J E Z E B E L

Ronald L. Ecker



"See now this curséd woman"
2 Kings 9:34



Religious conflict is seemingly as old as religion itself. In the biblical story of Jezebel, the Phoenician wife of King Ahab of Israel (9th century B.C.), conflict and bloodshed are inevitable when she promotes the worship in Israel of the Canaanite fertility/storm god Baal. For the first of the ten commandments of Yahweh, the "jealous" Lord God of Israel, is categorical: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3; 34:14).

Idolatry in Israel was not a new problem. Even before marrying Jezebel, King Ahab is described in the Bible as walking "in the sins of Jeroboam," a king of Israel who built and worshipped two golden calves, and built notorious "high places" for worship, to keep Israelites from going to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem after the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were divided (I Kings 12:25-31).

Ahab only makes matters worse by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Tyre or the "Sidonians" (the Phoenicians of the Mediterranean coast). Ahab begins serving Baal, the god to whom his wife is devoted. (Jezebel's name means "Where is the Prince?", a reference to the annual absence of the fertility god Baal--and his rain--in the underworld.) Jezebel's missionary zeal keeps Ahab "stirred up," as he does "more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (I Kings 16:33; 21:25). In Samaria, the capitol city of Israel, Ahab builds a temple for Baal. He also erects an image of Baal's consort Asherah. Jezebel persecutes the prophets of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal and of Asherah, eight hundred and fifty in all, "eat at Jezebel's table" (I Kings 18:4,13,19). Moreover, Ahab's and Jezebel's daughter Athaliah marries King Jehoram of Judah, where Baalism is then also promoted (II Kings 8:18).


Asherah


As if to show Ahab and Jezebel who really controls the rain, the Lord God of Israel or the storm god Baal, the Lord's prophet Elijah tells Ahab, "There shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (I Kings 17:1).

There follows three years of famine. Elijah, whom Ahab calls "you troubler of Israel," then tells the king to gather at Mount Carmel all the people of Israel and all of Jezebel's prophets of Baal. When all are gathered, Elijah conducts a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal, to see which God will answer their calls to send down fire for a burnt offering. "The God that answereth by fire," Elijah says, "let him be God." The prophets of Baal entreat their god in vain to send down fire, whereupon Elijah prays to God, and "the fire of the Lord fell." The people fall down, saying, "The Lord, he is God." Elijah orders that the prophets of Baal be brought down to the brook Kishon, and there Elijah slays them (1 Kings 18:17-40). When Jezebel gets word of this slaughter, she sends a messenger with a letter to Elijah expressing her intent to kill him "by this time tomorrow." This sends Elijah into hiding (I Kings 19:1-3).



Jezebel's willfulness is further displayed in the matter of Naboth's vineyard (I Kings 21:1-29). Ahab sulks like a spoiled brat, refusing to eat, when Naboth the Jezreelite won't sell him his vineyard. Ahab wants the vineyard, which is next door to his palace in Jezreel, for a vegetable garden. Jezebel tells the pouting Ahab, "Do you not govern Israel?" She tells him to eat, for "I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite" (RSV). Jezebel sends orders in Ahab's name to the elders and nobles of Jezreel to have Naboth tried for blasphemy, based on false witnesses. After Naboth is found guilty and stoned to death, Jezebel tells Ahab to go take possession of the vineyard. Ahab does so, but who should show up but Elijah, who quotes the Lord to the king: "Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?" For this provocation, the Lord tells Ahab through Elijah, "I shall bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity." "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." As for Jezebel, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel" (I Kings 21:19-23).

When Ahab, at war with Syria, is mortally wounded in battle while disguised as a common soldier, he is propped up in his chariot till he dies. His blood is then washed from the chariot, and as prophesied the dogs lick it up (I Kings 22:29-38).



Ahab's (and Jezebel's?) son Ahaziah becomes king of Israel. He also serves Baal, till a fatal fall through a window lattice gives the throne to his brother Joram (I Kings 22:51-II Kings 1:1-17). Meanwhile Elijah leaves the scene, said to be taken alive to heaven by whirlwind, with his mantle falling literally to Elisha, the new leader of the prophets of God (II Kings 2:1-15).

Elisha sends one of the prophets to anoint Jehu, a commander of the Israelite army, as king of Israel, telling Jehu in the name of the Lord, "Thou shalt smite the house of Ahab, . . . to avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel." "The dogs shall eat Jezebel" and "there will be none to bury her" (II Kings 9:1-10).

Jehu dutifully conspires against King Joram. He heads by chariot for Jezreel, where Joram is recuperating from a Syrian war wound, and where Ahab's grandson Ahaziah the king of Judah is visiting him. Joram and Ahaziah ride out in chariots to meet Jehu, who assassinates them both, for the "whoredoms" and "witchcrafts" of Jezebel. Jehu then goes after Jezebel herself in Jezreel (II Kings 9:14-28).

Aware that he's coming, the queen mother Jezebel paints her face, adorns her head, and looks out at an upper window. (Thus she is pictured, notes Mary Chilton Calloway, as a whore.) Knowing what to expect, and remaining true to her gods to the end, Jezebel shows Jehu bravery and defiance. "Is it peace, you Zimri?" she asks him, as Jehu arrives through the gate below. The question is rhetorical, since Zimri, as she immediately notes, "murdered his master" (see 1 Kings 16:8-12.).

"Who is on my side? Who?" Jehu shouts, and "two or three eunuchs" appear at the window. "Throw her down," Jehu commands, and they do so. Some of her blood spatters on the wall and on the horses. After trampling Jezebel with the horses, Jehu goes in for a bite to eat. He gives orders too late for "this cursed woman" to be buried, as dogs devour Jezebel's body, as prophesied, except for the skull, feet, and palms. Now her carcass, Jehu notes, "shall be dung on the face of the field" (II Kings 9:30-37).


Death of Jezebel
Gustave Doré


The bloodbath has only begun. Jehu has 70 sons of Ahab beheaded, and slays 42 visiting relatives of Ahaziah. Jehu has all the prophets, priests, and worshippers of Baal assemble at the temple of Baal in Samaria, ostensibly for "a great sacrifice" to Baal. He has everyone in the temple slain, and has the temple demolished, making it "a latrine to this day" (II Kings 10:1-27 RSV). Nor is the slaughter that is ignited by Jehu's coup confined to the kingdom of Israel. In Judah, Ahab's and Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, on hearing that her son King Ahaziah is dead, has all of her grandsons slain (so she thinks) and assumes the throne herself, becoming the only woman ever to hold sole royal power in either Israel or Judah. She rules for six years. But one grandson still lives, hidden away by an aunt, whose husband leads a revolt, and Athaliah is put to the sword. She is succeeded by Joash, the seven-year-old grandson (II Kings 11:1-21).

Death of Athaliah
Gustave Doré


As for Jezebel, she still lives on as a synonym for a wicked woman. The New Testament book of Revelation complains of a "Jezebel," calling herself a prophetess, who leads people in the church at Thyatira "to commit fornication." Christ "will cast her into a (sick)bed," says Saint John, "and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent their deeds" (Rev. 2:20-22).

For a biblical view far different from that of the two books of Kings on a foreign woman in Hebrew society, see the story of Ruth.




Who was Baal?


When the children of Israel went "a-whoring after other gods" (Judges 2:17), as they often did, they went generally after Baal and Astarte, the Phoenician love goddess (Ashtoreth in the Bible). Baal ("lord"), known also as Hadad, was the Canaanite god of fertility, a wielder of lightning bolts and thunder, and the producer of rain. He was called the "rider on the clouds," a title later applied to Yahweh (Psalms 68:4, 104:3). He had many local manifestations, such as Baal of Peor (Num. 25:3), and Baal-berith, "lord of the covenant," at Shechem (Judg. 8:33), hence the plural form Baalim.


"Baal of Lightning" from
Ugarit (Louvre Museum)


The cycle of Baal myths is recounted in the Canaanite clay tablets from ancient Ugarit in Syria (15th century B.C.). Baal died in the spring, wailed over and buried by his consort, the love and war goddess Anat (compare the women mourning for Hadad-rimmon, i.e. Baal, in Zechariah 12:11, and those weeping for Tammuz, the dying fertility god of Babylon, in Ezekiel 8:14). But in the fall Baal revived, vanquishing Mot, the god of death and drought, and bringing with him the autumn rains.

In the Ugaritic texts Baal is also called Baalzebul ("Prince Baal"), changed disparagingly in II Kings 1:2-18 to Baalzebub ("lord of the flies"). In the New Testament it changes to Beelzebul (RSV, "lord of dung") or Beelzebub (KJV, copying Kings), as another name for Satan (see Matthew 12:24-27).



Sources:

Calloway, Mary Chilton. "Women in the Old Testament" in What the Bible Really Says, ed. by Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffmann. New York: HarperCollins, 1993, pp. 197-211.

Ecker, Ronald L. And Adam Knew Eve: A Dictionary of Sex in the Bible. Palatka, FL: Hodge & Braddock, 1995, pp. 26-27.

Efird, James M. "Baal-zebub" in Harper's Bible Dictionary, ed. by Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 86.

Exum, J. Cheryl. "Jezebel" in Harper's Bible Dictionary, ed. by Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 489.

Hackett, Jo Ann. "Jezebel" in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 368.

Meeks, Wayne A., ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible, ed. by Wayne A. Meeks. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Murphy, Roland E., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 1126-1147.

Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Stoops, Robert. "Baal-zebub" in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 70.





Copyright 2007 by Ronald L. Ecker


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And Adam Knew Eve



Death of Jezebel
Unknown illustrator





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