This broken 2,700-year-old clay seal, discovered in an ancient Jerusalem rubbish pit, may include the name of the biblical prophet Isaiah. PHOTOGRAPH BY OURIA TADMOR/ EILAT MAZAR
(text and image from the National Geographic article discussed below)
Biblical Archaeology Review has published an article (in a special issue honouring retired founder Hershel Shanks) that asks: Is This the Prophet Isaiah’s Signature? The title requires a quick simple answer: No!
What the team led by author of the article (controversial biblical archaeologist Eilat Mazar) found was not a signature but a bulla, the impression made in clay by a seal. That is something which might serve much as a signature serves today to authenticate documents (though may also have served another purpose).
A more precise, and more difficult question would have been: Is this an impression of the Prophet Isaiah’s seal? The presence of the name Isaiah is close to certain, despite the last letter being damaged, however as Christopher Rollston points out (cited by the National Geographic in a more balanced and scholarly treatment of the find) the letters found might represent the names of almost twenty other biblical characters. Who knows how many possible owners of the seal lived in Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s time.
The other word on the impression might solve this problem, the letters nby could well be the start of the word nby’ (the little ‘ represents a letter that in Hebrew looks like an X) which means prophet. There are two related problems with this: firstly if the seal was intended to read ‘Isaiah the prophet’ we’d usually expect the ‘the’ to be written hnby’ there is no trace of a ‘the’ on the impression, also nby might more often be expected to be Isaiah’s father’s name. But the biblical prophet’s father was ‘mos nothing like nby.
So, could this be an impression of Isaiah the prophet’s seal? Yes. Is it? We do not know. Further evidence may throw more light, but for now a very exciting, but unproven possibility.
I have chosen not to mention the Times of Israel‘s article as it begins with breathless and thoughtless reporting of Mazar’s every wild claim, before turning to more measured comment.