Jezebel was a Phoenician princess, later the wife of King Ahab of Israel. In the centuries since her death, she has acquired numerous references in popular culture, none of them flattering.
Jezebel was a Phoenician princess in the 9th century who married Ahab, the prince of Israel. Eventually, they ruled as king and queen. Jezebel continued worship the nature god Baal. Her citizens and the Yahweh prophet Elijah despised such actions. Preparing herself to be murdered by General Jehu, she applied makeup and dressed in finery before she was thrown over her balcony and eaten by dogs. Like Cleopatra, Jezebel’s story is one of intrigue, romance and ultimately, the fall of a nation.
Queen of Israel
In 922 B.C., the nation of Israel was torn into two nations, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel was racked by internal tribal differences and, subsequently, became susceptible to frequent invasions. It was, however, solidly following the beliefs of Yahweh, the "one and true" God, according to the Bible. Phoenicia (now known as Lebanon) was located to Israel's north, and on the whole, was just the opposite—cosmopolitan, populous and religiously diverse.
At the beginning of the 9th century, a Phoenician princess named Jezebel was born, the daughter of King Ethball. The Bible does not describe her childhood, but from deductive reasoning, it is assumed that she lived in a fine home and was educated by the best tutors. Her family worshipped many gods, the most important being Baal, a nature god. While Jezebel was growing into a woman, Israel crowned a new king. To create an alliance with Israel, the king arranged for his son Ahab to wed Jezebel. Their marriage cemented a political alliance, but it was a dramatic event for the young woman. After enjoying a life of luxury, she was suddenly taken into a conservative society and made to oversee it.
Jezebel eventually became Israel's Queen. She continued to worship the god Baal, and in doing so, earned many enemies. Her citizens' displeasure came to a critical point when, at their expense, she brought 800 Baal prophets to Israel and ordered the murder of several Yahweh prophets. At this major moment, Elijah, a Jewish prophet, appeared. According to the biblical book of Kings, Elijah gave a prophecy: That terrible draught would come upon Israel. Amazingly, famine and draught spread across Jezebel's land, according to the story.
The story of Naboth is perhaps the best-known story of Jezebel's life. Naboth, a common landowner who lived close to the King's residence, was asked to give his land to King Ahab in exchange for some compensation. Because of Jewish law, Naboth refused to give up his family's ancestral land. Incited by Naboth's refusal to King Ahab, Jezebel falsely charged him with treason and blaspheming "God and the king," and had him condemned to death by stoning. She then took his plot of land for the king. At this point, Elijah arrived and confronted King Ahab about this brutal transgression, and then predicted that Ahab and all of his heirs would be killed and that dogs will eat Jezebel, according to the famous story.
Several years later, Ahab died in a battle against the Syrians, and a man named Jehu was promised the crown if he killed Jezebel's son, thus taking Jezebel's power. As the story goes, Jehu made his way Jezebel's palace to murder her, and she, expecting him, applied make-up and dressed herself in finery. Her actions have been interpreted in a variety of ways—some people believe she was simply dressing for a dignified death. Others believe she was "painting" herself in hopes of seducing Jehu and becoming his mistress. In the end, she was thrown out of her bedroom window, trampled by horses and eaten by dogs.
Jezebel's name has been used for thousands of years to describe cunning, ruthless and reprehensible women. Some believe she typifies evil and her name has also become synonymous with idolaters, prostitutes and sorcerers. In the centuries since Jezebel’s death, she’s become legendary. There are numerous references to her in popular culture, none of them flattering, while there are others who believe that Jezebel was one of the first suffragists and that it’s time to change that definition to “a strong, courageous, loyal woman who stands up for what she believes in… no matter what the cost.”