Archaeological News: Oldest Extant “Jezabel” Papyrus

DocCarrollby Dr. Scott T. Carroll, Egyptologist

So what’s in a name? Apparently, a lot. Just so there is truth in advertising here my name Scott comes from the Greek for darkness and worse in Arabic.

The picture [below this paragraph] is the earliest papyrus text of this portion of 2 Kings 8-9 (I posted it before without explanation). It is the earliest occurrence of the name Jezebel, the Phoenician wife of the Israelite King Ahab. Most of the letters of her name can be seen on this side in line 6 (the ‘I’ should be read like a ‘J’ so-JEZAB[EL]). See if you can read it on the fragment. This small fragment dates to the 4c based on an analysis of the handwriting. There is no surviving evidence of this passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls or other papyri fragments.

2 Kgs 8-9

According to the biblical account, she had an evil influence on the king and has never lived it down. Her doom was prophesied by the prophet Elijah (whose house has been recently discovered) that she would be eaten by dogs. You are looking at the earliest account of that well-known passage. Pretty cool.

But what of the name Jezebel? It means unexalted and never enjoyed popularity. According to US government statistics less than 10 baby girls in a million this past year were named Jezebel. Her name is synonymous with a wicked woman and underscores the literary power of the story. The association has stuck for millennia. Other femme fatales in the Bible have enjoyed a better fate like Samson’s nemesis Delilah–a name growing in popularity. Rehabilitation is possible but unlikely for the name Jezebel.

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