History : Jul-Aug 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 5 lieve that the later chapters, which predict the fall of Bab- ylon, were written in the sixth century b.c., after the time of Hezekiah. This period was when the exile of the Jews to Babylon, and the subsequent crushing of Babylon by Per- sia, had deeply marked Jewish theology and national history. Missing Letters The mystery as to the identi- ty of Isaiah is what makes the discovery of the clay seal po- tentially significant. Mazar has another archaeological find to bolster her claim that the Isaiah on the seal may be the prophet: Discovered in what is believed to be the ruins of an ancient royal bakery, to the south of Jerusalem’s Tem- ple Mount, the seal was found feet away from an object bear- ing the name of Isaiah’s ruler, King Hezekiah. Historians are in no doubt that Hezekiah ex- isted, and the proximity of both objects, both dating from the eighth-century b.c., helps make the case for Isaiah’s ex- istence as well. Mazar and other archaeol- ogists, however, urge caution, because the lettering on the “Isaiah” seal is damaged: The Hebrew word for “Isaiah”— Yesha-yahu—is clear enough. It is then followed by the Hebrew letters n, v, and y, almost spelling the Hebrew word for “prophet”—but lacking the final letter, an a. A blemish on the seal after the y might have obstructed the all-important a, or the word may be complete. The letters n-v -y could be a surname or a place-name. Researchers still do not have enough evidence to make a firm conclusion, but the intriguing object may take scholars a step closer to realizing the figure who once wrote of the messi- ah as “Wonderful Counsel- or, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” THE ELUSIVE ISAIAH, PROPHET OF KINGS HIS ORACLES shaped Jewish national his- tory, and his assurance that “a virgin will conceive and bear a son” is claimed by Christians as the prophetic basis for their faith. But who was Isaiah? Scholars spec- ulate that he was probably of noble birth; his forthright advice to King Hezekiah— portrayed as flawed but righteous—sug- gests steeliness in a time when the Jews found themselves caught between the might of Egypt to the west and Assyria to the east. Despite his wealthy origins, Isaiah faulted the rul- ing class for ne- glecting their duties to the poor, and his vision of justice and peace resonates now as much as it must have done centuries ago: “And he shall judge among the nations . . . and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” that the Book of Isaiah does not record the words of just one Isaiah figure, but of three, and that its composition took place over two centuries. The book presents Isaiah as an ad- viser to eighth-century b.c. King Hezekiah, a ruler faced with the daunting task of de- fending Jerusalem from the regional superpower of the day, the Assyrian Empire. According to the book, Isa- iah warns of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Assyrians, counsels against sin at home, and reassures his people that God’s special bond with the Jews will eventually bring deliverance. Scholars be- DAE/AGE FOTOSTOCK ISAIAH IN A 12TH-CENTURY FRENCH ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT AKG/ALBUM THE “ISAIAH” SEAL WAS FOUND IN AN ANCIENT AREA OF JERUSALEM (LOWER RIGHT). IN THE UPPER PART OF THE IMAGE IS THE ENCLOSURE OF THE DESTROYED JEWISH TEMPLE, ON WHICH STANDS THE MUSLIM DOME OF THE ROCK, BUILT IN THE SEVENTH CENTURY A.D.