Seal of Jezebel Identified

Jun 18, 2021 | Bible Archeology | 0 comments

Seal of Jezebel Identified
Bryant G. Wood, Ph.D.

In the early 1960s a collection of privately-owned ancient seals was donated to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. One of them had the name “Jezebel” on it. The late Nahman Avigad, a leading Israeli paleographer (one who studies ancient writing), published an article about the seal in 1964. He was skeptical of connecting it to Biblical Jezebel:

There is, of course, no basis for identifying the owner of our seal with this famous lady [Biblical Jezebel], although they may have been contemporaries, and the seal seems worthy of a queen (Avigad 1964: 275).

One problem was that the first letter of the name was missing (Avigad 1964: 275). Because of Avigad’s negative assessment, little attention was paid to the seal and it languished in the Israel Museum for decades. Then, Dutch researcher Marjo Korpel (Associate Professor of Old Testament, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands) became interested in it. Korpel was first drawn to the seal because of its imagery, but then became intrigued with the inscription. She noticed that a piece had broken off at the top and this could very well have been where the missing letter was originally located. She conjectured that there were initially two letters in the area of the break: a Hebrew lamed, or L, which stood for “(belonging) to” or “for,” and the missing first letter of Jezebel’s name.

Jezebel was no doubt the wickedest woman in the Bible. In the book of Revelation her name was invoked in condemning a false prophetess in Thyatira who promoted sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Rv 2:20). Even today the name is emblematic of a sinful, shameless woman. Jezebel’s name means “where is his highness (=Baal)?” (Korpel 2008: 37). Baal was the great Canaanite storm and fertility god. Jezebel’s father Ethbaal, whose name means “Baal” exists” (Avigad 1964: 275), was king of the Phoenicians (1 Kgs 16:31). The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Ethbaal was formerly a priest of Ashtoreth, consort of Baal, who usurped the throne and reigned over Tyre and Sidon for 32 years (Against Apion I.18).
In order to form a political alliance with the Phoenicians, Ahab, king of Israel (874-853 BC), married Baal-worshipping Jezebel (1 Kgs 16:31).

“Urged on by Jezebel his wife” (1 Kgs 21:25) Ahab became a follower of Baal, and even erected a temple and altar to the pagan deity in Samaria (1 Kgs 16:32). He had the distinction of being the king who “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kgs 16:33). Jezebel bore Ahab a son, Joram, who ruled Israel for 12 years from 852 to 841 BC, and she herself became a strong political figure with the title “Queen Mother” (2 Kgs 10:13).

Jezebel was zealous in her efforts to stamp out Yahwism and promote the worship of Baal. She mounted a campaign to kill the Lord’s prophets (1 Kgs 18:4, 13), while at the same time feeding 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, a female Canaanite goddess, at the royal table (1 Kgs 18:19). This led to a confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, resulting in the extermination of the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18:16-40).

Jezebel also figures prominently in the account of the appropriation of Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to greedy Ahab. Conniving Jezebel arranged to have false charges brought against Naboth which resulted in his death (1 Kgs 21). When Ahab went to take possession of the vineyard, Elijah was there with a message from God:

“I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel-slave or free…because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel’” (1 Kgs 21:21-23).

Soon after, Ahab was killed in a battle against the Arameans (1 Kgs 22:29-40). Twelve years later a prophet of the Lord anointed Jehu, a general in the Israelite army, as king of Israel with the following charge:

“You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel” (2 Kgs 9:6).

Jehu went on to wipe out Ahab’s descendants, including Jezebel’s son Joram. As the Lord had predicted through Elijah, Jezebel met a grisly end. Jehu went to the royal residence at Jezreel and found the Queen Mother, with her eyes painted and hair arranged, looking out a palace window. Jehu ordered her eunuchs to throw her out the window:

So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot. Jehu went in and ate and drank. “Take care of that cursed woman,” he said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, “This is the word of the Lord that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh” (2 Kgs 9:33-36).

Apart from the inscription, there are other features on the seal that suggest it is that of Jezebel. First, as Avigad observed, it is very fancy, indicative of royalty. It is made of gray opal and is larger than average, being 1.24 inches (31 mm) from top to bottom (Avigad 1964: 274). Secondly, the form of the letters is Phoenician, or imitates Phoenician writing (Korpel 2008: 37). Thirdly, the seal is filled with common Egyptian symbols that were often used in Phoenicia in the ninth century BC and are suggestive of a queen. At the top is a crouching winged sphinx with a woman’s face, the body of a lioness and a female Isis/Hathor crown. To the left is an Egyptian ankh, the sign of life.

In the lower register, below a winged disk, is an Egyptian-style falcon, symbol of royalty in Egypt. On either side of the falcon is a uraeus, the cobra representation of Egyptian royalty worn on crowns. At the bottom left is a lotus, a symbol often associated with royal women. All of these icons denote female royalty (Korpel 2008: 36-37). Lastly, Avigad observed, “Jezebel is a rare Phoenician name, nowhere previously documented other than in the Old Testament” (Avigad 1964; 275).

Although it is not possible to be 100% certain that the seal is that of Jezebel, Korpel’s assessment of the evidence leads her to conclude, “I believe it is very likely that we have here the seal of the famous Queen Jezebel” (2008: 37).


Avigad, Nahman

1964 The Seal of Jezebel. Israel Exploration Journal 14: 274-76.
Korpel, Marjo C.A.

2008 Fit for a Queen: Jezebel’s Royal Seal. Biblical Archaeology Review 34.2: 32-37, 80.

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