It was a remarkable find, mostly because of its obscurity. Archaeologists working in Old Jerusalem found a small, burnt, clay bulla with the name “Natan-Melech, servant of the king” estimated to be 2,600 years old.
Signet rings or seals were used to impress the owner’s official stamp in clay or wax to seal a document. It not only spoke of the person’s status, but verified the item’s authencity.
Archaeologists discovered it beneath a parking lot in an ancient administrative center of Jerusalem. The building that they were working on was two stories high and had suffered extensive damage due to fire probably during Babylon’s attack on Jerusalem in 586 BC.
What is particularly amazing about this bulla is that it refers to a man mentioned only once in the Old Testament.It was like finding a needle in the haystack. Incredibly archaeology is verifying the existence of the most obscure people in the Bible.
Though they are not absolutely certain that this is the same man, archaeologists working on the site are convinced it is. Even those who do not look on the Bible as authoritative are grudgingly admitting it probably is the same person.
So what does the Bible have to say about Natan?
11 He did away with the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the official, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. (2 Kings 23:11 NASV)
First the bulla not only has the same name as recorded in the Bible, it was found in the right time frame and within the city’s administrative center which confirms the Bible’s description of Natan as an official of King Josiah. The bulla does use a different title, but it was common for high government officials to use “servant of the King” on their bullas.
What is also unusual is that the bulla does not give Natan’s last name. Speaking on behalf of Israel Antiquity Authority, Dr Anat Mendel-Geberovich stated the lack of a surname indicated his celebrity status. Natan was the equivalent of an “Adele” in our modern society.
Nathan came to forefront during King Josiah’s reign who restored the worship of Jehovah. As part of this reform, King Josiah did away with the horses and chariots associated with the sun-god worship set up near the temple.
It is uncertain which of the earlier kings did this, but horses and chariots were used because people believed the sun was carried across the sky by a chariot pulled by four horses.
King Josiah ordered the horses put down and Nathan was responsible for destroying the chariots.
It is a bit curious why Josiah did this, but I suspect it was similar to what happened at the fall of Jericho, when Joshua warned:
18 And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it. (Joshua 6:18 NKJ).
Joshua said that because the items in Jericho were accursed, the Israelis would become accursed if they touched them.
The Hebrew word “cherem,” translated “accursed” literally means devoted or dedicated. In the case of Jericho, the city was devoted to some god and because of that if people took any items, it could be transferred on them. They would become accursed or subject to the demonic associated with that god (Deuteronomy 32:16-17). It was also common for items dedicated to other gods to have curses put on them in case people tried to take them.
And that is what happened. When Jericho fell, a man named Achan took some items (Joshua 7:1-2). Because of this, Israel was now vulnerable to demonic attack and this is exactly what happened when Joshua sent troops to take Ai, a small outpost of Jericho. Israel was soundly defeated in the battle and dozens of men died. As a result of this unexpected defeat, Joshua realized that someone must have secretly taken booty from Jericho.
King Josiah may have ordered the destruction of these items dedicated to the sun-god worship for a similar reason.