Seal of King Zedekiah

Discovery of the seal of King Zedekiah

by Jacques Abourbih

The haftarah to parasha Matot that we read last week continues with the second installment of the three special Haftarot of Admonition corresponding to the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av, and pick up from where we left off last week on Sabbat Tammuz 17. The haftarah is taken from Jeremiah 2:4-28. In this last encounter with the Prophet Jeremiah for this year his plaintive cry of Eich (Jer. 2:23) the opening ‘Eichah’ of Lamentations we read on 9th of Av.

Unlike the most outlandish TV cop tools on CSI Luminol is an actual chemical that glows greenish-blue when it comes into contact with blood even traces that are years old. To be exact, it reacts to hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in red-blood cells. Luminol is so sensitive, it can detect blood at 1 part per million. In other words, if there is one drop of blood within a container of 999,999 drops of water, luminol will glow.’

Bloodstains certainly have a way of indelibly marking one’s guilt. No matter how hard Lady Macbeth scrubs, she can’t get her hands clean. “Out, damn’d spot.” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act I:V).  Jeremiah uses a similar washing metaphor: “Though you wash yourself with lye (neter), and use more and more soap, the stain of your guilt remains before Me, says Your Lord G-d” (Jer. 2:22). Incidentally the word nitrate or nitrite in English is derived from the Hebrew term Neter.

Having committed a transgression neither neter nor washing in water will cleanse that damn spot of blood. The trouble is there will always be G-d’s Luminol to show the blood of guilt.  By contrast, Jeremiah understands that bathing physically and spiritually in the living waters of Mikveh Yisrael provides the fountain of Living Waters that has offered a gateway to purity ever since the creation of Man.

The covenant with the Fountain of Living waters, the Mikveh,  is individual. Yet because of it Jeremiah promises this blessing to the Jewish people: “Nations shall bless themselves by you and praise themselves by you” (Jeremiah 4:2).

The book of Jeremiah depicts a remarkably introspective prophet, a prophet struggling with and often overpowered by the role into which he has been thrust. He remains an  overwhelming Biblical figure brought to life again from history with the discovery in Jerusalem yesterday (July 31st 2008) of a seal impression belonging to a minister of King Zedekiah which dates back 2,600 years. It has been uncovered completely intact during an archeological dig in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David.

The seal impression, or bulla, with the name Gedalyahu ben Pashur, who served as minister to King Zedekiah (597-586 BCE) according to the Book of Jeremiah, was found just meters away from a separate seal impression of another of Zedekiah’s ministers, Yehukual ben Shelemyahu, which was uncovered three years ago. They were found outside the walls of the Old City near Dung Gate known as Sha’ar Ha’ashpot. ( The name Sha’ar Ha’ashpot appears in the Book of Nehemiah 3:13-14. It is probably named after the residue that was taken from the Temple into the Valley of Hinnom, where it was burned. Bodies of criminals and animal carcasses were also burned there—hence the word Gehinnom, or Hell. The Valley of Hinnom  became  metaphorically identified with the entrance to the underworld of punishmen (Gehinnom)t in the afterlife.)

In the beginning of the reign of Yehoiakim, the enmity of the people against the prophet was expressed with persecution against him. By the time Zedekiah became king the enmity grew further. Both ministers are mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38 1-4) along with two other ministers when they came to King Zedekiah demanding the death of the prophet Jeremiah for preaching to the besieged city to surrender.