Archaeologists believe they have found evidence of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Not that there was much doubt he lived—after all, we have a 66-chapter book in the Bible with his name on it—but the discovery sheds light on his significance in eighth-century BCE Jerusalem society.
Archaeologist Eilat Mazar believes she has found Isaiah’s signature on a small piece of clay. The signature would have come from an impression left by a seal and reads, “Isaiah the prophet.” The evidence is small, just 0.4 inches long, and was unearthed as part of excavations of a previously undisturbed pile of debris at the Ophel excavation in Jerusalem.
The dig, headed by Mazar, uncovered figurines, pottery fragments, pieces of ivory and some clay seal impressions, known as bullae. These impressions were created when the owners of the seals stamped their seals into the soft clay and include the mark of King Hezekiah.
The discovery bolsters the Bible’s depiction of Isaiah’s significance. Not everyone who had a seal was of elevated high status (as they were a means of solidifying identity), but the Bible describes Isaiah as a counselor of the king to whom the monarch would turn for advice. The discovery of his seal impressions in close proximity to that of King Hezekiah confirms the picture of a court prophet that we get from the Bible. “We found the eighth-century B.C.E. seal mark that may have been made by the prophet Isaiah himself only 10 feet away from where we earlier discovered the highly-publicized bulla of King Hezekiah of Judah,” Dr. Mazar of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said in a statement.
The fantastic discovery of the possible Isaiah seal impression brings to life some of the biblical narratives of Jerusalem’s First Temple period. The Bible records in 2 Kings 18–19 that King Hezekiah trusted the prophet Isaiah’s counsel to protect Jerusalem from the Assyrian siege. It was Isaiah who encouraged the King to fight the Assyrians who had attacked Jerusalem in 701 BC, rather than allow them to surrender. Isaiah promised that God would not let Jerusalem be captured. No other figure was closer to Hezekiah, who reigned from about 727 to 698 BCE, than the prophet Isaiah. In an article in Biblical Archaeological Review, Dr. Mazar writes, “The names of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah are mentioned in one breath 14 of the 29 times the name of Isaiah is recalled (2 Kings 19–20; Isaiah 37–39).
The half-inch wide oval-shaped piece of clay is inscribed with the name Yesha’yah[u] (Isaiah) in ancient Hebrew script. This is followed by the word nvy, the end of which is slightly damaged. As a result, experts do not know whether the word ended with the Hebrew letter aleph. That letter “would have resulted in the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’ and would have definitively identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah,” explained Dr. Mazar. “The absence of this final letter, however, requires that we leave open the possibility that it could just be the name Navi.”
“The name of Isaiah, however, is clear,” she added.