Archeologists in Israel believe they have unearthed a seal belonging to a man named in the Old Testament as a servant of King Josiah of Judah, lending weight to Biblical accounts of the last years of the kingdom before its destruction by Babylon in 586BC.
Academics from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University announced this week that they had discovered a seal impression - dated by its script to the First Temple period - that features the words: “(belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” within the ruins of a large public building on the western slopes of the ancient City of David.
Nathan-Melech is named in 2 Kings, an Old Testament book dating from the 7/6 century BC, where he is described as an official whose offices were located in a prestigious public building within the city.
The building itself was destroyed in the sixth century BC - likely during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. Large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered in the building, all indications that they had survived an immense fire.
According to the building’s excavators its importance can be discerned, among other things, from its size, the finely cut ashlar stones from which it was built and the quality of the architectural elements found in the layers of destruction - for example, remnants of a polished plaster floor, which had collapsed and caved into the floor below.
The account in 2 Kings describes the last years of the kingdom of Judah, when King Josiah sought to impose sweeping religious reforms that would undo the apostasy that had flourished under its previous king, Manasseh. According to the theological histories found in the books of Kings and Chronicles, Josiah’s religious reforms, which followed the discovery of a book of the Law in Solomon’s Temple, swept away many ancient Israelite and pagan religious structures, refocusing Israel on the worship of Yahweh.
But the reforms came too late: in 2 Kings the prophetess Holdar foretells the destruction of Jerusalem because of its failure to keep the Law.
Kings 2 describes Josiah’s reforms, saying: “Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the gateway at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which was on the left of the city gate.
“He removed from the entrance to the temple of the Lord the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the room of an official named Nathan-Melek. Josiah then burned the chariots dedicated to the sun.”
Dr Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem said: “Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was in fact the owner of the stamp, it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together.”
Professor Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement that many of the best-known stamps and seal impressions had been found in antiquities markets, and that it was significant to discover a seal impression like this in its archaeological context.
“These artefacts attest to the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city,” they said.
“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. The destruction of this building in the fire, apparently during the Babylonian conquest of the city in 586 BCE, strengthens our understanding of the intensity of the destruction in the city.”
The archaeological excavation was of the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem, and the dig was conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University.