Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

The Infamous Jezebel

Posted by foryourfaith on February 16, 2012

 

In modern times, the name Jezebel is practically synonymous with sin. What did Jezebel, the Phoenician wife of the Samarian king Ahab, do to earn such a reputation? First and foremost, she conducted a campaign to displace Yahwism, the religion of Israel, with the worship of Baal (1 Kings 16:31-33). In this light, it is interesting to note that the root of her name, related to the Phoenician word for “exalted one,” appears in Canaanite writings as an epithet for the god Baal.

Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal, the King of Sidon, himself successor to Hiram, the Phoenician king who supplied Solomon with the materials and craftsmen to build the Temple. She married Ahab, who succeeded Omri, his father, as king of Israel. As a matter of course, when Jezebel arrived, she brought the faith of her own people with her. Once she had exerted sufficient influence on her husband, the queen moved swiftly to impose the Baal cult upon all Israel. A temple to Baal was erected in the capital, Samaria, and the worship of Baal received further official sanction through her support for a large college of prophets of Baal, who could function as religious and political advisors at the Israelite court. It seem clear that few in Israel saw any great danger in this development. It is even likely that many identified Baal, whose name means “Lord,” with the Lord Yahweh an worshiped them as the same god.

However, the zeal of Jezebel for her religion made it clear that Baal was to be the dominant deity. She killed or drove into hiding scores of prophets of Yahweh who had surrounded the court. She then appointed 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah. Evidently she also tore down the altars to Yahweh on Mount Carmel, a site traditionally given over to the worship of Baal.

Along with her religion, Jezebel also brought the principle of royal prerogative and priority, especially in matters of property rights, from her homeland to Israel. Whereas the biblical ideal asserts that the monarch, like everyone else, is subject to the Law of God, and thus is obliged to deal fairly with the people, Jezebel arrogated to herself and her husband unlimited royal powers. When Naboth turned down Ahab’s order to buy his vineyard or exchange it for another. Ahab returned to the palace in distress. When he reported the incident to Jezebel, the queen replied, “Do you now govern Israel?” The statement shows her astonishment that the king tried to bargain with Naboth rather than simply taking over the property he desired. Jezebel subsequently ordered Naboth’s arrest and execution on a trumped-up charge of treason. Naboth was stoned and his land was appropriated by the king. This horrific incident prompted the prophet Elijah to prophesy, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel.”

Despite the turbulence surrounding her time, she and Ahab lived in great luxury. Archaeological excavations have unearthed proof that the “ivory house” of Ahab and Jezebel, recorded in 1 Kings, was no metaphor. More than 500 fragments of ivory, most from ivory-inlaid wooden wall panels and furniture, attest to the magnificent splendor of the palace.

Jezebel survived beyond the death of Ahab and lived during the reigns of her two sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram. She at last met her death during the massacre of Ahab’s family by Jehu, the commander of the army who had been chosen for this action by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. She was thrown out of an upper-story window. Even in the face of death, however, she was defiant. Jehu, her implacable foe, observed that she was a “kings daughter” and gave orders to bury her. But when the burial party went out to pick up Jezebel’s body, “they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands.” Elijah’s prophecy had been fulfilled.

 

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