Jezebel - Bible story

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Queen Jezebel: don't mess with me

Ritual make-up and jewelry of a queen, in the movie 'Cleopatra'People in the story
Jezebel, daughter of a king, wife of a king, mother to two kings; a woman accustomed to power
Ahab her husband, an able military leader and a brave soldier, but one who suffered from depression
Elijah, leader of the Jahwist priesthood and Jezebel's sworn enemy; he did not trust royal power
Jehu, protegee of the Jahwist party, leader of the coup d'etat that destroyed the ruling family in Israel


The Foreign Princess

Jezebel was a princess from the rich coastal city of Sidon in Phoenicia, where her father was king. 

He had usurped the throne, and was a force to be reckoned with. Strong men often have confident, ambitious daughters, and Jezebel proved to be just that.

She married Ahab, son of a famous warrior king of Israel called Omri, who had also usurped the throne and was one of the great warriors and builders of the ancient world.

Jezebel's religion

When she moved to Israel Jezebel stayed loyal to her own gods, the gods of agriculture and weather. She believed ardently in them, and was probably a High Priestess in the worship of Baal, her most loved god. He was god of storms, rivers and water, but she probably also worshipped his divine wife Asherah, who personified the fertility of all females and was a fierce champion of the family. 

When Jezebel presided over worship and sacrifices, she wore the ritual make-up and clothing of a priestess - the heavy make-up of Egyptian Pharaohs and their queens gives some idea of what this looked like.

Monotheism was still in its infancy, and most people in the ancient world venerated a number of gods. The people of Israel wavered between Jahweh and Baal, and there was mutual hatred between the priests of Jahweh and Baal. Each side was more than happy to murder their opponents. 

Jezebel Meets Elijah

Jezebel championed the priests of Baal, and she found herself confronting the Israelite prophet (or as she would have seen him, political agitator Elijah. 

Jezebel, Ahab and Elijah, Leighton In a dramatic showdown on Mount Carmel, hundreds of her priests were slaughtered by the Jahwist devotees led by Elijah. Jezebel swore revenge, and Elijah went into hiding for a time. 

Despite her modern reputation as a floozy, Jezebel seems to have been fiercely loyal to her husband Ahab. He was almost constantly engaged in leading the army and fighting battles, and Jezebel would often have been in charge of keeping government on track while he was away at the battlefield. She grew used to exercising power.

Jezebel's father in Sidon was an absolute monarch, and she believed that a king's word was law. But this was not the Israelite view. Many of the tribal groups were still reluctant to accept centralized government, and thought their king had too much power already.

Jezebel Kills Naboth

In one incident, Jezebel's husband Ahab needed a plot of land to serve the palace at Jezreel. 

A vineyard The owner of the land, Naboth, would not sell. He wanted to resist the creeping social change that was occurring all over Israel at the time, as the rich (in the form of landed estates) grew richer and the poor (the general populace) grew poorer.

In this impasses, Ahab fell into some sort of black depression - though a great warrior himself, he always lived in the shadow of his famous father.

Jezebel decided to act. She ruthlessly arranged the judicial murder of Naboth, and took over the land that was necessary for palace expansion. She thought she was within her rights; many people disagreed.

Jezebel's Son Becomes King
 
Her husband died a noble death in battle, and her son Ahaziah succeeded to the throne.Jezebel is thrown down from a palace window by eunuchs anxious to save their own skins

Two years later he died in an 'accident', falling from a high balcony in the palace (is it a coincidence that Jezebel also died falling from a window as shown in the picture at right?) 

The details  of her son's death are unclear, but it is obvious there had been some sort of attempted palace coup.

Her second son Joram became king, but after some years he was attacked and murdered by Jehu, a sinister man who had once served in Joram's army. 

Jezebel saw her son die, shot in the heart by Jehu.

Jezebel is Murdered by Jehu

 In the ensuing violence Jezebel was killed, flung by her own eunuchs from a high balcony. She died as a queen should, magnificent and defiant, hurling insults at her murderers even to her last breath. Queens in the ancient world dressed in heavy regalia and make-up

She had dressed herself in royal regalia, and applied make-up to her eyes and face, and put on her royal crown - it is from this that we get the expression 'painted like a Jezebel'. Queens in the ancient world (the picture at right is Elizabeth Taylor dressed as the Egyptian queen Cleopatra) dressed in heavy regalia which had religious and political significance

When she was thrown down from the balcony she fell onto the pavement of the palace's central courtyard, and the usurper, Jehu, ran his iron-wheeled chariot back and forth over her dying body. Then he went into the palace for a celebratory dinner. 

Afterwards, Jehu remembered that her body was still lying in the courtyard of the palace, and ordered that it be buried. She was, after all, a queen. But the palace dogs had got to it first, and all that remained of this royal woman was her head and her hands.

The royal children are murdered

 After this, Jehu ordered the murder all of the young men and boys of the royal family, about seventy in all. They were hunted down one by one, and killed by the people who had been entrusted with their care. Their head were sent to Jehu in baskets - he ordered they be displayed at the city gates. Then he ordered the deaths of all those who had killed the boys - it was too dangerous, thought Jehu, to let them live. 

             Thus Jezebel, her family, and all her followers died.

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Bible Stories: People of the Old Testament - Bible Study Resource:   Jezebel, Elijah, Naboth and Ahab