In 2008, Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced a remarkable discovery. While working near a guard tower from the remains of King David’s ancient palace, her team discovered a bulla with the name Ben Pashur inscribed on it.
People of importance had seals which they imprinted either on wet clay or wax that would seal an official document verifying its authorship and authenticity.
In this case, the seal with Pashur’s name on it had been imprinted in clay. But Mazar was amazed it had survived. The bulla should have dissolved in damp ground surrounding it, but it didn’t. This was because it had been hardened in a fire that undoubtedly destroyed the document that it was sealing, but preserved the bulla.
But there was more to this story. In 2006, at this very same location, Mazur’s team had discovered another bulla with the name Yehuchal ben Shelemayahu on it. Similar to Pashur’s bulla it had been fired and preserved as well.
Both bullas are in pristine condition and there is no doubt who they belong too as both names are clearly visible.
This is where the story takes an interesting turn.
The men on these two bullas are not only mentioned in the Bible, but they are cited in the same verse:
38 Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, and Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, and Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchijah heard the words that Jeremiah was speaking to all the people, saying, (Jeremiah 38:1 NASV)
They were both advisors in King Zedekiah’s court. According to the Bible, Pashur held a particularly important position as he was the priest in charge of the Temple (Jeremiah 20:1). These bullas clearly help confirm the Bible’s account of the story.
At this point in history, Judah was a vassal to Babylon meaning Israel was paying tribute and the Babylonian King was appointing the Kings of Judah. Zedekiah was King Nebuchadnezzar’s most recent appointee. In fact, Zedekiah’s real name was Mattaniah, but to demonstrate who was really in control, Nebuchadnezzar ordered Mattaniah’s name changed to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17).
However, once on the throne Zedekiah had other ideas and in his ninth year, Zedekiah decided to break free from Babylon’s control. This typically meant he refused to pay the annual tribute.
In response, Nebuchadnezzar sent his army and surrounded Jerusalem. Unless the city surrendered, these sieges often lasted several months, even years, before the walls were finally breached. In Jerusalem’s case, it would take two years.
Zedekiah took the dangerous move because he was expecting Egypt to come to Judah’s aid in this fight, but the Pharaoh withdrew his support (Jeremiah 37:4-8).
During the Babylonian siege, when Zedekiah asked the Prophet Jeremiah to pray for Jerusalem, Jeremiah delivered a completely different message telling Zedekiah that Jerusalem was being judged by God. If the king continued to resist, God would send a plague and Babylon would breach the city’s walls killing thousands. Those who survived would be dragged off into captivity.
But Jeremiah said there was a way out. If Zedekiah surrendered, though they would still end up in captivity, the people would be spared death (Jeremiah 21:9).
However, Zedekiah had his own band of false prophets predicting that Judah would prevail over Babylon, chief among them was a man named Hananiah. It seems that Pashur was also one of those false prophets (Jeremiah 20:6).
And when Jeremiah showed up at the palace with a yoke around his neck predicting the Jews’ captivity, Hananiah ripped the yoke off Jeremiah’s neck and destroyed it prophesying that God was going to destroy Babylon. Jeremiah responded by predicting Hananiah’s death within the year, which came to pass confirming Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 28).
Jeremiah’s contradictory message was clearly undermining Pashur’s position in Zedekiah’s court. By this point, the people of Jerusalem’s were undoubtedly questioning Zedekiah’s decision to hold out against Babylon.
Pashur in particular wanted Zedekiah to execute Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:1-4). Zedekiah did not take this advice and instead threw Jeremiah into prison twice. Perhaps Zedekiah was hoping a bit of jail time would soften Jeremiah’s message.
But even in prison, Jeremiah refused to compromise his message.
Unable to execute Jeremiah, Pashur ordered Jeremiah flogged and put in a stocks for all of Jerusalem to see. Once released, Jeremiah condemned Pashur predicting he would be taken into captivity and everyone would know he was responsible for the destruction of the city and the temple because of his false prophecies (Jeremiah 20:1-6). The irony being Pashur was responsible for the Temple’s safe keeping.
In 586 BC, Babylon breached the walls of Jerusalem destroying the city and the temple. They killed thousands of Jews and hauled the rest into captivity. Curiously at this point starts one of the Bible’s greatest mysteries: What happened to the Jewish Jewish Ark of the Covenant? The Babylonians took all the temple furniture as booty except the coveted Ark of the Covenant.
Archaeologists suspect the fires associated with Jerusalem’s destruction may have been what preserved the two bullas.
Zedekiah tried to flee the city before it fell but was captured by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. They forced Zedekiah to watch his sons being executed and then gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes. The last thing the Jewish king saw was his son’s execution (Jeremiah 52:10-11). Zedekiah died years later in Babylonian captivity.
The Book of Jeremiah difficulties
I should point out that one of the major problems in understanding the Book of Jeremiah is that it is a compilation of prophesies and incidents that happened in Jeremiah’s life, but they are not in chronological order.
They seem to be lumped together by subject. For example the prophesies about Jerusalem’s captivity are found in one section and prophecies about Judah’s restoration found in another section. So in our modern Bible you have prophecies and incidents that happened at the same time chronologically found in completely different chapters, often pages apart.