On Sunday, two archaeologists announced the discovery of “very exciting” ancient artifacts in Jerusalem’s City of David National Park. Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Professor Yuval Gadot from Tel Aviv University (TAU) say excavations in what’s now a parking lot unearthed a 2,600-year-old seal, known as a bulla. The one-centimeter piece of clay, which served as a stamp for signing documents, bears the name Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King. A similar seal has the name Ikar, meaning farmer.
The artifacts, which will be described in the Israel Exploration Journal, date back to Jerusalem’s First Temple Period. They were found in a large public building destroyed in the sixth century BCE, likely by fire. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
2 Kings Mentions Nathan-Melech
In 2 Kings 23:11, Nathan-Melech is mentioned as a chamberlain, or court official: “And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire” (ESV).
This seal is the first archaeological evidence containing Nathan-Melech’s name. Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich, who deciphered and dated the artifact, says the official was likely well-known because there’s no last name to indicate lineage. “Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was in fact the owner of the stamp,” she says, “it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together.”
The second stamp reads “Ikar son of Matanyahu.” Although Matanyahu appears in the Bible and on previously unearthed stamps, Mendel-Geberovich says this is the first reference to Ikar. The person’s identity is unclear.
The Significance of This Find
Archaeologists Shalev and Godot say this discovery is important because the seals were found “inside their true archaeological context,” while other well-known seals have come from the antiquities market. The find offers insights about Jerusalem’s structure, administration and destruction, they add.
These artifacts attest to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city.
The public building where the seals were found contain fine stonework as well as burned wooden beams and pottery shards. Fire would have destroyed the parchments on which the seals were used. “The destruction of this building in the fire, apparently during the Babylonian conquest of the city in 586 BCE, strengthens our understanding of the intensity of the destruction in the city,” Shalev and Godot note.
“This is an extremely exciting find for billions of people worldwide,” says Doron Spielman of the City of David Foundation. “The ongoing archaeological excavations at the City of David continue to prove that ancient Jerusalem is no longer just a matter of faith but also a matter of fact. It is truly fascinating to watch how archaeologists have uncovered more than 12 layers of Jerusalem history in what used to be a parking lot until just few years ago.”