Bryant G. Wood
Jeroboam II ruled Israel (the Northern Kingdom) for 41 years in the first half of the eighth century BC, ca. 793–753. As was the case with the other kings of Israel,
he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit (2 Kgs 14:24).
Jeroboam son of Nebat was the first king to rule the breakaway Northern Kingdom following the death of Solomon. He established calf worship at the two religious centers of Dan and Bethel.
The relatively long reign of Jeroboam II is summarized in only 7 verses of Scripture, 2 Kings 14:23–29. The prophet Jonah predicted that the boundaries of Israel would be restored during his reign and this was fulfilled. Jeroboam maintained his independence from Aram to the north, ruling the area from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea. Hamath was a city state in central Syria, with its capital at ancient Hamath, modern Hama.
There is one reference to Jeroboam II outside the Bible—the famous “Shema’ Seal.” This seal, made of jasper, was discovered in excavations at Megiddo in 1904. Unfortunately, it was sent to the Turkish Sultan in Istanbul and has since disappeared. Before it was sent off, a bronze cast was made which is now at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. The seal measured 3.7 cm x 2.7 cm (1.5 in x 1.1 in) and was elliptical in shape. In the center was a roaring lion with tensed muscular legs and raised tail. Above the lion was the name of the seal owner and below it his title.
(Belonging) to Shema’ servant (of) Jeroboam
The style of the letters is that of the early eighth century BC (Lemaire 1995: 52, n. 4). This is the earliest of a raft of seals and seal impressions that record the names of Biblical figures. With such a large and beautifully-made seal, Shema’ was evidently a high official in the administration of Jeroboam II. Since Shema’ is not mentioned in the Bible, we do not know what his duties were.
Uzziah, called Azariah in 2 Kings 14:21 and 15:1–7, had the second-longest reign of all of the kings of Israel and Judah. He ruled Judah for 52 years, ca. 792–740 BC, being surpassed only by Manasseh who sat on the throne of Judah for 55 years a century later. Uzziah’s reign is recorded in 2 Kings 15:1–7 and 2 Chronicles 26.
Amaziah, father of Uzziah, appointed Uzziah coregent when he was only 16 years of age. Later, when Amaziah fell victim to a conspiracy, Uzziah became sole ruler. Although he failed to remove the high places (2 Kgs 15:4), Uzziah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” and God blessed him (2 Kgs 15:3; 2 Chr 26:4–5). He built up a professional, well-equipped army and became very powerful (2 Chr 26:11–15). As a result, he subdued the nations around him, including the Philistines, Arabs of Gur Baal, Meunites and Ammonites (2
Impression of the seal of Shema’, an official during the reign of Jeroboam II. The inscription on the seal reads “(Belonging) to Shema’, servant of Jeroboam.” Found at Megiddo in 1904, this is the earliest of a number of seals and seal impressions that bear the names of Biblical personages.
BSP 13:4 (Fall 2000) p. 120
Chr 26:6–8). The location of Gur Baal is uncertain, and the Meunites were desert peoples involved in trade in Transjordan.
Uzziah was a prolific builder. He rebuilt the important port of Elath, rebuilt towns in Philistia, and fortified Jerusalem (2 Chr 26:2, 6–10). In addition to these military projects he commissioned domestic ventures as well. Uzziah had much livestock, so he built towers in the desert to protect them and dug cisterns to provide water for them (2 Chr 26:10a). Since he loved the soil, he established fields and vineyards (2 Chr 26:10b). In spite of his accomplishments, Uzziah made one serious error that cost him dearly. He attempted to unlawfully burn incense in the Temple and for that he contracted leprosy (2 Chr 26:16–20). As a result, he was banned from the Temple, quarantined, and his son Jotham had to take over the affairs of state (2 Kgs 15:5; 2 Chr 26:21). Uzziah died at age 68. Because he was a leper, he was not buried with the other kings of Judah, but “near them” in the City of David (2 Kgs 15:7; 2 Chr 26:23).
Two seals of officials of Uzziah have survived. Both of them are of unknown origin and are in the Louvre in Paris. One is a ring seal made of agate. It has an Egyptian motif with an inscription reading,
(Belonging) to Abiah servant (of) Uzziah.
Both names on the seal end in a shortened form of the name Yahweh. Abiah means “my father is Yahweh” and Uzziah means “my strength is Yahweh.” The name Abiah does not appear in the Bible (Bordreuil 1986, No. 40).
The second seal is two-sided and is 2.1 cm x 1.6 cm x 1.0 cm (0.87 in x 0.63 in x 0.40 in) in size. One side depicts a man carrying a staff with the name “Shebaniah” written vertically behind him. The other side has two lines of writing with solar winged disks above and below:
(belonging) to Shebaniah servant (of) Uzziah.
The name Shebaniah appears in 1 Chronicles 15:24 as the name of an official from the time of David. It means “return, pray, O Yahweh” (Bordreuil 1986, No. 41).
Seal of Abiah, servant of Uzziah. It is 1.61 cm x 1.20 cm x 0.38 cm (0.63 in x 0.47 in x 0.15 in) in size. The seal depicts the Egyptian infant sun god Nefertoum kneeling on three lotus flowers. On either side of the figure is the inscription “(belonging) to Abiah servant (of) Uzziah.”
An Inscription Mentioning Uzziah
Uzziah’s name also appears on an inscription from the end of the Second Temple period, ca. 130 BC-AD 70. The origin of the inscription is not known. It is part of the antiquities collection at the Russian Convent on the Mount of Olives that was acquired in the late 1800s (Albright 1931). It states,
Uzziah inscription, ca. 130 BC-AD 70. The inscription is incised on a stone tablet 35 cm x 34 cm (14 in x 13 in). It is well-carved in square Aramaic characters surrounded by a neatly carved border. It reads “Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah king of Judah—do not open!”
Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah king of Judah—do not open!
We can only speculate as to the reason for moving the bones of Uzziah some 600-700 years after his original interment. Could it be related to the fact that he was a leper? Perhaps his remains were considered unclean and as such needed to be moved outside the City of David.
The discovery of the names of these eighth century BC Biblical kings in contemporary inscriptions attests to their reality and the accuracy of the Biblical record.
1931 The Discovery of an Aramaic Inscription Relating to King Uzziah. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 44: 8–10.
1986 Catalogue des sceaux auest-sémitiques inscrits de la Bibliothque Nationale, du Musée du Louvre et du Musé biblique de Bible et Terre Sainte. Paris: Bibliothque Nationale.
1995 Name of Israel’s Last King Surfaces in a Private Collection. Biblical Archaeology Review 21.6:49–52.
1954 The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.