The Death of Jezebel by Gustave Doré
|Occupation||Queen of Israel|
|Children||Ahaziah, Jehoram, and Athaliah|
Her name originally meant 'The Prince Baal exists'. Baal was a weather god worshipped in the Syro-Palestinian world. In Biblical Hebrew Jezebel's name means 'there is no nobility'. Jezebel is an evil woman in the Bible (Revelation 2:20). . Her story is told in 1st and 2nd Kings.
She is introduced as a Phoenician princess, the daughter of King Ethobaal of Tyre. Her father was the king of the Phoenician empire. Jezebel marries King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom (i.e. Israel during the time when ancient Israel was divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south). She helps convert Ahab from worship of Yahweh to worship of the Phoenician god, Baal.
Ahab and Jezebel allow temples of Baal to operate in Israel, and that religion receives royal patronage. Furthermore, some say the queen uses her influence with Ahab to lead the Hebrews into worship of other gods, sexual permissiveness and that they are subjected to tyranny.
After Jezebel has many of the prophets of Yahweh killed, Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a competition (1 Kings 18), exposes the rival god as powerless, and goes on to have prophets of Baal slaughtered (1 Kings 18:40), thereby incurring Jezebel's furious enmity.
As recounted in Elisha, and has one of his servants anoint Jehu as king in Jehoram's place, adding: "You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master." Acting on this divine commission for revolution, Jehu kills King Jehoram as he attempts to flee in his war chariot., Yahweh speaks through Elijah's successor, the prophet
Jehu then confronts Jezebel in Jezreel and urges her eunuchs to kill the queen mother by throwing her out of a window. They comply, tossing her out of the window and leaving her corpse in the street to be eaten by dogs. Only Jezebel's skull, feet, and hands remain.
According to the television show, The Naked Archaeologist, Jezebel was an altered name. Originally her name would have been translated as "Virgin of Baal", but a letter was added to the name so as to give it a negative spin, and so changing its meaning to "Whore of Baal".
The name Jezebel has come down through the centuries to be used as a general name for evil women. Her Biblical account depicts her as a scheming, manipulative woman who did more than anyone to promote an evil religion. Thus, in Christian tradition, a comparison to Jezebel suggests that a person is a pagan or an apostate masquerading as a servant of God, who by manipulation and/or seduction misleads the saints of God into sins of idolatry and sexual immorality, sending them to hell.
In particular, Jezebel has come to be associated with promiscuity. The phrase "painted Jezebel", with connotations of immorality and prostitution, is based on 2 Kings 9:30-33), where Jezebel puts on her cosmetics just before being killed. (She may have done this to encourage her captors to keep her alive as a consort rather than kill her.) While the Bible generally depicts Jezebel as a faithful wife, she is remembered more for her introduction of Baal worship and its accompanying promiscuity to the Israelites.
While Jezebel's sexual image often has a negative connotation, some embrace it, as is evidenced by various lingerie designs named after Jezebel.
In modern usage, the name of Jezebel is sometimes used as a synonym for sexually promiscuous and sometimes controlling women, as in the title of the 1938 Bette Davis film Jezebel or the 1951 Frankie Laine hit "Jezebel".
In the 2009 Danity Kane song "Bad Girl", there was a phrase, saying: "Some say that love is all that I'm missing, some call it Jezebel, I call it attention", referring to the biblical person.
Non-religious modern interpretations
- Secularists and atheists sometimes take Jezebel's side, as they see themselves as "the victim of aggressive religious fanatics who did not scruple to resort to mass killing in order to enforce their point of view" 
- Isaac Asimov, an outspoken atheist who had a Jewish upbringing, mentioned Jezebel in his novel The Caves of Steel. The main character saw Jezebel as an ideal wife and a woman who, in full compliance with the mores of the time, promotes her own religion conscientiously.
- Some Israeli peace activists such as Uri Avnery use the story of Naboth as a symbol of the theft of Israeli lands.
- In feminist readings of the Bible and of later Jewish and Christian traditions, Jezebel is seen as a strong and assertive woman, who was attacked and finally murdered by the fanatic male representatives of a male-dominated religion, and whose memory was continually vilified for thousands of years for the same reason — i.e. "because she was a strong and independent woman who did not let men dominate her, and who continued to defy the aggressive males to her last breath"
For the historian, the story of Ahab and Jezebel gives a detailed account of an intense religious-political struggle—the most detailed of any period in the history of the Kingdom of Israel — but written from a highly partisan point of view, and with no surviving documents that represent the other side of the controversy. Moreover, the account is mainly interested in the religious side of the events, with the political, economic and social background — highly important to modern historians—given only incidentally. A modern historian must therefore try to reconstruct the historical events, taking into account the bias of the only source available.
As noted by Barzowski , Ahab's marriage to Jezebel was—at least to begin with—obviously a dynastic marriage intended to cement a Phoenician alliance going back to the times of King Solomon. This alliance gave the inland Kingdom of Israel access to international trade. The monarchy (and possibly an urban elite connected with it) enjoyed the wealth derived from this trade, which gave it a stronger position vis-a-vis the rural landowners and made for a more centralized and powerful monarchical administration.
The story of Naboth, a landowner who was killed at the instigation of Jezebel so that the King could acquire his land, certainly points in this direction—Jezebel, with her foreign religion and cosmopolitan culture, representing a hated Phoenician alliance from which the landowners had little to gain and much to lose. Their resentment was expressed in religious terms (as in many other times and places), and eventually got a political expression in Jehu's bloody coup, instigated and supported by the prophets whose side of the story the Bible preserves.
Roger Williams, the founder of the American colony of Rhode Island and the co-founder of the First Baptist Church in America, wrote about Naboth's story in The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience as an example of how God disfavored Christians from using government force in religious matters, such as the religious decrees by Jezebel and Ahab. Williams believed using force in the name of religion would lead to political persecution contrary to the Bible's teachings.
Lesley Hazleton, author of three books about the Middle East, has written Jezebel, The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen, a revisionist historical fiction that presents Jezebel as a sophisticated Queen engaged in mortal combat with the fundamentalist prophet Elijah.
- John McKenzie, "Dictionary of the Bible"
- Revelation 2:20-24, (New International Version), biblegateway.com.
- 2 Kings 9:30-33, New International Versionbible.gospelcom.net
- John Cormak,"Old and New Fanatics".
- Ilana Fine, "Women reading the Bible backwards" (in Hebrew), P. 86.
- V. Barzowski, The Merchants and the Kings - impact of the Mediterranean Trade Routes from the Phoenicians to the Venetians, Chapter 1.
- Byrd, James P. (2002). The challenges of Roger Williams: religious liberty, violent persecution, and the Bible. Mercer University Press. ISBN 0865547718. http://books.google.com/books?id=M4FK-j35yFYC.
- Scholars Debate Jezebel Seal Biblical Archaeology Review
- "Payday Someday" a sermon about Jezebel by R.G. Lee of the Southern Baptist Convention
- "Jezebel". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.