In 2009, archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered 33 bullae (small clay seal impressions) in the Ophel area of Jersualem. In 2015 she announced that one of the bullae bore the impression of the seal of King Hezekiah.  Now, she has announced that one of those bullae may belong to the Biblical prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah bulla

Discovery location

If valid, this would be the first archaeological evidence of the prophet.

The bulla in question was discovered less than 10 feet from King Hezekiah’s bulla.  Given the close relationship between the two men, it would not be surprising to bullae belonging to both of them in close proximity.  But is this truly the bulla of Isaiah the prophet?

The bulla measures less than ½” in diameter.  It is divided into three sections called “registers.”  The top and left portions of the bulla are damaged[1], so the top register is almost completely gone.  It appears to have contained no text, but merely an image of a grazing doe.

The middle register reads “(belonging) to Yesha’yah.”  This is the Hebrew spelling of “Isaiah,” lacking only a “u” at the end (Hebrew letter vav) due to the damage on the left side of the bulla.

It is virtually certain that this bulla originally contained the name Isaiah.  But which Isaiah was it?  There were many individuals who bore that name.  However, most people did not own seals.  Only those who were wealthy or involved in the business of the king would own a seal.  The lower register identifies which Isaiah the seal belonged to.

The lower register reads “Nvy.”  If these were the only letters present on the original seal, then this is the name of a person.  While Nvy is not found anywhere in the Bible, it is found on two bullae from Lachish, a seal impression on a jar handle, and other seals.  If this reading is correct, then the seal in question belonged to some unknown Isaiah, son of Nvy.  There is good reason to believe, however, that the seal contained one more letter at the end.  On the right side of the bulla we see the remnants of an oval outline formed by the seal.  If we extend the outline, we can reconstruct the size of the seal itself.  When doing so, it is obvious that there is enough room for one more letter at the end of Nvy.

Because seals were so small, they tended to use all available area, leaving no blank spaces.  There would be a blank space, however, if the word on the lower register ended in “y” (Hebrew yod).  If only three Hebrew letters were used on the lower register, we would expect for them to appear more centered in the register to eliminate the space and appear more symmetrical.  Since it is not centered, this suggests the presence of an additional letter.

What letter might that be?  The most natural reading would be the Hebrew word nvy’, which means prophet.  This word is formed by the simple addition of aleph to the end of Nvy.

If this is a title (“prophet”) rather than a surname (“Nvy”), however, one might expect for the Hebrew definite article (Hebrew letter heh) to appear before Nvy’ since most bullae that contain titles contain the definite article.  This is not definitive, however, since there is at least one known bulla that lacks the definite article.  Furthermore, the Bible does not always use the definite article with titles.  The use of the definite article seems to be optional.

It’s also possible that the Isaiah bulla did contain the definite article, but at the end of the second register following Isaiah’s name rather than at the beginning of the third register before “prophet.”  There is enough room for the heh after Isaiah’s name, and we know from other bullae (including the Hezekiah bulla) that words can be spread over more than one line, similar to the English practice of hyphenation.

So is this truly the seal of Isaiah the prophet?  We cannot be certain, but it’s highly suggested given the preponderance of evidence.  We know this bulla comes from right time (that of Hezekiah) and the right place (Jerusalem).  We know it belonged to a person named Isaiah.  Given the size of the seal, we know it’s likely that additional letters appeared on the damaged side.  And we know that if “nvy” contained one additional letter at the end, the most likely Hebrew word is the word for prophet.  There are good grounds, then, for concluding that this bulla bore the seal impression of the biblical prophet.  Of course, there is a possibility that the reconstruction is incorrect and this bulla belonged to Isaiah son of Nvy rather than Isaiah the prophet.  Perhaps a similar seal will be discovered in the future that will allow us to answer this question with certainty.  In the meantime, the mere probability that this bulla bears the seal image of Isaiah the prophet is a truly exciting prospect!

The Trumpet has a great :12 video exploring this find that I would recommend viewing:

 

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[1]The top portion is missing while the left side was damaged 2700 years ago when someone touched the soft clay, flattening the seal impression. The fingerprint is still visible.

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