Monday, February 11, 2013

Jezebel, Princess of Phoenicia, Queen of Israel

Jezebel was a Phoenician princess around 900 BCE. Daughter to Ethbaal, king of Tyre in Phoenicia, and wife to Ahab, king of northern Israel. It is said by many archaeologists and scholars that Jezebel was really the one in charge, not her husband and king. She still honored her ancient religion and did not covert to Judaism. She convinced her husband to worship her Phoenician God Baal, who was seen as a God of fertility, rain and the seasons. They had temples erected in his honor which was seen as sinful by the other Israelite's. They viewed Ahab not only sinning against his own God, but also against his people. First by marrying a Phoenician princess who was viewed as a Pagan, then by worshiping the Phoenician God.

Although it didn't end there. Jezebel did not want to loose her cultural identity and her Gods and Goddesses from her home. She was a bold and fierce woman and some will say that her actions were brutal, but in that time, Pagans had been dealing with the constant threat of Judaism and Christianity, for some thousand years or so at that point. Some followers of ancient religions were not as eager or willing to give that up so easily, like Jezebel. She started having prophets of the Israeli God killed off.  Although it is said many died, many also survived. Jezebel would stop at nothing to see this new religion gone. She was spoken badly about  by worshipers of God and in biblical texts she is described as a wicked woman who dressed herself in makeup and sinful clothing, she was even portrayed as a prostitute, a harlot.

Women were viewed much differently in this new religion and the men did not take to the old ways of women making themselves attractive or holding any power. Any woman who held power was seen as evil and ungodly. Jezebel was viewed as such. It is said that Elijah, a prophet of God proposed a contest with the worshipers of Baal, and the prophets of God at Mt. Carmel to see which deity was the true God. Some four hundred and fifty followers of Baal and four hundred prophets of God gathered at Mt. Carmel. The contest was to attempt to set a sacrificial bull on fire by the power of their God. The prophets of Baal are said to have prayed and danced to their ancient God all night, though we're not successful. Elijah's prayers were answered with one plea to his God and the bull was set aflame. Though this is what reads in the Biblical texts, we well never really know the truth behind this story as to how the Israelite's won this contest. After winning, Elijah declared their God the one and only true God.

After this Elijah orders all four hundred fifty prophets of Baal to be captured and then had them all slaughtered. When news of this reaches Jezebel by her husband Ahab, she sends a warning message to Elijah that he shall be killed just as he slaughtered hundreds of her people. She is a strong woman, willing to stand up for and fight for her beliefs until the end.

After this Jezebel sends her husband to a man named Naboth, an Israelite, who owned a vineyard next to the palace of Jezebel and Ahab. The king goes to Naboth and asks him for his land so he may use it for vegetables. Naboth refuses invoking the power of God. Ahab returns to Jezebel to inform her. Being that in her homeland, a powerful woman had much sway, she decided to take this into her own hands. She sends out letters to the townspeople falsely accusing Naboth of blasphemy against the Israeli God, and stamps them with her husbands seal. They take Naboth out and stone him to death. It is at this point that Elijah returns and talks to Ahab about how he will kill Jezebel.

It is after a while when Jezebels son, Joram, assumes the throne after Ahab dies. Although Elijah decided to crown Jehu, Jorams military commander. Jehu commands Joram out one day to the battlefield, and kills him. After this he races his chariot to kill Jezebel. Knowing he is coming for her, she does not flee, she stays and puts kohl around her eyes, brushes her hair, and dresses in her finest. To her this is her finest hour, she is willing to die for her cause. She stands on her balcony waiting for Jehu to arrive. When he gets there and sees her he orders his people to throw her out of the window. She lands on the ground and then Jehu declares that her body will be eaten by dogs. She dies in a horrific way and Jehu leaves her body on the street while he and his men celebrate.

Jezebel was a powerful Queen of Israel, even though she was a woman in this new land where women held no power, she was not willing to let go of her Phoenician roots and religion. She would not under any circumstance allow this new religion and its people to tear her away from herself. She would rather die then live in a world that she did not believe in.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Jezebel, Phoenician Queen of Israel!

Photo courtesy of Villains
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