Archaeology ‘surprise’

The discovery in Jerusalem of relics said to be from the time of Nehemiah has ‘amazed’ and ‘astonished’ archaeologists


Update: We have been alerted to the fact that Israeli archaeologist Dr Eilat Mazar has subsequently revised her reading of the seal referred to in our article below after various epigraphers around the world critiqued her original interpretation that the name on the seal read ‘Temech’. They said Dr Mazar had erred by reading the inscription on the seal from right to left (the normal direction of Hebrew) rather than backwards (i.e. from left to right), as a result of the fact that a seal creates a mirror image when used to inscribe a piece of clay.

The critics suggested that the correct reading of the seal is actually ‘Shlomit’, also a biblical name (see 1 Chronicles 3:19). Dr Mazar said (as reported in The Jerusalem Post*) that she accepts the reading of ‘Shlomit’ on the ancient seal, noting that the name Shlomit was known in the period from which the seal dated, and that other contemporary seals had been found that bore names of women who held official status in administration.

Further update: Dr Mazar died on 25 May 2021 aged 64 after a long illness.

* Lefkovits, E., Archaeologist revises read of ancient seal inscription, The Jerusalem Post, <www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1202064580435&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull>, 4 February 2008.

When archaeologists in Jerusalem uncovered last year what they believe to be part of the wall rebuilt by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:17–6:15), it took them very much by surprise.1

‘We were amazed,’ admitted team leader Dr Eilat Mazar, also noting that the discovery was made at a time when many scholars argued that the wall did not exist.

The discovery was apparently accidental—the result of a rescue attempt on a tower in danger of collapse. ‘This was a great surprise. It was something we didn’t plan’, Mazar said.

Dr Mazar is head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based research and educational institute, and more recently she and her team have made the news headlines again. This time it was because of their discovery of an ancient stone seal from the dig in Jerusalem.2

Nehemiah 7:55

The stone seal has the name ‘Temech’ engraved on it. Now it just so happens that the book of Nehemiah in the Bible also mentions ‘Temech’. It refers to the ‘descendants of Temech’ in Nehemiah 7:55 (Hebrew תמח, sometimes transliterated Temach, Temah or Tamah) as being among the temple servants (7:46) who returned to Jerusalem and Judah from the exile in Babylon (7:6).

Dr Mazar said the seal was found just dozens of metres away from the Opel (or Ophel) area, where the servants of the temple lived in the time of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11:21).

‘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,’ she said. ‘One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find.’

Actually, there’s really no need to be ‘astonished’, ‘amazed’ and ‘surprised’ that the Bible is a credible account of history. God has indeed spoken by His prophets (2 Peter 1:20–21, Hebrews 1:1), He never lies (Titus 1:2), and the Bible is a reliable record of that, which can be trusted (2 Timothy 3:15–17).

Published: 27 June 2008


  1. Doherty, R., Elusive biblical wall found at last, scholar says—Discovery, made in Jerusalem’s ancient city of David, was a ‘great surprise’, MSNBC.com, <www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22031220/>, 11 December 2007. Return to text.
  2. Lefkovits, E., First Temple seal found in Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post, <www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1200475897717>, 17 January 2008. Return to text.