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.
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.