”. Thus giving “Isaiah the prophet.” Without the aleph, it would be a name Nvy, but this seems less likely. Due to the fracture, it’s impossible to know with 100% certainty whether an aleph was there, but it seems overwhelmingly likely that there was. There is plenty of room for these letters, and they seem the most logical and likely.

Isaiah the Prophet? …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.

Now you might wonder why archeologists can just insert letters that have broken away. It’s actually a common and well-accepted practice among historians and archeologists. When I studied Egyptology and Assyriology, it was standard operating procedure to determine missing letters and insert them into the text based on context and logic. Clay tablets and fragile papyrus often broke or tore through the millennia, losing letters and symbols in the process. Plenty of ancient tablets have fragments missing that archeologists reconstructed based on the context and other evidence. In the situation of the Isaiah seal, it is logical to conclude that this belonged to the famous prophet, based on the location in the royal compound where it was discovered, its proximity to King Hezekiah’s insignia, the fact it came from the correct time period when he lived, and the surviving text on the clay.

This bulla is important for several reasons. First, it is rare to find extra-biblical, archeological evidence for prophets of the Bible. Its uniqueness can’t be overstated. Unlike kings, prophets didn’t leave giant stone monuments with their names engraved on them. Second, Isaiah has been singled out in particular for derision and disbelief by secular critics. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars questioned the veracity of the book of Isaiah, because the oldest Hebrew copy dated to roughly 1,000 AD. After the discovery at Qumran produced a copy of the book from the time of Christ that matched the ones already in print, critics still claimed that the book was written by two or three writers, not a single historical man.

All too often Christians and Jews treat the Bible as stories rather than history, forgetting that the events involved real people walking the same Earth as us. We lose sight of the historical nature of the individuals and locations. But here we have almost certain physical proof from outside the Bible of one of the most famous Old Testament writers. A man who was a pivotal player in one of the most turbulent times of Judah and whose prophecies Jesus Christ cited often to explain the mission of the Messiah. Isaiah was a critical figure and one who was clearly very real.

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Another reason they attack Isaiah is that the book contains many of the most detailed prophesies of Christ in the Old Testament. It is another way to try and pretend Jesus was not who He said He was.