Probable seal of prophet Isaiah unearthed in Jerusalem
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Archaeologists under Eilat Mazar recently excavated a clay imprint bearing a stamped seal of what appears to be the Prophet Isaiah—a figure previously attested only in the Biblical record. In the 8th Century B.C., authors rolled up letters and documents before binding them with a lump of clay stamped with a signet ring. Over the centuries, the original parchments decayed but the impressions, or bullae, remained. In 2015, Eilat Mazar's team discovered this impression a mere 10 feet from inscriptions pertaining to the Isaiah’s contemporary Judaean King Hezekiah, another figure whose historicity had previously been contested. The bulla clearly portrays the name of Isaiah and another word which appears to be the title of prophet.
Scholars estimate the artifact's age not from its context, but from the style of the script. The discipline of epigraphy can determine the age of an inscription down to the century, based on its development over time. This impression utilizes a version of the pre-exilic script used by the Jews before the adoption of modern Aramaic. The upper third of the clay has been lost. The middle portion clearly bears the name of Isaiah. The final third shows the first three out of four letters comprising the word prophet (running right-to-left) but damage makes the last letter illegible.
According to the Biblical account, Isaiah and Hezekiah shared a long history, with the prophet promising divine assistance against the Assyrian onslaught which threatened to overwhelm the ancient nation of Judah. The Assyrian army overwhelmed the country, winning notable victories, before besieging the city of Jerusalem. Then, the Angel of the Lord descended to slaughter tens of thousands in a single night. For many decades of modern scholarship, such tales were given little credibility, but the discovery of Assyrian royal records show that their army did in fact overwhelm Judah. However, the army also withdrew after failing to take Jerusalem, a most unusual occurrence for such a militaristically triumphant nation. The Isaiah bulla contributes yet another piece to the ever growing understanding of this era.
Westmont College's own Dr. Sandra Richter shared her thoughts on the uncertainty: “The fact that this bulla was located ten feet from the 2015 discovery of King Hezekiah's bulla, shares the same script (and paleography), clearly reads “Isaiah” and contains three of the four letters necessary for Hebrew nebi' (prophet) encourages me to say, yes, this was probably one of Isaiah's bullae.”