Archaeologists in Israel have made a sensational discovery on a biblical site on the country's northern border, likely to depict the face of one of three ancient kings.
The ruins of Abel Beth Maacah, mentioned several times in the Bible, yielded a small glazed ceramic head dating from the late Iron Age, in the 9th century BC. Discovered last summer, it went on show last week in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
According to Azusa Pacific University's Robert Mullins, lead archaeologist at the dig, the head measures 2.2 x 2 inches and has carefully executed features, including glossy black tresses combed back from a headband painted in yellow and black and a manicured beard.
His almond-shaped eyes and pupils are lined in black. The glazed surface is tinted light green due to the addition of copper to the quartz paste. Its elegant style indicates that the man was a distinguished personage, probably a king. The head appears to have broken off from the body of a figurine that stood 8-10 inches high.
Mullins said: 'Despite the head's small and innocuous appearance, it provides us with a unique opportunity to gaze into the eyes of a famous person from the past; a past enshrined in the Book of Ages.'
He said that as the head was found in a city that sat on the border of three different ancient kingdoms, it may have depicted King Ahab of Israel, King Hazael of Aram-Damascus, or King Ethbaal of Tyre. 'The head represents a royal enigma,' he said.
It was picked up embedded in a clod of earth by Mario Tobia, an engineering student from Jerusalem.
Whichever king it represents, the head has fascinating biblical resonances. Ahab was one of Israel's most powerful kings, though he is remembered for his wickedness (1 Kings 16:30), his struggles with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17-19) and his marriage to Queen Jezebel, who had Naboth murdered for his vineyard (1 Kings 21).
Ethbaal of Tyre was Jezebel's father (1 Kings 16:31) and brought the two kingdoms into alliance with her marriage to Ahab.
Hazael of Aram-Damascus was anointed as king by Elijah at God's command (1 Kings 19:15) and murdered his predecessor to take the throne. He was a successful warrior king.