What are the Hezekiah and Isaiah Bullae?

In archaeology, a bulla (plural bullae) is a clay seal used when documents or goods were transferred from one person to another. The sender would put a small piece of wet clay over where the item would be opened, then press in a signet to seal the item and ensure it’s authenticity. An unbroken seal would let the recipient know the item wasn’t tampered with. A more modern equivalent would be a wax seal on a formal letter or invitation.

Hezekiah Bulla

In 2009, archaeologist Eliat Mazar was conducting an archaeological dig at the foot of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, at the Ophel excavations. A bulla which says “Belonging to Hezekiah, [son of] Ahaz, king of Judah” (Hebrew “לחזקיהו [בן] אחז מלך יהדה”) was found1. This was the first time a professional archaeologist has found an Israelite or Judean king’s bulla, although some other examples are in private collections.

That same year Mazor team made another startling find, this one about 10 feet away from where the Hezekiah bulla had been found. This one may say “Isaiah the prophet” (transliteration from Hebrew as Yesha‘yah[u] Nvy[?])2. This quote by Mazor is long, but worth reading:

“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 plain 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.”3

Arguments have been made that the bulla reads “Isaiah son of Nvy”, or “Isaiah from the town of Nvy” (a town of Levite priests). For technical reasons, Mazar believes the last word is likely to be “prophet”4, although there has been strong criticism of the identification5.

Hezekiah was king of Judah6 from around 715 B.C. to 686 BC.7

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. (2 Kings 18:5-6 NIV)

During the reign of Hezekiah, the Assyrian King Sennecherib tried to conquer Judah, but God protected Judah and destroyed the Assyrian army.

And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:15-19 ESV)

The Prophet Isaiah was an advisor to King Hezekiah.

Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.” (2 Kings 19:20 ESV)

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. (2 Kings 19:32-35 ESV)

For an archaeologist to find the bullae of a king and God’s prophet to that king so close to each other is amazing. Although there is disagreement about one belonging to Isaiah the prophet, Hezekiah bulla is certainly another piece evidence which helps to confirm the historical accuracy of the Bible.

Resources

Footnotes

  1. The Hezekiah bulla was excavated in 2009, but its significance was determined until 2015.
  2. The Isaiah bulla was excavated in 2009, but its significance was determined until 2018.
  3. Mazar, Eilat. Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature? (Biblical Archaeology Review 44:2, March/April/May/June 2018;
    membership required) 70.
  4. Mazar, Eilat. Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature? (Biblical Archaeology Review 44:2, March/April/May/June 2018) 70-73. (membership required)
  5. Deane. Why “Isaiah” of the Isaiah Bulla is not the Prophet Isaiah (Remnant of Giants, February 24, 2018; blog) Accessed 08-Nov-2018.
  6. The Kingdom of Israel split into two parts after king Solomon died, the Northern part called Israel and the Southern part called Judah. The city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple were in Judah. The Northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria in 722 BC., about seven years before Hezekiah became king of Judah.
  7. Hezekiah may have been co-regent with his father prior to 715 B.C.
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