An unprecedented impression of the royal seal of King Hezekiah from the First Temple period was unearthed by a Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeological team during excavations at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount, the university announced on Wednesday.
Dating back to 727–698 BCE and measuring 9.7 mm by 8.6 mm., the oval impression – discovered amid Jerusalem’s noted Ophel excavations under the direction of the university’s Dr. Eilat Mazar – was imprinted on a 3-mm.- thick piece of clay, measuring 13 mm. by 12 mm.
The excavation site is situated within the Ophel Archeological Park, which is part of the national park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem, under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Around the impression is a depression left by the frame of the ring in which the seal was set. The impression bears an inscription in ancient Hebrew script stating: “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz king of Judah,” accompanied by a two-winged sun with wings turned downward, flanked by two ankh symbols serving as emblems of life.
The bulla – or impression of the seal – originally sealed a document written on a papyrus rolled and tied with thin cords, which left their mark on the reverse of the bulla.
According to the university, the rare bulla was discovered with numerous pottery shards and other finds, such as figurines and seals, in Area A of the 2009 excavation season, which was supervised by Haggai Cohen Klonymus.
“The bulla was discovered in a refuse dump dated to the time of King Hezekiah or shortly after, and originated in the royal building that stood next to it, and appears to have been used to store foodstuffs,” the university said in a statement.
“This building, one of a series of structures that also included a gatehouse and towers, was constructed in the second half of the 10th century BCE (the time of King Solomon) as part of the fortifications of the Ophel – the new governmental quarter that was built in the area that connects the City of David with the Temple Mount.”
The bulla, the university noted, was found together with 33 additional bullae imprinted from other seals, some bearing Hebrew names, their reverse showing marks of coarse fabric and thick cords that probably sealed sacks containing foodstuffs.
“This is the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archeological excavation,” said Mazar, a third-generation archeologist working at the university.
An internationally recognized archeologist, Mazar directs excavations on the City of David’s summit and in the Ophel to the south of the Temple Mount’s southern wall.
Among her many archeological finds over the years is an ancient golden treasure discovered at the Ophel site in 2013.
The seal impression was found during the wet-sifting of earth layers from the excavation in the Emek Tzurim wet-sifting facility, directed by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Dvira, under the auspices of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Ir David Foundation.
The bulla was discovered by Efrat Greenwald, a member of the Ophel expedition, who supervised the wet-sifting of the excavation material.
Reut Ben-Aryeh, who prepared the Hebrew bullae from the Ophel excavations for publication, was the first to identify it as a seal impression of King Hezekiah, the university said.
American students and alumni of the Herbert W.
Armstrong College from Edmond, Oklahoma, also participated in the excavation.
King Hezekiah is described favorably in the Bible (II Kings, Isaiah, II Chronicles) as well as in the chronicles of the Assyrian kings Sargon II and his son, Sennacherib, who ruled during his time.
“Hezekiah is depicted as both a resourceful and daring king, who centralized power in his hands,” the university said.
“Although he was an Assyrian vassal, he successfully maintained the independent standing of the Judean kingdom and its capital, Jerusalem, which he enhanced economically, religiously and diplomatically.”
The Bible states of Hezekiah: “There was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those before him” (II Kings 18:5).
The symbols on the seal impression suggest that they were made late in his life, Mazar said, when both the royal administrative authority and the king’s personal symbols changed from the winged scarab (dung beetle) – the symbol of power and rule that had been familiar throughout the ancient Near East – to that of the winged sun.
The latter symbol embodied God’s protection, which gave the regime its legitimacy and power, which was also widespread throughout the ancient Near East and used by the Assyrian kings, Mazar said.
“The change most likely reflected both the Assyrian influence and Hezekiah’s desire to emphasize his political sovereignty, and Hezekiah’s own profound awareness of the powerful patronage given his reign by the God of Israel,” she explained.
While the royal administrative symbol imprinted on the king’s jars used the motif of a sun with wings extended to the sides, Hezekiah personally changed the symbol to a sun with sheltering wings turned down, and a life symbol at the end of each wing, noted Mazar.
“This special addition of the symbol of life may support the assumption that the change on the king’s personal seal was made after Hezekiah had recovered from the life-threatening illness of leprosy [II Kings 20:1-8], when the life symbol became especially significant for him [in 704 BCE],” she said.
The discovery of Hezekiah’s royal seal impression in the Ophel excavations “vividly brings to life the biblical narratives about King Hezekiah and the activity conducted during his lifetime in Jerusalem’s royal quarter,” the university added.
In the meantime, the full research about Hezekiah’s bulla is included in the first volume of the Ophel Excavations 2009-2013 Final Reports, published Wednesday, with the support of the David Berg Foundation.
The renewed Ophel excavations and the processing of the finds, as well as the preservation and preparation of the excavated area for tourists by the Antiquities Authority, were made possible through funding provided by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York.