What book of the Hebrew bible contains this phrase:
“Karma is a bitch.”
If you said “The Book of Kings,” you’re probably reading a very loose translation of the Old Testament, but the sentiment of the modern “Karma is a bitch” (an appropriate variation on the original “Payback is a bitch” (author unknown)) comes through loud and clear in the story of Naboth. While it’s not nearly as famous as many other tales, the story and message resonate in the news of today and may now be verifiable – archeologist in Israel have uncovered a 2,500-year-old winery that may have been the cause of Naboth’s death – ordered by the queen whose name still carries a ominous tone … Jezebel.
“The discovery, excavation, function, typology, and probable date of an ancient winery excavated by the present Jezreel Expedition in 2013 are the focus of this article. Its method of construction and its function are discussed, and a comparison is made with other simple treading installations. The demand for wine is discussed with reference to the military nature of Jezreel during the period of Assyrian hegemony, and a probable date for the winery's initial use is proposed.”
In the current issue of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies, archeologists Jennie Ebeling from Indiana’s University of Evansville and Norma Franklin of the University of Haifa describe what the found in the area that was the ancient city of Jezreel – two stone vats used in an ancient winery. The Jezreel Valley is still rich farmland (‘Jezreel; means ‘God will sow’ in Hebrew) but 5,000 years ago the primary crop was not today’s wheat, chickpeas and oranges but grapes, which gave Jezreel a reputation for its wines.
“Some time later there was an incident involving a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. The vineyard was in Jezreel, close to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.”
1 Kings 21:1-16
Historically, Ahab ruled Israel from about 871 BCE to 852 BCE. The limestone treading floor (for stomping grapes) uncovered by Ebeling and Franklin dates to the same period. Measuring 10.5 by 10.5 feet, it’s connected to a channel that leads to a stone vat that could hold 2,150 liters or enough to fill at least 3,300 bottles today. The other large vat and smaller ones appear to have been used for storage or beermaking. Ebeling tells Wine Spectator that this would have been “average size” back then for a winery, but Jezreel wine was prized for its quality, especially by the Israelite military which used Jezreel for a base -- which takes us back to the biblical story.
“Ahab said to Naboth, “Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth.”
But Naboth replied, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my ancestors.”
Sound familiar? Some things never change. According to the story, Ahab tells his wife Jezebel, who makes fun of his weakness and takes matters into her own hands by forging letters in his name denouncing Naboth, then sending them to local leaders who followed orders and stoned him to death, thus giving Ahab free reign to take the vineyard.
Or so he thought.
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’
“And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’”
Proving karma was a bitch back in 860 BCE, it’s said that Ahab died in battle, his son Ahaziah inherited the throne but died in an accident and the next son Joram was murdered. As for Jezebel, the unexpected biblical scholar Isaac Asimov (yes, that one – he wrote the two-volume “Guide to the Bible”) says she was thrown out of her window, trampled by a horse and eaten by dogs somewhere around 850 BCE.
While Ahab’s existence has been historically proven, Jezebel – while being better known -- has not. Will the discovery of this winery verify it?
“The Jezreel winery continued in use until at least the first century CE, when new grape-pressing installations appear in the Byzantine-period village of Jezreel.”
A winery with that kind of biblical fame might well have been used and preserve for another thousand years. Even if this isn’t Naboth’s ill-fated operation, its discovery is an opportunity to bring back a tale which shows that some biblical stories have historical support, karma has always been a bitch and those who don’t learn from history continue to be doomed to repeat it.