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,” says the Hebrew University.
It’s much more than that! The unearthing and deciphering of the 2,700-year-old bulla in excavations by the Temple Mount is proof positive of the Jewish people’s deep roots in Jerusalem. It is reaffirmation of entrenched Jewish rights in Jerusalem.
This is doubly important at a time when some academics and archeologists deny the veracity of the Biblical narrative of ancient Israel, and many Palestinians assert that the Jewish people have no history and no national rights in Jerusalem.
Consider: Everybody from UNESCO, to the Palestinians, to the hard Left, and Biblically-skeptical archeologists at Tel Aviv University, have objected to the two-decade-long excavations of the Ophel and Jerusalem’s City of David, the lower slope of the Temple Mount.
Through great adversity and persistence, Prof. Eilat Mazar and her Israel Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University colleagues have unearthed some of the earliest known artifacts in the city, dating as far back as the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. These include evidence supporting the historicity of the biblical kings David and Solomon, founders of the Judean dynasty.
Two years ago, the indefatigable Mazar announced the discovery of a massive gold medallion and a trove of gold pieces found at the base of the Temple Mount, dating to the 6th and early 7th century BCE – the First Temple period. The trove included a large golden medallion embossed with Jewish motifs including a menorah and shofar.
And now, the bulla bearing the name of King Hezekiah (727–698 BCE) – a discovery that was made six years ago but only interpreted recently and announced this past week.
It is the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archeological excavation in Israel. This is “the closest that we can get to something that was most likely held by King Hezekiah himself,” says Mazar.
The bulla was discovered in a refuse dump adjacent to a government or royal building that was apparently constructed in the 10th century BCE – the time of King Solomon! Mazar’s latest discovery reminds us of other important archeological finds that highlight Jewish rootedness in the Land of Israel.
These include four known ancient inscriptions that mention “Israel,” such as the Merneptah Stele (an inscription from the time of Egyptian king Merneptah in 1200 BCE, son of Pharaoh Ramses II of the Exodus story); the Tel Dan Stele (in which King Hazael of Aram-Damascus in the 9th century BCE boasts of his victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David”); the Mesha Stele (found on the banks of the Dead Sea, in which the king of Moav celebrates his victories over the Jewish kings of the Omri house, closely paralleling the text of Kings II:3); and the Assyrian Kurkh Monoliths (which seem to reference King Ahab of Israel).
In the 1950s, Yigal Yadin discovered the chambered gates at Hatzor, Megiddo and Gezer, which perfectly matched the contours of King Solomon’s 10th century BCE largescale construction projects as described in Kings I.
Special mention in this context goes to the much-maligned Israeli archeologist Prof. Adam Zartal of Haifa University, who passed away in October. He spent 30 years surveying a tremendous breadth of land in Judea and Samaria, and nine years excavating an important ceremonial altar that he identified as built by the Biblical prophet Joshua on Mount Ebal near Nablus. (See the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 27:4, and the fulfillment of this command in Joshua 8:30-31).
His colleagues attacked, derided and ultimately ignored him (especially Tel Aviv University types like Aharon Kempinski and Israel Finkelstein). But Zartal believed that the books of the Hebrew Bible could and should inform the work of contemporary archaeologists.
To Zertal, the altar on Mt. Ebal proved that the Israelites indeed crossed the Jordan and entered Canaan, just as the Bible says they did.
A similar and bitter dispute has erupted over the excavations of Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley. Garfinkel sees the fortified city as definitive proof of the powerful Kingdom of David in the 10th century BCE, and he identifies it as the Biblical city of Sha’arayim, mentioned in Samuel I.
But Finkelstein and others who view Biblical narrative as historical mythology maintain that the “so-called kingdom of David” was no more than a small tribal entity, meager in substance and sparse in population, which did not extend beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings.
Obviously, these debates reflect profoundly dissimilar theological, national and political perspectives (buttressed by interpersonal tensions, academic politics, and fights over archeological budgets) – and not just academic differences of opinion. They may also reflect the fact that archeology with a real Biblical bent is still in its infancy, especially in Jerusalem.
The balance of opinion may shift as more and more digs are undertaken and new discoveries are made.
Jewish theology posits a powerful resonance between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel. The land is described in the Bible and Talmudic literature as a living, breathing, feeling entity with a sensitive constitution.
The land responds positively to Jewish settlement and cultivation, especially if its residents behave ethically.
Agriculture and architecture in the Land of Israel are said to thrive when the Jewish people live up to their moral callings. Ezekiel prophesizes (Chapter 36) that when Jews repent, the cities of Israel will be re-inhabited, ruins rebuilt, and desolate land tilled fruitfully – like the Garden of Eden! Indeed today, after 2,000 years of desolation and neglect, the Land of Israel is coming alive again, and giving forth glorious fruit to its indigenous people, resulting, among other things, in wines that are winning international awards and recognition. To me, the Israeli wine revolution is nothing less than Biblical prophecy fulfilled.
I have a similar sense about archaeology. My feeling is that slowly, the Land of Israel is revealing to the people of Israel the secrets that have been buried deep in its soil for thousands of years. Year after year, in dig after dig, layers of exile are being peeled away from the land.
The land is publishing itself, and the history of the Jewish people in Israel becomes manifest for all to see.
All this is another way of saying – to the Palestinians and to global actors unfriendly to Zion – that they should forget about pushing Israel out. The pedigree of the Jewish people in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel is rock-solid and well-embedded. Israel’s history and national identity are authentically and acutely anchored in Jerusalem.
Consequently, Israelis have the fortitude to fight for the Holy City. No number of Palestinians wielding kitchen knives – or any other weapon – will succeed in severing Jews from Jerusalem.
David M. Weinberg is director of public affairs at Bar Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post. A version of this article appeared in Israel Hayom.