People - Ancient Near East: Jezebel
Ancient Near East
Jezebel in Wikipedia
Jezebel (Hebrew: אִיזֶבֶל / אִיזָבֶל, Modern Izével / Izável Tiberian ʾÎzéḇel / ʾÎzāḇel) (fl. 9th century B.C.) was a Phoenician princess, identified in the Hebrew Book of Kings as the daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Sidonians (Phoenicians) and the wife of Ahab, king of north Israel. According to genealogies given in Josephus and other classical sources she was the great aunt of Dido, Queen of Carthage.
The Hebrew text portrays Jezebel as an evil power behind the throne. Ahab and Jezebel allow temples of Baal to operate in Israel, and that religion receives royal patronage. After Ahab's death, his sons by Jezebel, Ahaziah and Jehoram, accede to the throne. The prophet Elisha has one of his servants anoint Jehu as king to overthrow the house of Ahab. Jehu kills Jehoram as he attempts to flee in his war chariot. He then confronts Jezebel in Jezreel and urges her eunuchs to kill the queen mother by throwing her out of a window and leaving her corpse in the street to be eaten by dogs. Only Jezebel's skull, feet, and hands remain. Jezebel's final act, equipping herself in all her finery before she is murdered, has led to her being represented as a kind of prostitute.
Meaning of name
The name originally meant "The Lord (Baal) exists". "The Lord" probably referred to the "king of heaven" worshipped in the Syro-Phoenician world. In Biblical Hebrew Jezebel's name means "there is no nobility".
Scripture and history
Jezebel from "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum "
Jezebel's story is told in 1st and 2nd Kings. The story concerns an intense religious-political struggle — the most detailed such account of any period in the history of the Kingdom of Israel — written from a highly partisan point of view, with no surviving documents to represent the other side of the controversy. 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.
She is introduced as a Phoenician princess, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Phoenician empire and 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 the Jewish God to worship of the Phoenician god Baal. After she has many Jewish prophets 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.
To 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, that 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.
The death of Jezebel, by Gustav Dore
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.
Secularists and atheists sometimes take Jezebel's side as "the victim of aggressive religious fanatics who did not scruple to resort to mass killing to enforce their point of view"  Isaac Asimov, in his novel The Caves of Steel, portrayed Jezebel as an ideal wife and a woman who, in full compliance with the mores of the time, promoted her own religion conscientiously.
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"
In The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Roger Williams, the founder of the American colony of Rhode Island and the co-founder of the First Baptist Church in America, wrote of Naboth's story as an example of how God disfavored government force in religious matters. Williams believed using force in the name of religion would lead to political persecution contrary to the Bible's teachings.
Bette Davis as Jezebel
The name Jezebel has come to be used as a general name for evil women. 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. 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 his two-volume Guide to the Bible Isaac Asimov considers that Jezebel's last act—that of dressing in all her finery, make-up and jewelry—was deliberately symbolic, indicating her dignity, royal status and determination to go out of this life as a Queen.
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