International Women’s Day 2014

stop femminicidio

This is picture is from a Brindisi online news source. That’s me 2nd from the left.

Last year on International Women’s Day I joined a number of women in a night march through the town of Brindisi. We walked silently along the main street, 5 meters apart from each other. Each of us wore a placard with the name of a woman who had been killed in the last year in Italy at the hands of a relative. Mine listed a 70 year-old woman killed by her grandson. Everyone came to a stop on the sidewalks. The cars unable to move quit honking their horns. The city became quiet, watching over 147 women walk with purpose. I expected insults in this extremely conservative part of a very conservative country, but instead I felt great respect for our actions. We gathered in the main square and one by one we stepped up to the loudspeaker and recited the information on our card (in Italian! I’m so proud of myself!). Then we laid out a pair of red shoes in the piazza. By the end of the procession, the main square of Brindisi was paved with the red shoes of every kind. My friend Maggie spray-painted a pair of pumps in the parking lot just prior to the march. I set them down in the sea of shoes, grateful for the opportunity to participate in an international call for women’s rights.

This year, in the same spirit of remembering lost women, I’m bringing to your attention an example of an ancient historical woman being overlooked by “malestream” scholarship. In the March/April edition of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Lawrence Mykytiuk wrote an article entitled “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” I was surprised to discovered that not one woman was mentioned in the list. Primarily I wondered why Queen Jezebel’s seal was missing. Even the same publication discussed this archaeological discovered in and article by the title of “Fit for a Queen: Jezebel’s Royal Seal.” When I return to the states and have access once again to my library, I will tell you much more about the notorious queen known for her evil ways. You will learn that there is another side to the woman we’ve love to hate for millennium.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 9.16.28 PM

Photo credit: Israel Museum, Jerusalem

In the meantime, let me tell you about the archaeological evidence for this historical figure. In ancient Israel, documents were tied with a cord then dolloped with wet clay which was then pressed with the person’s unique seal. Thousand of these seals have been recovered in Israel, but only 35 belonged to women. Only the most elite women possessed their own signets. Jezebel’s seal came from a private collection and came to scholars’ attention in 1960 when it was donated to the Israel Department of Antiquities. The famous paleographer, Nahman Avigad published the finding, explaining that it bore the inscription YZBL (יזבל), which spells Jezebel in Hebrew. It’s actually a rare Phoenician name and the seal is filled with popular Egyptian symbols, the fad in Phoenicia at the time. However, the depiction of a winged sphinx, winged sun disk and a falcon were symbols usually reserved for royalty. “So, independent of the name of the owner, the iconography definitely suggests a queen,” Korpel writes. The size and intricacy of the seal suggests a prominent owner, all in keeping with Jezebel’s royal heritage. And one more thing, the style of the letters on the signet is Phoenician. All these tale-tale signs add up to one conclusion: “it is very likely that we have here the seal of the famous Queen Jezebel” (Korpel).

So I wrote to the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review calling to attention the oversight of Jezebel’s seal. Every day the author of the article about the 50 historical biblical people confirmed by archaeology replied online to a large number of letters to the editor, all of which discussed the men on the list. I waited a week for my inquiry to appear in the comments section (which you can access here. It appears that my input is not worthy of being posted, much less commented upon.

All of this makes me wonder what other women have been overlooked by scholars. It is this kind of erasure of ancient women’s history that keeps me fired up in my mission to bring their stories to light. Thank you Biblical Archaeology Review for the inspiration to keep doing what I love to do!

For Further Reading

Korpel, Marjo C.A. “Fit for a Queen: Jezebel’s Royal Seal.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2008, 32-37, 80.

Marjo C.A. Korpel, “Seals of Jezebel and Other Women in Authority,” Journal for Semitics 15 (2006), p.349 (www.sasnes.org.za/SASNES_Journal_for_Semitics.htm. PDF available from www.otw-site.eu/en/news-en.php).

Mykytiuk, Lawrence. “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Mar/Apr 2014.

 

 

11 thoughts on “International Women’s Day 2014

  1. Hi Robin,
    Thank you for writing this post–it is certainly an important question: Why has it been so hard to identify female Biblical figures in the archaeological record? I imagine Larry Mykytiuk did not include Jezebel’s seal because it is an unprovenanced artifact (he was only using inscriptions whose date has been confirmed to be nearly contemporaneous with the figure’s lifetime) and it has only been tentatively associated with Jezebel. However, I shouldn’t try to answer for him–as you noted, he’s been responding to readers’ questions online.

    As the editor of the BAS website, I can assure you that there was no intentional censoring of your comment. I just searched the BAS comment section’s spam filter, deleted comments section, etc., and can’t find your comment anywhere. I invite you to rewrite the comment, as the author of the article would be much better suited to answering your questions about Jezebel than I am.

    Biographical and analytical discussions of women in the Bible are actually the most visited pages on our website, and it is wonderful to see your blog on the subject. This is a very nice discovery for me personally, and I hope we can collaborate in the future.

    Best wishes,
    -Noah Wiener
    Web Editor
    Biblical Archaeology Society

    1. Dear Mr. Wiener,

      Thank you for your kind reply. I’m sorry to learn that my comment didn’t reach BAS and I will send a new comment. I am pleased to know that BAS is interested in responding to my feedback and I look forward to a continued discussion. I’m also pleased that information about women of the Bible are some of the most visited pages on the website.

      Since I received your response, I’ve also been contacted by Larry Mykytiuk and I will be continuing my discussion with him directly and via my blog. Thank you again for your speedly response to my blog.

      Robin Cohn

  2. Dear Robin,
    Although I am not part of the BAR staff, it seems clear to me that if you write a letter to the editor, you have expressed a desire to have it published in the “Letters to the Editor” part of the magazine. (In fact, recently, I wrote a letter to the editor of BAR and am waiting to see whether it will be published.) BAR is published every two months. So it appears that the earliest your letter (or mine) might be published would be in the May/June issue.
    If, however, you wish to post a comment on the BAR web site, just go to the comments section that you have already linked, scroll to the bottom, and enter your comment in the box at the foot of that page.
    From some of the comments that have already appeared, it seems evident to me that they are not reviewed or “filtered” before being posted. Rather, they seem to be added immediately.
    I would be happy to present the reasons for the identifications that appear and those that do not, either in the comments section or in a letter to the editor that responds to yours.
    Respectfully,
    Lawrence Mykytiuk

    1. Dear Lawrence,

      I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to contact me. I do plan on resubmitting a comment. I must have hit the wrong button last time!

      I look forward to continuing the discussion about biblical women in the archaeological record.

      Robin Cohn

  3. Thank you, Robin, for your comment on the BAR blog that includes your question about the Jezebel seal. I have posted two replies to your comment there.

    Although the “malestream”is not unknown, to say the least, in some religious circles, I think Biblical archaeology is too dependent on women for the to make any headway in the field itself.

    Ms. Gila Cook, the surveyor on the archaeological team that excavated Tel Dan, was the one who discovered the “house of David” inscription that refers to King David as the founder of a Hebrew dynasty. In 1993, she was using her surveyor’s “telescope” (I think it’s called a theodolite) when the rays of the sun struck a wall made of stones at just the right angle. This wonderfully observant woman noticed what appeared to be letters on one of the stones in a lower course in the wall and walked over for a closer look. Thus she discovered the first inscription recognized as referring to the biblical David! Soon afterward, Andre Lemaire published his discovery of a reference to “the house of David” in line 31 of the Mesha Inscription (Moabite Stone).

    Prof. Trude Dothan, Dame Kathleen Kenyon, Prof. Eilat Mazar, Michal Dayagi, Ruth Hestrin, and many other women have made wonderful contributions to the field.

    I’m afraid that the lack of a woman in the Bible among the 50 archaeologically confirmed identifications that I published is an all-too-accurate reflection of ancient Near Eastern society as revealed in its inscriptions. I have a clear impression that the post-Alexander-the-Great, Hellenized Near East that stands behind the apocrypha and the New Testament seems to show more recognition of women in its seals, seal impressions, and coins. Care must be taken to avoid a Marcion-style denigration of the Hebrew Bible just because of a lack of archaeological confirmations of its women. For this reason, I am glad for your treatments of the women of the Tanakh.

    I also applaud your choice of Junia the apostle for your current book. As you have said, she is news to many Christian clergy! I lookd forward to the publication of the finished book and trust that when it appears, you will make known (smile)!

    Lawrence Mykytiuk

  4. Robin, regarding women’s involvement in archaeology, you might be interested in the online article by Nava Panitz-Cohen, titled “The Female Marshalltown.” She is a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Co-director of the dig at Tel Abel Beth Maacah, and she ” was asked to write a short piece about my experiences as a dig director as part of the ASOR Women of Archaeology month” (ASOR = American Schools of Oriental Research).
    Her article appears, complete with photos at the dig, at http://asorblog.org/?p=6936

  5. Thanks again, Robin, for your post, “Jezebel’s Seal, Round Two.” Speaking of remembering lost women, this past weekend I saw the PBS television special described at http://www.advancingwomenartists.org/doc-apbs-special.php . PBS quickly mentioned some map of a route through Florence to view the restored paintings of these women, which seem even to my untrained eye to be masterpieces.
    On Amazon.com, see Jane Fortune, _Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence_ (P

  6. CONTINUING:
    (PB $23.71) One review mentions the map of the Women Artists Trail at the end of the book:
    Review
    “_Women_ is an expression of love for the female artists of Florence s past. Jane Fortune has dug through the archives of the Florentine museums in search of women s names and their works, which are often in storage and away from the public eye. We learn that Florence conceals a dark and dusty world of female artists who, throughout the centuries, were born here or came here from Venice, Rome or from as far away as England, and who left works in the Medici and the state collections. In this lavishly illustrated volume, we are invited to learn about these women s lives, see some of their paintings and discover the works on our own by following the Women Artists Trail, a map at the end of the book.” –Alexandra Korey / The Florentine 2009
    Best,
    Larry Mykytiuk

    1. This is a wonderful find! I’m letting all my Italian friends know about the Women Artists Trail so that they can pop over to Florence to have a look-see.

      1. I am so pleased, Robin! It seemed to line up well with your values and commitments. Mine are close enough that I find the subject of “invisible” women artists of Renaissance Florence to be fascinating. I hope you find a way to see the PBS special, which was excellent.
        I feel pretty sure that your Italian friends will appreciate the Women Artists Trail. The beauty, drama, and behind-the-scenes intrigue of these women’s paintings alone is a guarantee of that.
        Best wishes,
        Larry Mykytiuk

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