Before there was paper, there was papyrus. Before there were paper clips to hold sheets of paper together, there were seals to press into clay to hold sheets of papyrus together. Before there were Post-it notes to identify who was sending clipped sheets of paper, there were insignias on the seals to impress identifications into the clay. Who cares, you say? Archeologists do. Archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University digging in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem recently uncovered a bulla (clay seal with an impression) and a 2,600-year-old stamp dating back to the First Temple bearing the name Natan-Melech. Sharp biblical scholars will recognize that name from its sole appearance in the Second Book of Kings 23:11, where he is identified as an officer of King Josiah. If this seal is real, it’s the best proof so far that there was a historical King Josiah. Oh, and a Natan-Melech too.
“This is an extremely exciting find for billions of people worldwide. The personal seal of Natan-Melech, a senior official in the government of Josiah, King of Judah, as described in the second book of Kings. The ongoing archaeological excavations at the City of David continue to prove that ancient Jerusalem is no longer just a matter of faith, but also a matter of fact.”
Doron Spielman, vice president of the City of David Foundation which operates the City of David National Park, told the Times of Israel why this discovery is a big deal. Born around 650 BCE, Josiah became king at the age of 8, made the temple in Jerusalem the central location of worship for the religion and initiated other reforms that became the tenets for today’s Judaism. While he lived 350 years after the more famous King David, his actions cause many scholars to rank him in importance with David and Solomon.
Natan-Melech was no slouch either. Despite not getting much biblical ink, the fact that his name was on the seal with no surname (like a modern one-name pop or sports star) meant he was well recognized. The fact that the bulla and the seal date to the right time mean they were likely to belong to the one-name star of the court of Josiah. It’s fortunate that they survived – the artifacts were found under a car park in the remains of an ancient building whose broken pillars and burnt wooden beams indicate it was probably destroyed when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 BCE. (Pictures of the artifacts and the excavation site can be seen here.)
“The discovery of a public building such as this, on the western slope of the City of David, provides a lot of information about the city’s structure during this period and the size of its administrative area.”
According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority who were responsible for the excavation, finding the artifacts among the ruins rather than in a private collection or on the black market enhances the likelihood of their authenticity and their historical value.
All that from a little seal and an impression in a tiny piece of clay. Imagine what would happen if they found an entire Ark of the Covenant.