Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dutch researcher claims to confirm Queen Jezebel's seal
By Cnaan Liphshiz (Haaretz)

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. (See box.)

The "box" can be found here.
To show the seal belonged to Queen Jezebel, Dr. Korpel had to address one crucial matter: The seal reads YZBL, whereas Jezebel's name was known to begin with aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. By comparing the seal with similar signets from the same historical period, Korpel showed that seals commonly carried two letters on the top part - precisely where Jezebel's seal was missing a small piece. In keeping with the known pattern from other seals, the first missing letter is almost certainly the possessive lamed. This means the seal probably carried one other letter - the first letter of the owner's name.
Also, Joseph I. Lauer points to Dutch publications here and here which have pictures.

A few comments. If the seal was found in 1964 it's not a product of the forgery ring that seems to have produced a lot of supposedly Bible-related inscriptions somewhat later on. Nevertheless, the seal is unprovenanced, which should make us nervous. Biblical Archaeology Review is a respected popular magazine that has a lot of good articles, but I would like to see the case made in a peer-review journal. Stay tuned.

UPDATE (12 October): Duane Smith comments at Abnormal Interests.