Thursday, October 11, 2007

Seal of Jezebel

1 Kings 21:8 - So [Jezebel] wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived in the same town…

It is not unusual for artifacts that were discovered long ago to be re-evaluated in light of new research. Sometimes these artifacts are already sitting on display in museums.

One recent example of this happening involves an ancient seal. The March/April 1993 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review talked about a seal that a Dutch researcher now believes she can connect with the famous wife of King Ahab, Queen Jezebel. Here is an excerpt from an article in Haaretz, which is an Israeli newspaper:
For some 40 years, one of the flashiest opal signets on display at the Israel Museum had remained without accurate historical context. Two weeks ago, Dutch researcher Marjo Korpel identified article IDAM 65-321 as the official seal of Queen Jezebel, one of the bible's most powerful and reviled women.

Israeli archaeologists had suspected Jezebel was the owner ever since the seal was first documented in 1964. "Did it belong to Ahab's Phoenician wife?" wrote the late pioneering archaeologist Nahman Avigad of the seal, which he obtained through the antiquities market. "Though fit for a queen, coming from the right period and bearing a rare name documented nowhere other than in the Hebrew Bible, we can never know for sure."

Avigad's cautious approach stemmed from the fact that the seal did not come from an officially-approved excavation. It was thought to come from Samaria in the ninth century B.C.E., but there was no way of knowing for certain where it had been found. And that has been the scientific hurdle that Korpel - a theologian and Ugaritologist from Utrecht University and a Protestant minister - set out to conquer.

In her paper, scheduled to appear in the highly-respected Biblical Archaeology Review, Korpel lists observations pertaining to the seal's symbolism, unusual size, shape and time period. By way of elimination, she shows Jezebel as the only plausible owner. She also explains how two missing letters from the seal point to the Phoenician shrew....

But speaking as a private person, I am in my mind 99 percent sure that it belonged to Jezebel," she says after some coaxing.

However, Korpel is not an archaeologist, and her research of archaeological findings is essentially textual. "I have thought about this. But many research fields see important discoveries by researchers from related fields," she says. "I admit my solution for the seal of Jezebel is quite simple. But then, so was the invention of the paper clip."

Here is an additional update printed in Haaretz that explains why "Jezebel" is spelled incorrectly on the seal.

Update (10/11): This Dutch website has a photo of the seal with each letter identified.

I'm not sure that this discovery has real big apologetic value, other than it is provides yet another example of how biblical history intersects with real history. But I thought it was interesting.

Photo credit: Seal of Jezebel.
Israel Antiquities Authority Collection, exhibited at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Photo © Israel Museum, Jerusalem

P.S. A credit to Todd Bolen for a heads up on this story.

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