Dutch researcher claims to confirm Queen Jezebel's seal
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.)
"As a minister, I never speak of coincidence, but my research happened by chance," Korpel told Haaretz last week. "I was asked to deliver a paper on female embodiment. I'm not much of a feminist, but I'd written on the imagery of the seal."
Korpel says she had probably seen the seal years before on a visit to the Israel Museum, but only much later did it spark her interest. "The missing letters on the top intrigued me. I was used to reconstructing broken texts from earlier research."
Upon hearing of Korpel's research, Dr. Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University said he believed the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Museum have in their possession many more articles carrying unnoticed historical clues. "Not all the artifacts have been thoroughly examined," he said. "There are many discoveries waiting to be made." Misgav added he would have to study Korpel's work more thoroughly to further comment on it.
The seal is expected to be put on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem when it reopens after renovation work currently under way is finished.
Following her discovery, Korpel, 48, had to contend with a media onslaught. The seal's story has so far been featured in national and local newspapers and magazines. "The phone is ringing off the hook!" Korpel says. "The local paper here even ran a cover picture of me. I felt a bit awkward going to the corner shop for a while."
As a researcher, Korpel will only say she thinks her research serves to prove the seal belonged to Jezebel. "True, there is no way of knowing for sure where the seal comes from. Theoretically, it could come from anywhere. 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."
Miriam Feinberg Vamosh contributed to this article.