Jezabel was born between the years of 900-875 B.C.,
the daughter of the Phoenician King Ethbaal I of Tyre and the Sidonians and his wife. Her father, born between 950-925 B.C., had
ascended to the Phoenician throne after the death of his father, Asshur. There is no record of who Jezabel's mother was, nor
if Jezabel had any siblings, but her childhood was spent in the palaces of Sidon, surrounded by the rich culture of the Phoenicians.
Although the Phoenician culture rivaled the cultures of Greece and Egypt, the people under King Ethbaal were very superstitious
and primitive people in other aspects. While other empires and kingdoms were embracing the Egyptian and Greek pantheons and
others accepting Judiasm, the majority of Phoenicians were devoted to idol worshipping, especially to the goddess Astarte,
a variation of the Assyrian goddess Ishtar. King Ethbaal I himself is thought to have been a priest of Astarte, and Jezabel
may have been trained as a priestess growing up. Nevertheless, Jezabel was very devoted to her religion. Jezabel lived
in luxury in the royal palaces. Imports from the Far East and the exotic lands of Egypt and North Africa were showered upon
her. She was said to be a beauty, her skin a dark complexion set with long dark, hair and piercing eyes.
Queen of Israel
Around the age of 19 (881 B.C., some put the year at
856 B.C. to correspond with the variations of Jezabel's year of birth), Jezabel was betrothed to King Ahab of Israel and Samaria,
who was nearly the age of her father. The marriage was a political alliance, binding together the Israeli kingdoms and the
Phoenician kingdoms against the Syrians. Israel gained access to the Phoenician ports and the Phoenician lands gained access
to the King's Highway, the heavily traveled inland route from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Damascus and Israel's central hill
Jezabel took up her extravagant lifestyle once again
at the royal palaces in Shechem, an Israeli city in the Northern Kingdom. Along with her luxurious ways, Jezabel brought
with her the Phoenician culture: art, literature, and ideas. Devout to her religion, Jezabel also introduced to her people
the idea of idol worshipping, Queen Jezabel's biggest fault. A fanatic of her religion, Jezabel installed 450 priests to serve
the idol of Baal and 400 to serve Astarte. The people of Phoenicia allowed their culture to merge with Jezabel's flaunting
Phoenician ways, but her primitive worshipping of statues was shocking and that she expected the people to join her in her
pagan ways was almost insulting. Queen Jezabel became widely unpopular with her people, and soon her power as queen went to
A Mad Monarch
Queen Jezabel began her persecution of the Jewish prophets
not long after her introduction of her faith to her new kingdom. Insulting to her faith, she set out to rid Israel of these
'heretics'. The first mention of Jezabel in the Bible, her most famous texts, tells of her persecution of the Prophet Elijah.
Seeing that she was destroying the Jewish faith, Elijah challenged the authority of her gods when he brought her acolytes
to Mount Carmel. There, it is announced that whoever can set the sacrificial bull on fire is the winner, and their god is
the one true God. The 850 combined priests of Baal and Astarte raved and keend as they danced about their alter, swinging
daggers in the air and stabbing themselves in humility. At the end of their show, they failed at their task. Elijah then came
forward and said:
"O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel! Let it be known today that You are
God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer
me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God; for You have turned their hearts backward (1 Kings 18:36-37). "
At once, fire descended from above and consumed the
sacrificial bull. Afterwards, Elijah led the 850 prophets of Jezabel's faith into the Wadi Kishon and had them slaughtered.
Jezabel, at home in Shechem, was enraged when she heard the news. Soon, Elijah and Jezabel were consumed in a religious war.
Not only were they content on having the other killed, but strived to laughter the opposing followers. Jezabel's slaughter
of the prophets was condemned as murder, yet Elijah's cold-blooded murders of Jezabel's followers were celebrated. After King
Ahab returned from the competition and told Jezabel the news, she sent a menacing note to Elijah, threatening to slaughter
him just as he slaughtered her followers:
Thus and more may the
gods do if by this time tomorrow I have not made you like one of them
She later sent him a note declaring that Elijah should fear for his life:
If you are Elijah, so
I am Jezebel
Jezabel clearly was not like other queens of the Middle
East. She was independent and powerful and had a voice, and would crush the rebellion. Elijah fled to Mount Sinai (called
Horeb in the Bible) where he questioned his faith even after the miracle at Mount Carmel and was insulted, feeling from a
Jezabel was not just an enemy of religion, but also
an enemy of the state. King Ahab attempted to ask for a plot of land adjacent to the royal palace from the owner, Naboth.
According to the Israeli law, he had full rights to the land and when he refused King Ahab, he had every right too. Nonetheless,
King Ahab sulked and refused to eat. Jezabel set out to make her husband happy again. Jezabel was not familiar with the Israeli
laws, but she knew in her Phoenician homeland, a land of autocrats, that the king had power to simply take the plot of land.
So Jezabel decides to kill Naboth, but using her cunning ways in the process. She signs a proclamation condemning Naboth,
with King Ahab's signature and seal, and rallies the townsfolk against Naboth, accusing him of blasphemy (ironic when Jezabel
was attempting to change the state religion and was caught up in a holy war, depicted as the enemy in her own kingdom). Naboth,
innocent of all charges, is stoned to death by order of Jezabel, with the King's signature. The plot of land was handed over
the King Ahab, though the cost was appalling. Also this shows the shocking power that Jezabel had. Obviously the townspeople
knew that Naboth was innocent, as they had known him their whole lives, but somehow they were convinced by Jezabel, and not
through bribery or by threat. The story may not have been true, but it proved as excellent propaganda depicting the wrath
of Elijah and his followers against their queen.
Elijah returned home not long afterwards, with a message
from God saying that Ahab would suffer a horrible death, that "In the very place where the dogs lapped up Naboth's blood,
the dogs will lap up your blood too." However, when Elijah confronted the king, he applied the message instead to Queen Jezabel,
condemning her death. Ashamed and fearful of the future, King Ahab donned a sack, fasted, and prayed constantly to Elijah's
God. Queen Jezabel was shocked at his behavior, and also of his abandonment of her religion.
Queen Jezabel produced three children by
King Ahab. Two sons, Jehoram and Ahaziah, and a daughter, Athaliah. The next time that Jezabel comes into history, King Ahab
died (about 853 B.C.), and Ahaziah had briefly reigned from 853-852 B.C. His brother, Jehoram was the new king. However, Jehoram's
military commander, Jehu, was proclaimed King of Israel by Elijah, who also ordered Jehu to eradicate the House of Ahab, also
known as the House of Amri.
Jehu and King Jehoram, both considerably
friendly with one another, met on a battlefield one day. Jehoram, treating his friend with respect, asked Jehu if all was
well. Jehu replied that nothing could be well as long as Jezabel carried on her sorceries. Jehu then shot King Jehoram, and
then had his body dumped on Naboth's stolen land.