Scholars Debate “Jezebel” Seal
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Several people have reacted extremely critically to my proposal to identify the seal Avigad & Sass WSS No. 740 as Jezebel’s royal seal. What surprises me is the highly personal, self-confident and clearly over-heated tone of their arguments. Even though at the end of the article in BAR I refer to a scholarly publication scheduled to appear soon in Ugarit-Forschungen, my opponents could not exercise patience until that has appeared and attacked me vigorously in an often-discourteous or even rude manner. I have no inclination to rebut them in the same style, so I will discuss only their more or less scholarly documented objections, without mentioning them by name.
1. “zbl is a rather rare root.” This is plainly not true. I never implied such a thing. My academic upbringing taught me that one should always beware of accusing people of “implying” something they have not said in so many words. On the contrary, I cited several Phoenician and Hebrew personal names containing the root. The point is that the most natural way to complete the name [ ]yzbl is the reading [‘]yzbl, and I provided examples of a similar distribution of consonants on other seals.
Given the fact that in these parallels the personal name is frequently preceded by the lamed indicating ownership, there is insufficient space for the reading [lm]yzbl, let alone for a desperate attempt like [b‘l]yzbl, which some of my opponents have suggested. Unlike [‘]yzbl, a personal name [m]yzbl or [b‘l]yzbl is not attested. In my U-F article I indicate that, in view of the available space, the only other possibility is to read [h.]yzbl, which, however, is also unattested and, considering the iconography pointing to a Phoenician queen, is definitely a less likely option than attributing the seal to the attested queen Jezebel.
My critics overlook the fact that the Hebrew vocalization of the name of Jezebel is not the same as that of Zebul and Zebulun. Zebel points to the Ugaritic pronunciation of Baal’s epithet ziblu (“highness, majesty”). This in turn makes a connection with the Ugaritic Baal Myth most probable and explains why ‘yzbl was a suitable name for a Phoenician princess.
2. “Even if [‘]yzbl is the correct restoration, it might be the name of a different woman or even the name of a man,” some of my critics have remarked. Sure, this might be the case. But is it likely? No other occurrence of the name of this foreign princess has been found in Israel, neither in the Hebrew Bible nor epigraphically. In view of her (undeserved) bad reputation this is what we might expect. The background of the name in Canaanite mythology also makes it unrealistic to expect that Israelite parents would ever give this name to their son. If the seal were a man’s, this would make it very hard to account for the elements pointing to a royal female owner. In a further study that is at the press, I will also demonstrate that according to some hitherto-undetected evidence in the Hebrew Bible itself, Jezebel was seen as a lioness when she became the ruling queen-mother in Samaria.
3. “There have not been found any ninth-century B.C.E. inscribed seals in any reliable archaeological context in Israel,” say my opponents. This is an argument from silence—not the most reliable type of argument. At any moment a fresh find might refute it. Moreover, it reveals an undue faith in the reliability of archaeological dating. If Israel Finkelstein finds it necessary to adjust his chronology for the Iron Age by more than a century and is vigorously opposed by colleagues, I find it difficult to accept archaeological dating as an absolute measure when a difference of a century makes all the difference.
Moreover, we are not talking about Hebrew seals alone. Everything indicates that this is a Phoenician seal or a Hebreo-Phoenician seal. It is commonly accepted that inscribed Phoenician glyptic started in the ninth century B.C.E. (see below).
4. It is said to be problematic that the seal contains no patronymic (i.e., no “‘yzbl-daughter-of-Ethba‘al”) and no title (such as “queen”). Apart from the fact that there is no room for either addition, those who brought forward this objection are knowledgeable men who must have known very well that they were manipulating the evidence here. Especially on ancient Phoenician and Hebrew seals this kind of extra information is very often lacking. One of the most convincing examples is the carefully carved Phoenician amethyst scaraboid of Hady, now in the Louvre, and dated by most experts to the ninth century. It has detailed Egyptianizing iconography and the inscription lhady (Bordreuil 1986, No. 1; WSS No. 738).1 To quote Pierre Bordreuil in this connection:
Sur plusieurs sceaux privés coexistent un décor égyptisant et un nom propre phén. dont le patronyme n’est pas toujours mentionné.
(On many private seals, containing both Egyptian decoration and a Phoenician personal name, the patronymic is often missing.
(Bordreuil 1992, 398)
There are other inscribed seals, without iconography, that are supposed to be older than the eighth century.2 Probably my opponents will argue that they are far more competent judges than the authorities I quote and regard them as ignorant scholars who are not worth a polite scholarly answer.
5. Fortunately most of my critics recognize that some of the elements of the script on the seal might be Old Hebrew, others Phoenician. I have deliberately refrained from any attempt to date the seal on the basis of the script. Almost every time in the past when an important new addition to the epigraphic corpus was published it became necessary to revise the chronology of letter forms. In my articles I account for several aspects of the lettering, e.g., the stance of the bet, by taking into account the constraints imposed upon the scribe by the iconography that apparently had already been incised by a specialist colleague before he himself started to work on the seal. Moreover, I cited several examples of differently shaped letters in one and the same inscription, a circumstance underlining the unreliability of dating based on paleography alone. The argument that other artisans appear to have been able to overcome this kind of space constraint does not prove that every scribe was as able to do the same.
1. Further examples: WSS 85 (found at Megiddo, dated by Ussishkin in the tenth century), WSS, No. 160 (found at Megiddo, dated by Ussishkin in the tenth century), WSS No. 377 (ninth-eighth centuries), No. 938 (ninth-eighth centuries), WSS, No. 1041 (ninth century; also Herr 1978: ninth century), WSS No. 1124 (found at Megiddo, dated by Ussishkin in the tenth century), WSS No. 1165 (found near Tel Dan, ninth-eighth centuries, Herr 1978, 47, No. 97, opts for the ninth century); Deutsch & Lemaire 2000 No. 136 (ninth-eighth centuries).
2. WSS, No. 1067 (tenth-ninth centuries; Cross even thinks it may be 12th century, while Renz & Röllig, HAE, vol. 2/2, 117, opt for the ninth century); Herr 1978, 148, No. 161 (ninth century); Herr 1978, 149, No. 163 (ninth-eighth centuries).
P. Bordreuil, Catalogue des sceaux ouest-sémitiques inscrits, Paris 1986.
P. Bordreuil, “Sceaux,” in: E. Lipinski et al. (eds), Dictionnaire de la Civilisation phénicienne et punique, Brepols (n.p.) 1992.
R. Deutsch & A. Lemaire, Biblical Period Personal Seals in the Shlomo Mousaiieff Collection, Tel Aviv 2000.
L.G. Herr, The Scripts of Ancient Northwest Semitic Seals, Missoula 1978.
D. Ussishkin, “Gate 1567 at Megiddo and the Seal of Shema, Servant of Jeroboam,” in: M. Coogan et al. (eds.), Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King, Louisville 1994, pp. 410-428, especially pp. 419-424.
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