New Archaeological Discovery—The “Temech” Seal
After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel divided. The northern segment, continuing to be known as “Israel,” was ruled by the wicked Jeroboam, son of Nebat, of whom it frequently is said that he “made Israel to sin.” The regime dredged itself deep into the apostasy of idolatry and finally was delivered to the Assyrians by the hand of Jehovah—in fulfillment of sacred prophecy (722-21 B.C.). At the same time, there also was an ominous cloud hanging over the future of “Judah,” the southern kingdom, with its capital at Jerusalem (see Isaiah 10:5-11).
Judah kept flirting with, and progressively adopting, idolatry. Thus continuing in its degeneracy, it finally met its fate with the destruction of Jerusalem and the ravaging of the holy temple by the Babylonians.
Nebuchadnezzar’s army invaded the land, and there was a “princely” exile of Israelite slaves into Babylon in 606/05 B.C. Later there was a transport of the “upper class” in 597 B.C. Finally, there was a general removal of most of the remaining Hebrews in 586 B.C. According to the prophecy of Jeremiah, the general “penal incarceration” of the captivity was to be seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11).
In 538 B.C., Cyrus, the Persian king, overthrew the Babylonian Empire. He issued a remarkable decree allowing the Hebrews to return to their precious homeland. Josephus, the Jewish historian, credits at least a part of the ruler’s motivation to seeing his name in the scroll of Isaiah where his benevolent action had been prophesied some two centuries earlier (Isaiah 44:28-45:4; cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 11.1.1-2).
The trek homeward began in the spring of 536 B.C. (Ezra 4:1-4; 6:3-5). The great leader of the expedition was Zerubbabel. A second movement homeward was initiated in 457 B.C. under the leadership of the scribe, Ezra (Ezra 8). Finally, in 444 B.C. Nehemiah led a third group to the homeland (Nehemiah 1-13). It has been estimated that the restored Jewish community was approximately 125,000 people (Nehemiah 7:5-73).
One of the families that returned from the captivity under Zerubbabel’s leadership was that of Temech (or “Temah” – Ezra 2:53; cf. Nehemiah 7:55). The Temah family was a portion of the larger body known as the Nethinim, who were servants of the Levites in the temple (Ezra 8:20). The foreign names among these people have led some scholars to speculate they could have been prisoners of war. It seems they had proselyted themselves to the people of God (Nehemiah 10:28ff).
The New Discovery
A news release from The Jerusalem Post (January 17) has just announced an archaeological find in Israel’s ancient holy city. Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is overseeing an excavation just outside the Old City, near the Dung Gate, stated that earlier last week a 2,500 year-old black stone seal was found with the name “Temech” engraved on it, which has been identified as the “Temah” of our common versions.
The seal, dated at 538-445 B.C., is elliptical in shape, measuring 2.1 by 1.8 cm (.71 by .83 inches). The tiny artifact contains the image of “two bearded priests standing on either side of an incense altar with their hands raised forward in a position of worship.” In addition, a “crescent moon, the symbol of the chief Babylonian god Sin, appears on top of the altar.” The rubble where the seal was found is near the area where the “Nethinim” were housed in the days of Nehemiah.
There are two important points that relate to this discovery.
First, as Dr. Mazar has stated:
“The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archaeology and the biblical sources and serves as actual evidence of a family mentioned in the Bible. One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find” (emphasis added).
Time and time again the Bible record has been corroborated by archaeological discoveries. And in cases of seeming conflict, it is prudent to adopt a “wait-and-see” posture until further evidence has come to light. In far too many instances biblical critics have been thoroughly humiliated as their premature baseless charges withered under the brunt of new-found information. Once it was claimed that there were no Camels in ancient Egypt (Genesis 12:16), that the Hittites did not exist (Genesis 23:10), that Sargon of Assyria was fictitious (Isaiah 20:1), etc. The list is long. But the “critical scholars” were wrong.
Dr. Nelson Glueck, president of Hebrew Union College from 1947 until his death in 1971, and a world-renowned archaeologist, once declared:
“[I] have spent many years in biblical archaeology, and, in company with [my] colleagues, have made discoveries confirming in outline or in detail historical statements in the Bible. [I] am prepared to go farther and say that no archaeological discovery has ever been made that contradicts or controverts historical statements in Scripture” (1956).
Second, the mixed religious symbolism on the Temech seal likely is an illustration, and a further confirmation, of the biblical testimony of Judah’s amalgamation of the Mosaic with the cultic practices of paganism (cf. Isaiah 10:11b).
For a photo of this discovery, together with The Jerusalem Post news release, click here.
- Glueck, Nelson. 1956. New York Times, Book Review section, October 28.