Biblical Archaeology Review 35:3, May/June 2009

Tracking Down Shebnayahu, Servant of the King

How an antiquities market find solved a 42-year-old excavation puzzle

By Robert Deutsch

In Isaiah 22 the prophet rails in God’s name against the excesses of the officials in King Hezekiah’s palace. Among those he singles out is Shebna, the steward who is “in charge of the house [palace]” (Isaiah 22:15):

What have you here and whom have you here,

That you have hewn out a tomb for yourself here?—

O you who have hewn your tomb on high;

O you who have hollowed out for yourself an abode on the cliff.

The Lord is about to shake you, fellow.

(Isaiah 22:16–17)

In 1870 the famous French diplomat, scholar and archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau excavated a partially destroyed tomb high up on the cliff overlooking the Kidron Valley and the City of David in Jerusalem. Over the entrance to the rock-cut burial chamber was an inscription that, unfortunately, he was unable to decipher.1

He cut the inscription out of the rock and sent it to the British Museum, where it is still on display.

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