Ancient Hebrew Artifact Found in Russia May Confirm Biblical Prophecy
A seal bearing an inscription in ancient Hebrew was found in Russian territory north of the Black Sea. Why is this discovery significant?
This past summer, an amazing discovery was made near Rostov-on-Don, a Russian port city on the north coast of the Black Sea. Archaeologists were excavating the 2,000-year-old tomb of a Sarmatian noblewoman. To their surprise, among the artifacts discovered in the tomb was an object they never expected to be there: a carnelian seal engraved in ancient Hebrew!
The inscription on the seal simply bears the name “Elyashib” (or “Elyashiv”). This was a common Hebrew name, meaning “God restores” and is actually found in 15 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. Archaeologists have dated the other contents of the tomb to sometime between the first century B.C. and the first century (around the time of Jesus Christ’s life), but the seal is centuries older.
This has left the archaeological world puzzled. Blogger Jim Davila, who writes a blog called PaleoJudaica.com about ancient Judaism and archaeology, summed up the biggest question that stems from this discovery: “The big question is, what was this turn-of-the-era Sarmatian woman in Russia doing with a Northwest Semitic seal from four to eight centuries before her time?”
Haaretz, an Israeli news source, asked: “How might a Judean gemstone have made its way to a Black Sea warrior woman’s collection?”
Archaeologists and historians have not yet published a theory to answer that question, but it is likely they will speculate that it is merely an example of trade in the ancient world.
But could there possibly be more to it? In fact, it is very possible that this discovery sheds light on an even greater ancient mystery.
The big question is, what was this turn-of-the-era Sarmatian woman in Russia doing with a Northwest Semitic seal from four to eight centuries before her time?What happened to the lost 10 tribes?
One of the greatest mysteries of the Bible is the disappearance of the northern 10 tribes of Israel. The Bible records that in 721 B.C., the northern 10 tribes were defeated by the Assyrian Empire and taken into captivity: “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6).
The southern kingdom of Judah escaped Assyrian captivity (verse 18) and continued living in the land surrounding Jerusalem until they were taken captive by Babylon approximately 130 years later. The people of Judah retained their identity and some eventually returned to the Holy Land (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Their descendants are easily recognizable, being known as Jews to this day.
But the northern tribes never returned to their homeland.
In fact, shortly after they were taken captive by the Assyrians, the Assyrian Empire descended into chaos as it unraveled and eventually fell in 612 B.C. Within that chaos, the thousands of Israelites who were held captive in different regions of the former Assyrian Empire simply disappeared. There is no historical record of the captive Israelites after Assyria’s fall. Because historians cannot identify what became of them, they have become known as the lost 10 tribes of Israel.
Some speculate that they were assimilated into the populations of their captors and simply do not exist anymore. Others speculate that they all assimilated with their Jewish relatives and are mixed among the Jews today. But not only do those theories lack evidence, they ignore some very specific prophecies God made about the northern 10 tribes.
The 10 tribes did not disappear
God inspired several of His prophets to prophesy about the Israelites’ future after their captivity. Those prophets declared that the captive Israelites would continue to exist as a distinct people who would migrate out of the Middle East region:
- The prophet Hosea said they would become “wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17).
- The prophet Zechariah said God would “sow them among the peoples” (Zechariah 10:9).
- The prophet Amos said that God would “sift the house of Israel among all nations” (Amos 9:9).
They would not disappear or integrate with the Jews. They would wander and be sifted—not being directly identifiable by their former tribal names. On top of those prophecies, there were earlier prophecies made about the future of these people that were never fulfilled in ancient times. They were to be fulfilled in modern times—the last days (Genesis 49:1).
The Israelites traced through other names
Around the same time the Israelites vanished from the historical record, tribes with other names emerged—almost suddenly—in the same region. Those peoples are primarily known as the Cimmerians and the Scythians.
Around the seventh century B.C., these two large groupings of tribal people appear in the historical record in close proximity to where the Israelites were held in captivity. The Cimmerians were found primarily on the southern shores of the Black Sea (in modern-day Turkey), while the Scythians were found on the eastern edges of the old Assyrian empire (in modern-day Iran). But neither of these groups stayed in the area. The Cimmerians began migrating northwest into continental Europe and became known to the Greeks as the Keltoi, eventually being labeled Celts by the Romans. The Scythians migrated north of the Black Sea, where they occupied the Crimean region until roughly A.D. 200.
Within these migrant, tribal peoples were the Israelites. Just as the prophecies said, they did become wandering peoples—losing their identity and being sifted among different peoples and nations. But, as God promised through the prophet Amos, they never ceased to exist (Amos 9:9).
What happened to the Scythians?
The Scythians remained in the northern Black Sea region for roughly six centuries—trading with the Greeks and developing sophisticated forms of art (which would later show up in other parts of northwest Europe). Unfortunately, all we know about them is from the art and burial grounds they left behind, because they left no written records.
The Scythians slowly began to be pushed out of the northern Black Sea region by another group of tribes coming from the east, the regions surrounding the Caspian Sea. These tribes that drove the Scythians west from the Black Sea region are known in history as the Sarmatians.
Yes, the Sarmatians—like the noblewoman whose tomb included the Israelite artifact that was recently found!
History records that “the Sarmatians gradually occupied Scythian territory, pushing the Scythians themselves westwards toward the Danube delta” (Neal Ascherson, Black Sea, 1995, p. 210). The Sarmatians gradually displaced the Scythians between fourth century B.C. and the third century after Christ. Many of the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe are descendants of the ancient Sarmatians.
The Scythians, driven out of the Black Sea region, continued migrating northwest into continental Europe, where they were later sifted through the many tribal peoples wandering along the northern edges of the Roman Empire. They eventually reemerged in the historical record as Angles and Saxons—the two primary tribes who capitalized on the retreat of the Roman Empire to conquer the British Isles.
The recent archaeological discovery
The recent Russian discovery of the Hebrew artifact is very interesting when we consider the identity and migrations of the lost 10 tribes.
Historians believe the tomb of the Sarmatian woman dates to sometime between first century B.C. and the first century of the Christian era. This is significant because it coincides with the timeframe that the Sarmatians were warring with the Scythians and pushing them out of the region.
When we understand that the Scythians included descendants of the northern 10 tribes of Israel, the discovery of a seal bearing ancient Hebrew should not be surprising. In fact, it makes perfect sense! This seal was likely on the person of one of the Israelite captives when they were removed to Assyria in the eighth century B.C. As the descendants of this Israelite captive lost their identity and migrated north as Scythians, they kept this artifact with them, transporting it to the Black Sea region, where they settled for a long period of time.
We can only speculate how it ended up in the Sarmatian grave. But here are a few reasonable possibilities:
- Perhaps, as the Sarmatians overran the Scythians, the seal was left behind by its fleeing owner, and was later found by a Sarmatian, who kept it as a souvenir.
- Perhaps the artifact was taken as plunder from the retreating Scythians and was kept by this Sarmatian noblewoman’s family as a relic to commemorate her people’s victory.
- Perhaps the grave is actually that of a Scythian who remained in the region after the Sarmatians drove out the majority of the Scythians.
We can only speculate about specifics, but what we do know is that this discovery should not surprise us. A correct understanding of the Bible and secular history provides a definite link between the Black Sea region and the ancient Israelites. Since the Sarmatians were interacting with the Scythians at this time, it is not surprising that an artifact dating back to ancient Israel would be found among them.
We are currently preparing a booklet that traces the identity of the lost 10 tribes from their captivity in Assyria to their modern identity today. This booklet will show how the Israelites lost their identity, became known by various names as they migrated northwest through Europe and emerged as modern nations today, including the American and British peoples.
This story is not only fascinating, but it has enormous implications for our world today.
Until our new booklet is published, you can read a condensed version in our material on “12 Tribes of Israel Today: Who Are They?” and “Who Are the United States and Britain in Prophecy?” and related articles on LifeHopeandTruth.com.