Some questions about the recent news of the discovery of a seal bearing the name of King Hezekiah in Jerusalem

Given the recent news of the discovery of a seal bearing the name of King Hezekiah in Jerusalem, I have a few questions pertaining to the details, the timing, and the relevance of the announcement.

The main question I’m asking is why now? Why issue a press release now? This seal was discovered in 2010 after wet sifting dirt from the Ophel Excavation in 2009. No one disputes Hezekiah’s historicity, especially given the extra-biblical corroboration in Sennacherib’s Annals. And there are previous known seal impressions with the name of Hezekiah on them. So why again? Why now?

Is it because it is Christmas?

Is it for political purposes to combat the annual (false) Palestinian claim that there is no evidence of a Jewish presence on the Temple mount?

Is it to draw a distinction between the Ophel Excavation (Dr. Mazar’s excavation) and the Temple Mount Sifting Project whose sifting facility it shares?

Does suggesting that this is the first seal impression of Hezekiah discovered in a “scientific excavation” imply that previous discoveries of Hezekiah bullae are not credible? Or, is it designed to suggest that they are, in fact, credible because a similar discovery has now been made in a controlled context?

Is suggesting that this is the first seal impression of Hezekiah discovered in a “scientific excavation” designed to counter those claiming that since the seal impression was discovered in an ancient garbage pit (which by nature means that the archaeological stratigraphy is compromised in antiquity), that we can’t trust the dating? If it bears the name of Hezekiah, that’s a pretty good indication of its date, even if the stratigraphy is compromised. (And is the claim of a garbage pit theorized to explain why 8th C. BCE remains are located beneath proposed 10th C. BCE remains? Dr. Mazar explains her thinking in the video, but many archaeologists are not convinced by her claims dating certain structures to the 10th C. BCE.)

The press release states,

“This bulla came to light, together with many pottery sherds and other finds such as figurines and seals, in Area A of the excavations (2009 season), supervised by Hagai Cohen-Klonymus.”

I accept that the bulla is from where Dr. Mazar says it was discovered. I don’t think they mixed up the buckets with the Sifting Project. From what I can ascertain, the dirt from the 2009 Ophel Excavation garbage pit was sent to the Sifting Project’s wet sifting facility (which the Sifting Project claims they share), and in 2010 they discovered the bulla, in the dirt, from the sifting of the garbage pit. There is, or course, the obvious stratigraphical problem of digging in a garbage pit (see 4:15 onward), but that doesn’t mean we discount everything discovered in an ancient dump.

My question has to do with the timing of the new YouTube video and the new press release? Is it to promote the new reading of the Ahaz portion of the seal? If so, should we expect an article discussing the new reading?

And if that’s what this is about (the new reading of the inscription), then what do other epigraphers say about this reading? No “ben” in between Hezekiah and Ahaz? And does it really say Ahaz? Does it fit within the border of the seal?

And is this announcement–especially given the highly charged and controversial location of these two excavations–done for any political purpose?? This is the problem that many people have had with the Ophel and City of David excavations. I can only hope that the timing of this announcement isn’t for any modern political purpose.

 

These are my questions. I have no problem with the discovery. I have no reason to believe it is a forgery. I don’t have a problem with the new reading (but I’d like to know what others think). As far as I know, it’s a nice discovery of a seal of Hezekiah.

The problems is that the discovery is 5 years old, and that at the end of the day, this discovery tells us nothing new. The only real claim from Dr. Mazar is that this is the first Hezekiah bulla to be discovered “in a scientific context”.

My question is why recycle this discovery now? The discovery (from 5 years ago) doesn’t tell us anything new. So why now?

on the cuneiform text recently discovered in jerusalem

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

This small fragment of a clay tablet, inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform text, is the oldest written document ever discovered in Jerusalem, dating to the 14th century BCE.

Dr. Christopher Rollston has published an excellent examination of the small cuneiform text that was recently discovered in the Jerusalem Ophel, and a critique of some of the claims made by its discoverer, Eilat Mazar, who recently published the findings with others in Israel Exploration Journal (Eilat Mazar, Wayne Horowitz, Takayoshi Oshima, and Yuval Goren, “A Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel in Jerusalem,” IEJ 60:1 (2010), 4-21.)

Rollston’s “Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel” is a careful, reasoned analysis of the inscription and a much needed cautionary response to some of the sensational claims that we’ve begun to hear regarding this fragmentary text.

The Jerusalem Post’s Ben Hartman reported the story here.

Voice of America’s David Byrd has a nice article and audio report on the find here.

Ferrell Jenkins and Bible Places Blog have posted about the tablet.

Jim Davila has offered reflections on the discovery and the reporting of it here.

I’ll make only a few summary notes regarding the discovery of this inscription.

  • It is an administrative text, very fragmentary in nature, and wholly non-descriptive.
  • While one could understand it as a part of a correspondence between Amarna and Jerusalem, there is nothing other than the approximate date of the fragment and the location of its discovery that supports this. As Rollston points out, “There are no personal names that are preserved on this tablet… There are no titles (e.g., “king”) preserved on this tablet… There are no place names (e.g., “Egypt”) preserved on this tablet.” It could have been written to another administrator in Jerusalem. This is contra Horowitz, who argues that the high quality of the writing and the object suggests that it was a message sent from an early king of Jerusalem to a Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • This fragment demonstrated that there was someone capable of writing and giving orders in Jerusalem long before the rise of Israel.
  • It proves that someone (we don’t know who) was writing to someone (to whom we don’t know) in Akkadian in Jerusalem in the 14th century BCE. That’s about it.
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