Possible Seal Impression of Prophet Isaiah Found in Jerusalem

Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature? by Eilat Mazar

The assemblage also included four-winged and two-winged lmlk seal impressions on jar handles and 34 seal impressions stamped on a soft piece of clay (bullae). Most of the bullae bore Hebrew names, but some were free-standing bullae used as receipts.

Each of the Hebrew bullae, measuring about 0.4 inches in diameter, had been stamped with a seal bearing the name of its owner. These were created by first placing soft clay on a tied ligature and linen sack or papyrus, whose negative impressions are clearly seen on the bulla’s reverse side, and then pressing the seal against the clay. Among the bullae found in the debris, only five show papyrus negative impressions on their reverse side. One of these is the bulla impressed with the personal seal of King Hezekiah. . . .

Alongside the bullae of Hezekiah and the Bes family, 22 additional bullae with Hebrew names were found. Among these is the bulla of “Yesha‘yah[u] Nvy[?].” The obvious initial translation, as surprising as it might seem, suggests that this belonged to the prophet Isaiah. Naturally, this bulla is far more intriguing than all the others found adjacent to Hezekiah’s bulla. . . .

The seal impression of Yesha‘yah[u] Nvy[?] is divided into three registers. The upper end of the bulla is missing, and its lower left end is slightly damaged. The surviving portion of the top register shows the lower part of a grazing doe, a motif of blessing and protection found in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem, present also on another bulla from the same area. The middle register reads “leyesha‘yah[u]” (Hebrew: לישעיה[ו]; [belonging] “to Isaiah”), where the damaged left end most likely included the letter vav (w; Hebrew: ו). The lower register reads “nvy” (Hebrew: נבי), centered. The damaged left end of this register may have been left empty, as on the right, with no additional letters, but it also may have had an additional letter, such as an aleph (’ ; Hebrew: א), which would render the word nvy’ (Hebrew: נביא), “prophet” in Hebrew. The addition of the letter aleph (’) creates the occupation name (like Baker, Smith, or Priest) for “prophet,” nvy’ in plene spelling. The defective spelling of the same word, nv’ (without the vowel yod), is present on an ostracon from the Judahite site of Lachish. Whether or not the aleph was added at the end of the lower register is speculative, as meticulous examinations of that damaged part of the bulla could not identify any remnants of additional letters. . . .

Could it therefore be possible that here, in an archaeological assemblage found within a royal context dated to the time of King Hezekiah, right next to the king’s seal impression, another seal impression was found that reads “Yesha‘yahu Navy’ ” and belonged to the prophet Isaiah? Is it alternatively possible for this seal NOT to belong to the prophet Isaiah, but instead to one of the king’s officials named Isaiah with the surname Nvy?

Added 2018-02-23: Christopher Rollston:

In sum, in light of the fact that there almost twenty people mentioned in the Bible whose names are based on the same root word as the name “Isaiah” (and thus plenty of people walking around with that name or its basic equivalent); and in light of the fact that the word being read as “prophet” is lacking the critically important letter (the alep); and in light of the fact that there are plenty of names in the Bible that begin with nun and bet (and so that second word could be a lot of different things); and in light of the presence of a yod and the absence of the article on this new bullae…I feel obliged to state that we had better be cautious about assuming too much. Of course, the assumption that this is a bulla of Isaiah the prophet is scintillating, but it is certainly not something that we should assume is at all certain. It’s not.

One thought on “Possible Seal Impression of Prophet Isaiah Found in Jerusalem

  1. Fascinating to say the least. There is some precedence for leaving a letter off of a name but the aleph is significant and essential for navi.

    Liked by 1 person

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