Biblical Archaeology Scores Three More Confirmations
Artifacts mentioning Biblical names continue to turn up in the lands of the Bible. One announced this week is the talk of the town.
Isaiah’s Personal Signature
A clay seal mark or “bulla” bearing the name “Isaiah” has been found. This is a “Major biblical discovery,” says Fox News reporter James Rogers, who leads with a large photo of the seal impression. It dates 2,700 years back to the prophet’s time. Dr Eilat Mazar, who has discovered places in the City of David that she claims represent David’s palace and Solomon’s improvements (7 April 2007), had this to say at the Biblical Archaeological Society press release:
“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,” said Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in a statement.
It’s an “unprecedented find,” Bib Arch says in its headline. Though found in 2009, it was announced on Feb 22, 2018. National Geographic also celebrated the find, but cast doubt on its interpretation. Reporter Kristin Romey sought the opinion of Christopher Rollston, professor of Semitic languages at George Washington University. He thinks it is “not at all certain,” based on the possibility that others could have had the same or a similar name, and the fact that a letter is missing on the ending title. Without an ending -aleph (which would have indicated Isaiah “the prophet”), it could be just another personal name or location name.
While impossible to prove who made it, Mazar believes this very well could be the prophet Isaiah’s signature, because it was found just 10 feet from where the seal of King Hezekiah was found in 2015 (National Geographic shows that clay seal, too). Also, she notes, the only dispute is about the title missing one letter. “The name Isaiah is clear,” she said.
“If it is the case that this bulla is indeed that of the prophet Isaiah, then it should not come as a surprise to discover this bulla next to one bearing King Hezekiah’s name given the symbiotic relationship of the prophet Isaiah and King Hezekiah described in the Bible,” says Mazar, who reveals her find in the special issue of Biblical Archaeology Review honoring its recently-retired founder, Hershel Shanks….
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. No other figure was closer to Hezekiah, who reigned from about 727 to 698 B.C.E., than the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah’s book, which opens the Major Prophets of the Old Testament, contains 66 chapters of historical narrative and theological injunctions written in a masterful literary style. “The word of the Lord” and its equivalents appear dozens of times, with messages of warning as well as messages of peace. No other prophet contains as many detailed descriptions of the coming Messiah, including astonishing descriptions of a suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) that match details of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection seven centuries later.
Isaiah 36-37 describes the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem from the forces of Sennacherib, king of Assyria. The Taylor Prism, an extrabiblical record found in Sennacherib’s land, boasts of all the other cities he had conquered, but not Jerusalem— other than to note that he received tribute from Hezekiah and had sealed up the king in the city like a “bird in a cage.” Ancient pagan kings were not prone to advertise their defeats. Had Sennacherib’s army succeeded in conquering the capital city of Judah, after the threats leveled by his captains recorded in Isaiah 36, assuredly he would have boasted about it on his memorial document. But having lost a major part of his army to a single angel, returning home in shame, all the Assyrian king could say was that temporarily he had trapped Hezekiah inside the walls of Jerusalem.
Other major archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem, like Hezekiah’s tunnel and the Broad Wall, testify to the huge effort the king and his citizens went through to prepare for the Assyrian onslaught (see photos). The most significant archaeological discovery of all regarding the prophet Isaiah is the great Isaiah Scroll, first of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Cave 1 at Qumran, with all its detailed narratives about Hezekiah and Sennacherib. The scroll dates prior to Christ (at least 100 BC, and possibly as early as 356 BC), proving that the prophecies could not have been written after Christ to match events of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In addition, the Isaiah Scroll is a single text, discounting a critical theory that there had been two books of Isaiah composed by different authors. Isaiah 53 and the other prophecies of Isaiah are “brute facts” of archaeology and history. They command attention toward the Bible’s unique attribute of predictive prophecy with verifiable fulfillments. The book of Isaiah continues to speak to millions of Christians and Jews today with its elevated descriptions of God (e.g., Isaiah 40), its warnings to sinners, and its messages of comfort to anyone “who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Dead Sea Scrolls Update
A cryptic “priestly calendar” has been deciphered from fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls, reports Charlotte Hempel at The Conversation. Painstaking reconstruction of the fragments, which often contained only portions of two or three words, led to the discovery. Adding to the difficulty is that the words were written in a cryptic script. Hempel writes,
By far the most substantial challenges faced by Ratzon and Ben-Dov was working out which particular tiny pieces belong to which manuscript and in what sequence. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle with tiny broken pieces, most of them missing, without the benefit of the picture on the box for guidance. In short, Ratzon and Ben-Dov deserve great credit for making rapid progress with this very demanding work.
The reconstructed text also contains the name of priestly families. This may refer to the practice of rotation of priestly duties, Hempel says, as described in I Chronicles 24. “As there were too many priests to serve concurrently in the sanctuary, Chronicles is the first source that sets out a rota system allowing different priestly families to serve for a week at a time.”
Assyrian King’s Name Found
Another notable find came from a tragedy. The world was shocked when ISIS blew up the Tomb of Jonah in Nineveh in 2014 during its occupation (see 9 July 2017). Out of the destruction, however, came opportunities to explore tunnels underground that looters had dug to look for treasures. On one of seven inscription panels found in the tunnels, Live Science reports, king Esarhaddon boasts of his reign:
One inscription, in translation, reads: “The palace of Esarhaddon, strong king, king of the world, king of Assyria, governor of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the kings of lower Egypt, upper Egypt and Kush [an ancient kingdom located south of Egypt in Nubia].”…
Another inscription found under the Tomb of Jonah says that Esarhaddon “reconstructed the temple of the god Aššur [the chief god of the Assyrians],” rebuilt the ancient cities of Babylon and Esagil, and “renewed the statues of the great gods.”
The inscriptions also tell of Esarhaddon’s family history, saying that he is the son of Sennacherib [reign 704–681 B.C.] and a descendent of Sargon II (reign 721–705 B.C.), who was also “king of the world, king of Assyria.“
The name and descriptions fit what the Bible says about these kings. Sargon II is mentioned in Isaiah 20:1. In chapter 37, Isaiah mentions Esarhaddon in his record of the aftermath of Sennacherib’s disastrous encounter with the “angel of the Lord” at Jerusalem:
Then the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. It came about as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons killed him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son became king in his place. (Isaiah 37:36-38)
Owen Jarus’s article shows a photo of one of the inscriptions found under a fallen image of a winged bull. Esarhaddon, only mentioned briefly three times in the Bible, was not a humble guy (nor were other Assyrian kings). He boasted of building the walls of Nineveh “as high as the mountains” and described himself as “the one who treads on the necks of the people of Cilicia.” How big and bad a conqueror was he? In his words, “I surrounded, conquered, plundered, demolished, destroyed and burned with fire twenty-one of their cities together with small cities in their environs.” His scribe must have used an Aramaic thesaurus for that line.
No other “religious” text can come close to the Bible for connections to verifiable history. Written over 1500 years by 40 authors, it records not only admonitions and injunctions, but includes hundreds of place names and personal names that can be corroborated by extrabiblical sources. As these articles show, the references check out, and the prophecies come true. The matter-of-fact narratives of the Bible, not pretentious or flowery but detailed and straightforward, have the ring of truth. Its precepts are lofty yet accessible to all. The Creator of the universe is also a Communicator, the Logos from the beginning (John 1). People ignore the Word of the Lord at their peril. Let’s conclude with a portion of Psalm 19, a psalm of David, with its very different attitude from that of Esarhaddon
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.