Western Wall Plaza under which the excavations are taking place. (Credit: Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, IAA)
And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. – 2 Kings 23:8 (ESV)
Now in the eighteenth year of his reign, when he had cleansed the land and the house, he sent Shaphan the son of Azaliah, and Maaseiah the governor of the city, and Joah the son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the house of the Lord his God. – 2 Chronicles 34:8 (ESV)
The claim that there is no evidence of a strong, centralized government in the Israel of the biblical era took another hit as 2018 dawned. The intellectual punch came from respected archeologists digging beneath the Western Wall of ancient Jerusalem.
Excavators with the Israeli Antiquities Authority revealed on January 1 that they had unearthed a 2,700-year-old clay bulla (or docket) that contained an impression from a seal. The seal, says the IAA, belonged to the governor of Jerusalem. Reference to the existence of such a high ranking local official supports the importance of this city in ancient times.
This ancient clay bulla was unearthed during excavations at the Western Wall plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem. (Credit: Reuters)
According to the Authority, Professor Tallay Ornan of Hebrew University and Professor Benjamin Sass of Tel Aviv University examined the bulla and gave it this description: “…above a double line are two standing men, facing each other in a mirror-like manner. Their heads are depicted as large dots, lacking any details. The hands facing outward are dropping down, and the hands facing inward are raised. Each of the figures is wearing a striped, knee-length garment. In the register between the double line is an inscription in ancient Hebrew… (which the two scholars translate as) belonging to the governor of the city.”
Both the Hebrew Bible and other historical documents state that such a high-ranking local official would have been appointed by the king, say Ornan and Sass.
Nic Barkat, modern Jerusalem’s mayor, holds the bulla impressed by the governor’s seal. (Credit: Yoli Schwartz)
The bulla from the 7th Century BC was presented on New Year’s Day to Nir Barkat, Mayor of modern Jerusalem. So states a January 2 story in The Jewish Chronicle.
“It is very overwhelming to receive greetings from First Temple period Jerusalem,” Barkat is quoted as stating. “This shows that already 2,700 years ago, Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was a strong and central city.”
Not only does the “governor’s seal” speak to the importance of Jerusalem in ancient times, but it gives further credence to the Bible as a reliable record. In its coverage of this event, the well-respected left-leaning Mirror of Britain said “Governors of Jerusalem are mentioned twice in the Bible, and this mysterious new discovery may reinforce the Biblical assertion as a historical fact.
Ornan and Sass gave the precise location of those two mentions: “In 2 Kings, Joshua is the governor of the city in the days of (King) Hezekiah, and in 2 Chronicles, Maaseiah is the governor of the city in the days of (King) Josiah.” Note: A seal impression bearing the name of King Hezekiah was discovered near the Western Wall just three years ago. You can read more about that HERE.
2,700-year-old Governor of Jerusalem seal impression. (Credit: Clara Amit, IAA)
Preservation of the Seals
Dozens of seal impressions have been found near the site where the “governor’s seal” was unearthed. Imprinted seals were instruments of authentication that carried the full authority of the offices they represented. They were used to impress soft substances like clay or wax. Small clay bulla received the impression from the official seal and were attached to documents and packages to protect against unauthorized opening, just as wax seals were affixed to letters in more recent history.
The clay bullae of ancient Israel survived but the documents to which they were affixed are thought to have burned up when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon razed Jerusalem in 586 BC and took its inhabitants into captivity. In fact, the fire that burned Jerusalem may have baked and preserved the bullae. Archeologists today benefit from studying the images and inscriptions on these seal impressions as they put together the puzzle of what ancient civilizations looked like. Read more about this in the Thinker Update published Oct. 6, 2017: “Did Judah’s Israelite Relatives Turn Refugees?”
“As home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites, Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the decades-old Israeli Palestinian conflict,” the Mirror points out in its Jan. 2 story on the discovery of the governor’s seal impression.
IAA archaeologist Dr. Shlomit Wekster-Bdolah says, “The finding of the sealing with this high-rank title, in addition to the large assemblage of actual seals found in the (same) building in the past, supports the assumption that this area, located on the western slopes of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem, some 100 meters west of the Temple Mount, was inhabited by high-ranked officials during the First Temple Period.” The following video contains more of the archaeologist’s observations.
“[Belonging] To the Governor of the City: A Unique find Unearthed in Jerusalem,” YouTube video,1:53, posted by Israel Antiquities Authority Official Channel, December 31, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGD5sf885yw.
“In the numerous excavations of the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of the city in the First Temple Period,” said Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of earlier excavations by the IAA.