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Jezebel by Cat Quine

Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab, son of Omri of Israel in the ninth century BCE and became queen of Israel. The Bible presents her as an ardent supporter of Baal, and she is frequently depicted in bloodthirsty confrontation with God’s prophets. Although she is sometimes portrayed as a seductress in popular culture, this association comes from the New Testament (Rev 2:20-22) and is not found in the Hebrew Bible.

How Powerful Was Jezebel?

1Kgs 16:31 presents Jezebel as the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians. Ethbaal was king of the Phoenician coastal city Tyre, and Jezebel’s marriage to Ahab likely sealed an alliance between Tyre and Israel, allowing Israel to benefit from Tyre’s trade routes. As such, Jezebel was an important woman, representing two royal houses. Her importance is also seen in her authority to use the king’s seal and send orders to nobles of Jezreel (1Kgs 21:8-16), in her execution of the prophets of Yahweh without consequences (1Kgs 18:4, 1Kgs 18:13), and in the reference to the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who ate at her table (1Kgs 18:19). In addition, apart from a brief narrative about the unnamed wife of Jeroboam I (1Kgs 14:1-17), Jezebel is the only royal woman who is mentioned in any detail in connection with the northern kingdom of Israel (she appears in 1Kgs 16, 1Kgs 18-19, 1Kgs 21, and 2Kgs 9). The Bible thus affords her an unparalleled amount of attention, all of which presents her negatively: Ahab seemingly worshipped Baal because of her (1Kgs 16:31-32; 1Kgs 21:25-26), she ignored God’s prophets and tried to kill them (1Kgs 18:4), and she had the innocent Naboth murdered so that Ahab could take his land (1Kgs 21).

Historically, it is plausible that she did worship Baal—the god of Tyre, represented in both her name and her father’s name—though the extent to which she opposed Yahwism and the bloodthirsty actions ascribed to her cannot be verified outside the biblical texts. Within the Bible, however, Jezebel appears as the epitome of royal female power, which manifests as a threat to Israel. She is not alone in this—two other powerful royal women who married into Israel and Judah to cement an alliance are also presented as a danger to the biblical kings (Pharaoh’s daughter 1Kgs 3:1-2, 1Kgs 11:1-8; Athaliah 2Kgs 8:26, 2Kgs 11:1-3). Regardless of the historical benefits these alliances brought, these narratives warn against the dangers represented by powerful foreign women who could corrupt Israel and its kings from the inside.

What Role Did Jezebel Play in 1-2 Kings?

First and Second Kings advocates for the worship of Yahweh above any other god, and the narratives concerning Jezebel (1Kgs 16–2Kgs 10) revolve around the prophets Elijah and Elisha and their relationship with the kings of Israel. In her support for Baal, Jezebel is presented as an adversary of these prophets to the extent that Elijah pronounced judgement on the entire house of Ahab (1Kgs 21:21-22). Elijah also prophesied that dogs would lick up Ahab’s blood in Jezreel where the blood of Naboth was shed (1Kgs 21:19), though this is generally thought to have been later expanded to include Jezebel (1Kgs 21:23; 2Kgs 9:9-10) and her son Joram (2Kgs 9:24-26) after Ahab apparently died in battle and was buried in Samaria (1Kgs 22:34-38). As an opponent of Yahweh’s prophets and someone who used bloodshed to achieve her ends, Jezebel’s actions foreshadow those of Jehu, who killed Jezebel and slaughtered the descendents of Ahab (2Kgs 9-10). Jehu’s coup was one of the most violent in the entire Bible, yet it is portrayed as just—revisiting the violence of Jezebel on her own house and avenging the blood of the prophets. Even at the hour of her death, Jezebel was presented as an adversary of God’s plan, appearing at the window of Jezreel adorned in finery and taunting Jehu about his murderous coup (2Kgs 9:30-37). She suffered the consequences—thrown out of a window, trampled by horses, her corpse devoured by dogs (2Kgs 9:33-35). Her character in 1-2 Kings presents a clear warning to the reader: be wary of powerful foreign women, worship Yahweh, and heed his prophets.

Cat Quine , "Jezebel", n.p. [cited 4 Aug 2020]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/people/main-articles/jezebel

Contributors

Quine-Cat

Cat Quine
Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

Cat Quine holds a PhD in Hebrew Bible studies from the University of Nottingham. She is currently a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford and Assistant Professor in Hebrew Bible at the University of Nottingham. She has published numerous articles in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, and Vetus Testamentum and specializes in history and politics of ancient Israel and Judah.

Jezebel was a Phoenician princess and queen of Israel known for her support of Baal.

Did you know…?

  • Apart from the unnamed wife of Jeroboam (1Kgs 14) Jezebel is the only queen of the northern kingdom of Israel given attention in 1-2 Kings.
  • Jezebel’s marriage to Ahab likely sealed an alliance between Tyre and Israel; other women from foreign marriage alliances in 1-2 Kings are also presented as dangerous to Israel’s Yahwistic identity (1Kgs 3:1-2; 1Kgs 10:1-8; 2Kgs 8:26; 2Kgs 11:1-3).
  • Jezebel worshipped Baal and apparently influenced Ahab to do the same (1Kgs 16:31-32), though Ahab also spoke with prophets of Yahweh and gave his sons (Ahaziah and Joram) Yahwistic names, which raises questions about the extent to which Jezebel violently opposed Yahwism.
  • Jezebel’s slaughter of Yahweh’s prophets and Naboth partly excuse the bloodshed of Jehu, who usurped the throne from her son. It remains a matter of debate whether Jezebel’s bloodshed is historical or whether it literarily serves to support the positive portrayals of Jehu.
  • The depiction of Jezebel adorned in finery has been thought to indicate that she was seducing Jehu, though there is no evidence of this in the text. Despite popular conceptions, only in Rev 2:20-22 is a figure called Jezebel portrayed as a seductress or whore. The Jezebel of Revelation was probably a prophetess whom the author sought to belittle through depicting her as a prostitute and calling her Jezebel.

The supreme male divinity of Mesopotamia and Canaan.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

A woman who uses her sexuality to entice men to sin; often used as a cautionary figure in the biblical book of Proverbs.

Rev 2:20-22

20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants[a] to practice fornicati ... View more

Attributed authorship. ("Tradition ascribed the Pentateuch to Moses, even though he probably did not actually write it himself.")

Canaanite mother goddess

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

The kingdom consisting of the northern Israelites tribes, which existed separately from the southern kingdom of Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, all the tribes were part of a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, but the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I rebelled after Solomon's death (probably sometime in the late 10th century B.C.E.), establishing their independence. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

1Kgs 16:31

Ahab Marries Jezebel and Worships Baal
31And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel d ... View more

1Kgs 21:8-16

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. 9 She ... View more

1Kgs 18:4

4when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)

1Kgs 18:13

13Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord's prophets fifty to a cave, and provided ... View more

1Kgs 18:19

19Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat ... View more

1Kgs 14:1-17

14 At that time Abijah son of Jeroboam fell sick. 2 Jeroboam said to his wife, “Go, disguise yourself, so that it will not be known that you are the wife of Je ... View more

1Kgs 16

The word of the Lord came to Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, 2 “Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and y ... View more

1Kgs 18-19

Chapter 19

1Kgs 21

Naboth's Vineyard
1Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.2And Ahab s ... View more

2Kgs 9

Anointing of Jehu
1Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, ... View more

1Kgs 16:31-32

Ahab Marries Jezebel and Worships Baal
31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel ... View more

1Kgs 21:25-26

25 (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He acted most abominabl ... View more

1Kgs 18:4

4when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)

1Kgs 21

Naboth's Vineyard
1Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.2And Ahab s ... View more

1Kgs 3:1-2

3 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building ... View more

1Kgs 11:1-8

Solomon's Errors
1King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,2from the na ... View more

2Kgs 8:26

26Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of King Omri of Isr ... View more

2Kgs 11:1-3

Athaliah Reigns over Judah
1Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah's mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family.2But Jehosheba, King J ... View more

1Kgs 21:21-22

21 I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; 22 and I will make your house like the ho ... View more

1Kgs 21:19

19You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs lic ... View more

1Kgs 21:23

23Also concerning Jezebel the Lord said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’

2Kgs 9:9-10

9 I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah. 10 The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the terr ... View more

2Kgs 9:24-26

24 Jehu drew his bow with all his strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart; and he sank in his chariot. 25 Jehu sai ... View more

1Kgs 22:34-38

34 But a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate; so he said to the driver of his chario ... View more

2Kgs 9-10

Anointing of Jehu
1Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, ... View more

2Kgs 9:30-37

Jezebel's Violent Death
30When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window.31As Jehu ent ... View more

2Kgs 9:33-35

33 He said, “Throw her down.” So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her. 34 Then he went in and ... View more

Associated with the worship of Yahweh, the god of Israel and Judah.

1Kgs 14

Judgment on the House of Jeroboam
1At that time Abijah son of Jeroboam fell sick.2Jeroboam said to his wife, “Go, disguise yourself, so that it will not be know ... View more

1Kgs 3:1-2

3 Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building ... View more

1Kgs 10:1-8

When the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon (fame due to[a] the name of the Lord), she came to test him with hard questions. 2 She came to Jerusalem wi ... View more

2Kgs 8:26

26Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of King Omri of Isr ... View more

2Kgs 11:1-3

Athaliah Reigns over Judah
1Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah's mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family.2But Jehosheba, King J ... View more

1Kgs 16:31-32

Ahab Marries Jezebel and Worships Baal
31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel ... View more

Rev 2:20-22

20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants[a] to practice fornicati ... View more

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