The Nathan-Melech Seal

Archaeologists in Israel have made an important discovery that reveals the name of one of the officers who served in the court of Josiah, king of Judah. They discovered a rare clay seal mark bearing the name of Nathan-Melech, an official in the court of Josiah. Below is an excerpt from an article published by Fox News:

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered a rare clay seal mark and a 2,600-year-old stone stamp bearing Biblical names amid the ruins of a building destroyed by the ancient Babylonians.

The amazing finds, which date to the First Temple period, were made in Jerusalem’s famous City of David. The artifacts were discovered in the remains of a structure razed in the 6th century B.C., likely during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., according to experts.

In a statement, Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority, which oversaw the dig, said charred pottery shards were found in the building, indicating that the seal mark and stamp survived a major fire. Both artifacts feature ancient Hebrew script.

In ancient times, a seal stamp, or bulla, was used to authenticate documents or items.

The Nathan-Melech/Eved Hamelech seal found in the City of David. (Photo Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David)

The tiny 1 cm seal stamp has been dated to sometime from the middle of the seventh century to the start of the sixth century B.C. Deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem, the stamp features the words: “(Belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King.” In the second book of Kings 23:11 “Nathan-Melech” is described as an official in the court of King Josiah. The seal is described as the first archaeological evidence of the Biblical name.

“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,” said Mendel-Geberovich, in the statement.

You can read the article in its entirety and see pictures of the findings by visiting Fox News.

Nathan-Melech was a royal official who served in the court of Josiah, king of Judah. His name is mentioned in 2 Kings 23:11:

“[Josiah] removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of the eunuch Nathan-melech, which was in the precincts; then he burned the chariots of the sun with fire” (2 Kings 23:11).

Little is known about Nathan-Melech, but the text in 2 Kings 23:11 provides some important information about this royal official.

1. Nathan-Melech is called “the eunuch.”

The Hebrew word for eunuch is sārîs, a word generally translated “eunuch.” In the Ancient Near East it was common to use castrated men to serve in important positions in the palace of the king. For instance, in the court of King Ahasuerus of Persia, Esther was under the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the women who lived in the king’s harem (Esther 2:3). Since the law mentioned in Deuteronomy 23:1 does not allow eunuchs to be admitted in the assembly of Yahweh, it is almost certain that the title used for Nathan-Melech should be “official” rather than “eunuch.”

2. Nathan-Melech is a theophoric name.

A theophoric name is the name of an individual that carries the name of a god. Theophoric names were given to individuals by their parents, asking the blessing of God or invoking the protection of the deity for the child.

The name “Nathan-Melech” means “the King has given.” The name indicates that when the child was born, the parents believed that the child had been given to them by God. The word Melech may be a reference to Yahweh who is often called a king in the Old Testament.

There is also a possibility that Melech may be a reference to Molech, a pagan god who was worshiped by some people in Israel: “Then Solomon built a high place for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:7).

Another possibility is that Melech may be a reference to Milcom, the god of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:33).

3. The text says that Josiah removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of the eunuch Nathan-Melech.

The horse and chariots were associated with the worship of the sun in Israel. Solar worship was practiced by a minority of people in Judah. Even in the last days of Judah, solar worship was found in the temple in Jerusalem. When Ezekiel was taken in a vision to Jerusalem, he witnessed solar worship in the temple:

And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD; there, at the entrance of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, prostrating themselves to the sun toward the east (Ezekiel 8:16).

The horses that Josiah destroyed were located “at the entrance to the house of the LORD.”

Mendel-Geberovich said in his statement, “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.”

I agree with him.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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