Jezebel was the Phoenician wife of King Ahab (871 – c. 852 BCE) in the northern kingdom of Israel. She was the daughter of king Ethbaal who ruled the Phoenician cities on the coast. According to the 2nd century BCE Greek historian, Menander of Ephesus, we know that Jezebel’s father, Ethbaal, was a Phoenician priest. This might explain Jezebel’s zeal for the Phoenician deities.1
However, her status as not just a Ba’al worshiper but a stuck-up princess seems to evident in the biblical tales. It should be note that Phoenicia in general is accused of arrogance and self-aggrandizing by the exilic prophets.
“O Tyre, you have said, ‘I am perfect in beauty.’
4 “Your borders are in the heart of the seas;
“Because your heart is lifted up
And you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of gods
In the heart of the seas’;
The legend of Jezebel is more than just a story about a bad woman. It explains some of the bitter blood between Israel, Judah, and Tyre, which is evident in the later prophets. Joel even accuses the Phoenicians of enslaving their people and selling them to the Greeks.
And the people of Judah and Jerusalem you have sold to the Greeks, In order to remove them far from their territory
But how did this bitter feud being? After all, Solomon had previously had a great relationship with Hiram, the king of Tyre, who provided the wood for Solomon’t temple. The fallout seems to have started with Jezebel. However, the biblical texts seem to indicate that Israel never should have been mixed up with the Phoenicians in the first place.
Jezebel is more or less blamed for some of the idolatry that was committed by her husband, Ahab. The ancient thinking was that if good men married foreign women that they would end up worshiping the deity that their wife worshiped. It seems from the biblical account that Jezebel was a staunch Ba’al worshiper but that was true also of nearly all Canaanites from the northern territories.
Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him.
31 It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. 32 So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.
(1 Kings 16:29-22)
Why She’s a Jerk
- Attempted murder of Elijah
- Had an innocent man murdered
- Stole the man’s ancestral land
- Killed Yahweh’s prophets
- Was the epitome of arrogance and self-centeredness
The Prophets of Ba’al
Jezebel is shown up by Elijah by making the prophets of Ba’al look silly. After Elijah calls down fire from heaven to prove that the prophets worshiped a false god, he has them executed for misleading the king. However, Jezebel had no interest in this event. She was not convinced by Elijah’s demonstration but rather, irritated she Ba’al was made to look foolish.
And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” 3 And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. (1 Kings 19:1-3)
On another related note, it seems that Jezebel was blamed for the deaths of the prophets of Yahweh.
Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.
(1 King 18:22)
Jezebel is best known for murdering and then stealing the farm of an innocent man that lived near the palace.
5 But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not eating food?” 6 So he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in its place.’ But he said, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” 7 Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now reign over Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let your heart be joyful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and sent letters to the elders and to the nobles who were living with Naboth in his city. 9 Now she wrote in the letters, saying, “Proclaim a fast and seat Naboth at the head of the people; 10 and seat two worthless men before him, and let them testify against him, saying, ‘You cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.”
15 When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
(1 Kings 21:5-16)
When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window.31 As Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?”32 He looked up to the window and said, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked out at him. 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 ate and drank; he said, “See to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king’s daughter.”35 But when they went to bury her, they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands.36 When they came back and told him, he said, “This is the word of the Lord, which he spoke by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, ‘In the territory of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel;37 the corpse of Jezebel shall be like dung on the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel.’ ”
(2 Kings 9:10-37)
The firs thing to notice in her death narrative is that even as Jehu approaches her, invariably to killer her, she refuses to be humbled. Rather, she says to him.
Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?
This is not an accidental phrase. This is a slight against Jehu. She calls him Zimri who reigned in Israel for only 7 days because he was not seen as a legitimate king and then his palace was ransacked by opposing forces, resulting in Zimri setting his own palace on fire and killing himself in the process.
In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, Zimri reigned in Tirzah seven days. The army was encamped near Gibbethon, a Philistine town. 16 When the Israelites in the camp heard that Zimri had plotted against the king and murdered him, they proclaimed Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that very day there in the camp. 17 Then Omri and all the Israelites with him withdrew from Gibbethon and laid siege to Tirzah. 18 When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him. So he died, 19 because of the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.
(1 Kings 16:15-19)
Basically, Jezebel is telling Jehu that he’s an illegitimate king who will soon die by the hands of those who will come to defend her. However, Jehu had the upper hand in this fight. Jezebel’s hubris would be her downfall.
1 – Josephus’ Against the Greeks