Chizkiyahu’s seal and Archeology
Archaeologists recently discovered a seal stamped with the signet of Chizkiyahu HaMelech. This seal features an image of the sun with wings. How could the righteous king Chizkiyahu have a celestial image on his seal?
Firstly, the images present no halachic prohibition of drawing celestial images as this is not a drawing of the sun, rather a body with wings that represents the sun. Why a Jewish seal would have such imagery is a matter of speculation. Perhaps this represented some Jewish concept or message he was trying to convey. Perhaps it was a political issue. In any event archeological finds are not conclusive in any way, and we do not even know for certain that this seal was authentic and from Chizkiyahu himself. Presumably the king himself was not creating the seals, perhaps someone beneath him inserted such imagery on his own volition.
This brings us to an important point. Our Masores [tradition] from the Tanach [Bible] and Torah Shebal Peh [the Oral Law] is an unbroken tradition passed down from teacher to pupil and father to son in every generation. This process is and was taken very seriously, and has been the life work of many great scholars, yeshivos, families throughout the ages who were extremely careful to maintain this tradition in it’s purest, unadulterated form. Hence, our picture and idea of who Chizkiyahu Hamelech was and what his life was about is a very clear one. It is not shrouded in mystery and speculation, rather this is part of our clear unbroken tradition. There were some evil kings and some very righteous ones, as was Chizkiyahu. The Tanach and Talmud are replete with passages and teaching regarding this great Jewish leader.
Archeology on the other hand is the ultimate non science of speculation. It is sifting through ancient garbage dumps and trying to recreate a picture of what was, using historical knowledge and a hefty dose of imagination. This is not information or a tradition that was being transmitted, rather scraps and remnants of a bygone era. Maybe the seals were a misprint by the seal maker and where immediately thrown in to the royal garbage, maybe not, but whatever we say will be speculation.
So if we have some seeming contradiction between archeological finds and our tradition, it is like someone saying he found an old map that the world is flat and we should revisit the issue. At best it’s an interesting question and no more. In recent years there has been much confusion about this point. See the Rav’s Tshuvot Minchas Asher Volume 2, where in the first few tshuvot he discusses the claim of the new tcheiles that some wear on their tzitzit, based primarily on archeological finds. He clarifies at length the above point. If out Talmudic tradition clearly indicates one way, all the archeological speculation in the world has no bearing on the halachic process. Here as well “scholars” will say that we have now indication that Chizkiyahu is not who thought and other such nonsense.
How fortunate we are to be connected to our great, unbroken Tradition, which gives us access to the truth of Torah and God’s will in this world. We should merit to pass it on to the coming generation as it was passed on to us.