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Notebook Science

Sealed evidence

The seal of King Hezekiah (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; Photographed by Ouria Tadmor)

Trevor Douglas

An artist’s rendering of P22-Hyd, a new biomaterial created by encapsulating a hydrogen-producing enzyme within a virus shell.

PNAS

David Mangelsdorf

Science

Sealed evidence

Temple Mount discovery backs up the biblical account

The recent discovery of King Hezekiah’s royal seal is more than an archaeological amusement. It affirms the Bible’s accuracy by bolstering the biblical depiction of Jerusalem.

Archaeologists at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem unearthed the 2,700-year-old bulla, made of inscribed clay, during excavations at the Temple Mount. Previously known impressions of Hezekiah’s seal have in many cases come from thieves, making their authenticity questionable.

“Although seal impressions bearing King Hezekiah’s name have already been known from the antiquities market since the middle of the 1990s, some with a winged scarab (dung beetle) symbol and others with a winged sun, this is the first time that a seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king has ever come to light in a scientific archaeological excavation,” Eilat Mazar, director of the dig, told media outlets.

Mazar’s team excavated the bulla near a royal food storage building dating to the time of King Solomon. The bulla’s discovery at the site of Solomon’s Temple affirms the Bible’s depiction of Jerusalem as the administrative center of the kingdom of Judah, a fact many archaeologists have disputed, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The seal depicts two ankhs, symbols of life, flanking a winged sun with the two wings turned protectively downward. It bears the script, “Belonging to Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah.”

Even though King Hezekiah was a vassal of Assyria, he maintained Judah’s independence during his reign. It appears that at some point Hezekiah changed his seal emblem from a scarab beetle, a symbol of power and rule, to the winged-sun motif, a symbol of God’s protection. The archaeologists speculate that the change may indicate Hezekiah’s increased dependence on God’s protection as Assyria became an increasing threat.

The researchers also believe the addition of the ankh may suggest Hezekiah changed his seal after God healed him from the life-threatening illness described in 2 Kings 20:1-11.

Hydro power

Scientists from Indiana University say they have created viruses that can convert water into hydrogen, a breakthrough that could someday make hydrogen-powered cars practical.

The researchers modified two genes from the common bacteria E. coli and then incorporated them into a virus. The result, they reported in Nature Chemistry online in December, is a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly biomaterial that absorbs protons and spits out hydrogen. The material could potentially be less expensive than platinum—a rare metal already used to catalyze hydrogen production.

“You don’t need to mine it,” said lead researcher Trevor Douglas in a statement. “You can create it at room temperature on a massive scale using fermentation technology.” —J.B.

Curtail the cravings

The antidote for a sweet tooth may lie in your liver. Two separate research teams have discovered a liver hormone that works in the brain’s reward center to reduce cravings for both sweets and alcohol.

The liver produces the hormone, called “fibroblast growth factor 21,” in response to environmental stress, such as extreme dietary changes or exposure to cold temperatures, and during carbohydrate consumption.

The scientists, reporting on Cell Metabolism’s website in December, found that the hormone “markedly reduces sweet and alcohol preference in mice, and sweet preference in larger animal models,” said co-author David Mangelsdorf. They hope the discovery could help treat obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and alcoholism. —J.B.