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Jezebel and Ahab meeting Elijah, print by Sir Francis Dicksee (1853-1928)
OccupationPrincess of Phoenicia, Queen of Israel
Spouse(s)King Ahab
ChildrenAhaziah, Jehoram, and Athaliah
ParentsIthobaal I
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Jezebel and Ahab meeting Elijah, print by Sir Francis Dicksee (1853-1928)
OccupationPrincess of Phoenicia, Queen of Israel
Spouse(s)King Ahab
ChildrenAhaziah, Jehoram, and Athaliah
ParentsIthobaal I

Jezebel (/ˈdʒɛzəbəl/,[1] /ˈdʒɛzəbɛl/;[1] Hebrew: אִיזֶבֶל / אִיזָבֶל, Modern Izével / Izável Tiberian ʾÎzéḇel / ʾÎzāḇel) (fl. 9th century BCE) was a princess, identified in the Hebrew Book of Kings as the daughter of Ethbaal, King of Tyre (Phoenicia) and the wife of Ahab, king of north Israel.[2] According to genealogies given in Josephus and other classical sources, she was the great-aunt of Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Jezebel was a power behind the throne. Ahab and Jezebel allowed temples of Baal to operate in Israel, and that religion received royal patronage. After Ahab's death, Ahaziah and Jehoram, his sons by Jezebel, acceded to the throne. The prophet Elisha had one of his servants anoint Jehu as king to overthrow the house of Ahab. Jehu killed Jehoram as he attempted to flee in his war chariot.

Jehu confronted Jezebel in Jezreel, where he incited her court officials to murder the queen by throwing her out of a window and leave her corpse to be eaten by dogs. Jezebel became associated with false prophets. In some interpretations, her dressing in finery and putting on makeup before her death (2 Kings 9:30) led to the association of use of cosmetics with "painted women" or prostitutes.


Meaning of name

Jezebel is the Anglicized transliteration of the Hebrew אִיזָבֶל ('Izevel/'Izavel). Attempts to trace its original meaning are largely speculative.

The biblical Hebrew 'Izebel may be rooted in a Hebrew word for "prince/nobility" or "husband" (בעל bul/ba'al) combined with the word for "naught/none" (יי 'iy), "there is no prince/nobility/husband", suggesting a lack of character—i.e., implying lack of royal sensibilities—or of morality—i.e., unmarried, engaging in adultery or fornication. It may also find its root in a Hebrew word for "dung" (from זבל gbl; note here Ba'al-zebul/Ba'al-zebub, "Lord of dung") combined with the word for either "naught/none" ('iy) or "island" ('iyz), thus "no dung" or "island of dung".[citation needed]

Other sources find meaning from the character's native Syro-Phoenician language. It may be rooted in the word ba'al (lord), referring either to the Syro-Phoenician god, the "King of Heaven", or simply the royal title "lord". Thus, Iz-ba'al may mean "the Lord (Ba'al) exists/exalts" or "where is the prince", a name known from liturgies of the Syro-Phoenician Ba'al cults.[citation needed]

Scripture and history

The death of Jezebel, by Gustave Doré

Jezebel's story is told in 1st and 2nd Kings, which details an intense religious-political struggle — the most detailed such account of any period in the history of the Kingdom of Israel. The account portrays the religious side of the events, with the political, economic and social background — highly important to modern historians — given only incidentally.[3]

Jezebel was a Phoenician princess, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Phoenician empire. She married 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 helped convert Ahab from worship of the Jewish God to worship of the Phoenician god Baal. After she had many Jewish prophets killed, Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a competition (1 Kings 18), exposed the rival god as powerless, and had the prophets of Baal slaughtered (1 Kings 18:40). Jezebel becomes his enemy.[3]

The scholar V. Barzowski interprets Ahab's marriage to Jezebel as a dynastic marriage intended to cement a Phoenician political alliance. This went back to the times of King Solomon, to give the then-inland Kingdom of Israel access to the Mediterranean Sea and 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. The monarchy became more centralized with a powerful administration.[4][dubious ]

Barzowski believes that the story of Naboth, a landowner killed at the instigation of Jezebel so the King could acquire his land, points to this interpretation. With her foreign religion and cosmopolitan culture, Jezebel represented a hated Phoenician alliance from which the landowners had little to gain and much to lose. Their resentment was expressed in religious terms as related to the difference in religions. Eventually Jehu achieved a bloody coup, instigated and supported by the prophets whose actions the Bible preserves.[4]


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 the use of 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.[5]

Cultural symbol

The name Jezebel came to be associated with false prophets, and further associated by the early 20th century with fallen or abandoned women.[6] In Christian lore, a comparison to Jezebel suggested that a person was a pagan or an apostate masquerading as a servant of God. By manipulation and/or seduction, she misled the saints of God into sins of idolatry and sexual immorality.[7] In particular, Jezebel has come to be associated with promiscuity. In modern usage, the name of Jezebel is sometimes used as a synonym for sexually promiscuous and sometimes controlling women,[8][9] In his two-volume Guide to the Bible (1967 and 1969), Isaac Asimov describes Jezebel's last act: dressing in all her finery, make-up and jewelry, as deliberately symbolic, indicating her dignity, royal status and determination to go out of this life as a queen.

In popular culture


Film and television

Bette Davis as Julie in the film Jezebel


Other mentions


  1. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition.
  2. ^ Elizabeth Knowles, "Jezebel", The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, OUP 2006
  3. ^ a b BRUCE M. METZGER and MICHAEL D. COOGAN, "Jezebel", The Oxford Guide to People and Places of the Bible, 1 Jan 2001, accessed 15 Nov 2010
  4. ^ a b V. Barzowski, The Merchants and the Kings - Impact of the Mediterranean Trade Routes from the Phoenicians to the Venetians, Chapter 1.
  5. ^ Byrd, James P. (2002). The Challenges of Roger Williams: Religious Liberty, Violent Persecution, and the Bible. Mercer University Press. ISBN 0-86554-771-8.
  6. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). ""Jezebel"". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  7. ^ The New Testament, Book of Revelation., Ch. 2, vs. 20-23.
  8. ^ "Meaning #2: "an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman"". Retrieved 2012-05-24.
  9. ^ Pilgrim, David. "Jezebel Stereotype". Jim Crow Museum. Ferris State University. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
  10. ^ Asimov, Isaac, "The Caves of Steel", Panther Books Ltd, 1958, 7th reprint 1973, p. 40-41.
  11. ^ "Study Guide to Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale (1986)". Retrieved 2012-05-24.
  12. ^ "The Golden Gate Quartet: The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 4: 1939-1943". 1996-09-01. Retrieved 2012-05-24.

The Novel 'Skinny Legs and All' by Tom Robbins

External links