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Hezekiah Says Hello 2,800 Years Later

King-HezekiahYes, it’s true, Biblical archaeologists are all a-twitter: a bulla or impression from the King of Judah’s seal has been identified. Discovered in situ in Jerusalem in 2009, it’s translation is finally official: it’s Hezekiah’s. Dr. Eilat Mazar of The Hebrew University and director of the excavations at the Ophel Ridge in the City of David just outside of Jerusalem’s Old City, the area where King David of 14 generations earlier most likely had his headquarters, announced the positive identification.

Reading “Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz, king of Judah”, it points back to Jerusalem in the 8th century BC. 48304225.cachedThe seal impression holds Egyptian motifs such as the two-winged dung beetle, or scarab, also discovered in an earlier hoard of Hebrew bullae from the 1980s, the flattened and hardened lumps of clay into which the seals had been impressed. The ankh symbol is also there. These motifs were widespread across the region at the time and did not necessarily hold the same religious meanings as they had for earlier Egyptians.

3164839834The name Hezekiah has been recognized in ancient Hebrew, not without difficulty as sometimes seal impressions are partial after years in the ground. This one is remarkably intact and measures but a few millimeters. Marks in the clay indicate it was utilized to seal a papyrus document, now long gone.

What makes this bulla unique is the fact that it remains the first of any of the King Hezekiah seals found in its resting place in the ground. Others had been looted and moved, making their exact provenance unknown. For archaeologist-scientists, that means that an artifact’s value diminishes considerably. They are simply bling… or copies of bling.

And here we have Hezekiah, according to the Biblical accounts with no other king his equal. He ruled image013from 715 BC during a time when the Divided Kingdom, Israel to his north, was besieged for three long years and conquered by Assyria. Then he repelled Sennacherib in his own attack on Jerusalem after the Neo-Assyrian ruler had taken dozens of towns on his way to the capital. But Hezekiah won, bringing his water source inside the city by means of boring a couple of football fields in length through limestone, the very same “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” which can be walked (in thigh-high water!) today.

Hezekiah_bulla_tracingKing Hezekiah credits prayer and trusting in the Lord as his deliverance. King Sennacherib notes that he accepted payoffs (tribute) and kept Hezekiah caged like a bird. Both accounts tell their side of the story. Hezekiah also attributes to God the fact that 185,000 Assyrian soldiers dropped dead overnight (II Kings 19, Isaiah 37, II Chronicles 32), slain by “the angel of the Lord”. Modern commentators imagine that perhaps it was a plague of some sort, but in any case, Isaiah’s prophecy that Hezekiah would not be defeated came to pass, Sennacherib retreated only to be murdered back home by his own sons.

Talk about an ancient reality show coming to life! Mazal tov to Hebrew University and the Israeli Department of Antiquities for cracking this important inscription.

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