Who was Jezebel? - Biblical Story, Characteristics & Death

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

Jezebel is an unsavory biblical figure found in the Book of Kings, infamous for her deception, trickery, and idolatry. Read this lesson to learn more about Jezebel and the significance of her gory death.

Jezebel the Foreigner

Have you ever heard ''Jezebel'' used to refer to a promiscuous, amoral, or deceptive person? This connotation has its root in the character of Jezebel in the Book of Kings, which is a book written around the 7th century BCE and found in the Hebrew Bible. Let's look at how Jezebel, an Israelite queen, came to be such a terrible and infamous figure.

To begin with, Jezebel was not originally an Israelite. She was a foreign princess, the daughter of the king of Tyre. This already was a bad start for Jezebel since the Israelites typically viewed foreigners as enemies. Foreign women were often seen as temptresses, and this carries over to Jezebel's character. Trying to make alliances in the ancient Near East was best done through marriage, so the Israelite king Ahab married Princess Jezebel, making her the queen of Israel.

Painting of Jezebel painting her eyes and adorning her hair
Painting of Jezebel painting her eyes and adorning her hair

''Exalted of Ba'al''

One of the reasons Israelites often shunned foreigners was because they worshiped different deities, and Jezebel was no different. Israelites traditionally worshiped the Hebrew god YHWH, whose name was supposedly so scared that Israelites would not write the vowels for the full name ''Yahweh,'' which is simply a form of the Hebrew word for ''I am.'' Jezebel's god was Ba'al, a Canaanite storm god worshiped by many surrounding nations. Jezebel's name literally means, in its original form, ''exalted of Ba'al,'' and she supported and provided for 450 prophets of this god, according to Kings. Her support of Ba'al led her husband, Ahab, ''astray'' into idolatry, according to Israelite understanding.

Depiction of the storm god Baal
Depiction of the storm god Baal

Persecution and Deception

Because of the conflict between worshipers of Ba'al and YHWH, Jezebel persecuted the prophets, or messengers, of YHWH, killing many of them. Perhaps the most famous of these was Elijah, whose name simply means ''YHWH is my god.'' Elijah frequently chastised Ahab for his involvement with this foreign, idolatrous woman, claiming she would eventually be eaten by dogs—which we will see happens in the story.

Jezebel is probably most famous for and earns her bad reputation from the incident of securing a plot of land for her husband. Next to Ahab's palace in Jezreel, a city in northern Israel, was a vineyard that Ahab wanted to buy and annex. The owner, Naboth, refused to sell his vineyard because it was a family inheritance. Jezebel falsely accused Naboth of blaspheming against god and the king, both terrible offenses resulting in Naboth being stoned to death. Jezebel's deceit and trickery brought her what she wanted, and she was able to give Ahab the vineyard.

The Death and Punishment of the Queen

Jezebel's actions, deceit, and idolatry were the cause of her death, at least according to the prophet Elijah. As he prophesied, Jezebel's death was gory and horrific, a scene worthy of a television ''graphic violence'' warning. Jehu, a man who was divinely chosen to wipe out Ahab's lineage and who then became king, came to kill Ahab's son. Jezebel was in her room and, hearing of Jehu's arrival, ''painted her eyes, and adorned her head,'' symbolic of a temptress or amoral woman since this was something a prostitute would do.

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