(photo credit: Courtesy)
An ancient seal that surfaced in Israel more than four decades ago belonged to the biblical Queen Jezebel, according to a new study released on Tuesday by a Dutch university.
The seal, which some scholars date to the ninth century BCE, was first discovered in 1964 by the Israeli archeologist Nahman Avigad, with the name "Yzbl" inscribed in ancient Hebrew, Utrecht University said.
Although it was initially assumed that the seal belonged to Jezebel, the powerful and reviled Phoenician wife of the Jewish King Ahab, there was uncertainty regarding the original owner both because the spelling of the name was erroneous, and because the personal seal could easily have belonged to another woman of the same name.
Moreover, the unknown origin of the seal, which was not found in an official excavation but purchased on the antiquities market in Israel, has left Israeli archeologists uncertain of its ownership for the last 40 years.
But the study by Utrecht University Old Testament scholar and Protestant minister Dr. Marjo Korpel, 48, concludes that the seal must have belonged to Jezebel, based on the symbols that appear on it.
The seal, which was donated to the Israel Department of Antiquities in the early 1960s by the private Voss-Hahn collection, not only bears symbols that indicate a female owner but also "well-worked" symbols that designate that owner as royalty, Korpel said.
Moreover, the seal is exceptionally large compared to those commonly possessed by ordinary citizens, she added.
Korpel, who is not an archeologist, suggested that the upper edge of the seal, which is chipped off, must have originally included two broken-off letters that would have correctly spelled Jezebel's name.
Korpel conceded that her thesis was "a real hypothesis" that remained uncorroborated by any archeological bodies, including the Israel Antiquities Authority, and that it had been reached by a process of elimination.
"You can never say 100 percent sure, but I am 90% sure," Korpel told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from the Netherlands.
The bible, in Kings I and II, portrays Jezebel as a powerful woman who exerted enormous influence on her husband, turning him away from God and toward the worship of the idol Baal.
She seized the opportunity to manipulate the country's affairs by devious means, including using her husband's seal to forge letters, the bible relates.
After slaughtering God's prophets, she was confronted by the prophet Elijah who charged her with abominations. She was eventually thrown to her death from a window, and her corpse was eaten by dogs.
The Utrecht study, which has been published in the the Journal for Semitics, indicates that Jezebel possessed her own seal, enabling her to operate independently of Ahab.
The seal will go on display at the Israel Museum in 2010 when renovation work at the museum is completed, a museum spokeswoman said.