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Bullae that indirectly confirm the historical existence of Jeremiah

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational
Seminary: none

Example of a bulla

An example of a tri-fold scroll and
bulla with an impression of the string.

A bulla is a hardened clay seal impression.

When an official document was written on papyrus, it would be rolled and folded into thirds and tied with a string. A lump of clay would be pressed into the string and impressed by a seal from the signet ring of the writer or official. Dried with the seal's impression, the bulla would guarantee the validity of the document while in transient as a message or in archival storage.

Conflicts involving destructive fires hardened the bullae so that they were impervious to normal erosion and decay; thus, hundreds of bullae have been recovered by archeological excavations and clandestine diggers. In many instances the underside of the bullae still have remains of the embedded strings.

At this time, four bullae indirectly confirm the historical existence of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah, the author of the books Jeremiah and Lamentations, was a major prophet during the decline and fall of the southern kingdom of Judah. Prophesying about 40 years during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah, Jeremiah began his ministry in the 13th year of Josiah's reign (626 B.C.) until the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the 11th year of Zedekiah's reign (586 B.C.).

The book of Jeremiah is an account of Jeremiah's life and prophetic messages, and Lamentations is Jeremiah's song of mourning over Jerusalem's destruction, which he saw and experienced.

The Baruch Bulla can be seen at the Israel National Museum

Chosen by God (Jer 1:5-10) to confront His people, Jeremiah warned the nation of Judah of their covenant rebellion and exhorted their return to God. Salvation was through God not by military alliances with Assyria, Egypt or Babylonia.

Despite fierce opposition to his message of divine judgment (Jer 26:8; 38:6-9), Jeremiah becomes God's means of announcing a New Covenant between God and His people (Jer 31:31-34).

The first bulla, known as the Baruch Bulla, was discovered in 1975 and sold to an antiquities collector who allowed Israeli archaeologist Nahman Avigad to study and publish the finding. Dated to the late 7th or early 6th century B.C., the bulla measures 17 by 16 mm, and is stamped with an oval seal, 13 by 11 mm. A single line borders the impression, and it is divided by double horizontal lines into three registers bearing the following inscription:

A drawing of the Baruch Bulla so that you can see its writing

Pre-exilic ancient Hebrew linear script and its translation

lbrkyhw: Belonging to Berechiah

bn nryhw: son of Neriah

hspr: The scribe

The translation reveals that this bulla was from the impression of Baruch ben Neriah, and confirms the historical existence of the scribe who wrote to the dictation of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 36:4).


Later in 1996, a second bulla was found with the identical impression indicated that it was made with the same seal. Also impressed was a partial fingerprint which many speculate as the actual fingerprint of Baruch himself.

Avigad published his findings on a second bulla which was the impression of the seal of Baruch's brother Seraiah. The translation of the second bulla was "Belonging to Seraiah Neriah."

Seraiah ben Neriah was the brother of Jeremiah's scribe Baruch ben Neriah. The Bible records Seraiah as a manager of the household of king Zedkiah and, when captive in Babylon, carried a message from Jeremiah predicting the destruction of Babylon (Jer 51:59-64).

There is little doubt that the Seraiah bulla confirms the historical existence of the biblical Seraiah ben Neriah.

The Jehucal and Gedaliah Bullae

The third and fourth bullae, discovered by Israeli archeologist Eilat Mazar in 2005 and 2008, are significant in that two 2,600 year old bullae confirm two biblical names that appear in the same biblical verse (Jer 38:1).

The translation of the third bulla reads, "Yehuchal (or Jehucal)] ben Shelemyahu (Shelemiah)".

The translation of the fourth bulla reads, "Gedalyahu (Gedaliah) ben Pashur".

Biblical accounts record Jehucal son of Shelemiah and Gedaliah son of Pashhur as two officials of king Zedekiah who disagreed with Jeremiah's prophetic message, and in response, imprisoned Jeremiah in a cistern to die (Jer 38:1-6).

As with the first two bullae, there is little doubt that the biblical officials, Jehucal son Shelemiah and Gedaliah son of Pashhur, were true historical figures.

With these four bullae, with the same dating, confirming the historical existence of characters mentioned in the book of Jeremiah, they indirectly confirm the historicity of the prophet Jeremiah and a basis supporting the view of his work as non-fiction. This is significant, because through Jeremiah, God reveals the New Covenant.

References:

1. Schoville KN, "Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of the Twentieth Century Relating to the Biblical World" in Stone Campbell Journal, vol 4, no. 1, Cincinnati: Stone-Campbell International, (2001).

2. "Jeremiah, Prophet of the Bible, Brought Back to Life", from the website Bible History Daily.


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