JEZEBEL (Heb. אִיזֶבֶל, perhaps from זבל, "the exalted one" with the prefix [i;] meaning "Where is the Exalted One / Prince?" (cf. Ichabod, "Where is the Divine Presence?). Another possibility is "The Prince Lives," by assimilation from *ʾš zbl > yzbl > ʾyzbl and the addition of prothetic aleph; see Cogan, 420 ). "Prince" should be connected to an attested epithet of Baal. Jezebel's father's name, Ethbaal, would indicate devotion to Baal going back at least two generations, and presage her own Baalistic enthusiasm. Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, wife of *Ahab king of Israel, and mother of *Ahaziah and *Jehoram (Joram), sons and successors of Ahab (note their Yahwistic names). Jezebel was born about the end of the first decade of the ninth century and was killed in the insurrection of Jehu in 841 B.C.E. Her marriage to Ahab, arranged evidently by Ahab himself (I Kings 16:31), sealed a mutually advantageous alliance between Israel and the Tyrian Empire. She instituted the worship of the Tyrian Baal in Israel, and for her sake Ahab built a temple to Baal in Samaria that not only served the court of the queen and the Tyrian merchants, artists, and craftsmen, but deeply influenced the aristocracy of Israel. In the stories about *Elijah, Jezebel is the prototype of the enemies of the god of Israel and his prophets. She is depicted as a zealot for the deities of her homeland, who slaughtered the prophets of YHWH (I Kings 18:4) and supported the prophets of Baal and Asherah (I Kings 18:19). Jezebel is a vigorous character with a strong will. She is also literate (I Kings 21:8). The addition in the Septuagint (to I Kings 19:2), "As you are Elijah, and I am Jezebel," emphasized her position as the true enemy of the prophet. When Naboth defied Ahab by refusing to sell his vineyard, Jezebel instigated a judicial murder (I Kings 21) of Naboth, a deed regarded with great reprobation in Israel. The story depicts Ahab as a weakling dominated by his wife. It must be observed that the account of the misappropriation of Naboth's vineyard in I Kings 21 differs from II Kings 9, and, significantly, omits a reference to judicial murder. After Jehu's murder of her son Jehoram, Jezebel adorned herself as a queen, perhaps as a gesture of defiance to Jehu, and Jehu ordered her thrown out of the window. Still he saw to it that she was buried, because she was "a king's daughter" (II Kings 9:34). Jehu's baiting of Joram by referring to Jezebel's harlotries and sorceries (II Kings 9:22) may be the rhetoric of hostility: "Your mother is a whore and a witch." It is noteworthy that rivalries at the court of the Hittite kings Murshili II (mid-14th century B.C.E.) led to similar accusations against the queen mother (Cogan and Tadmor, 110).

In 1964 Avigad published a seal from the ninth or eighth century B.C.E., which reads yzbl, but it is doubtful whether one can identify this name with the name of the queen.

[H. Jacob Katzenstein /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

Jezebel was the instigator of the sins of her husband, Ahab (TJ, Sanh. 10:2, 28b). When R. Levi expounded the verse "But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work of wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up" (I Kings 22:25), Ahab appeared to him in a dream and reproved him for dwelling overmuch on the first part of the verse. He thereupon spent two months demonstrating that Jezebel was the instigator of the sins of her husband (TJ, Sanh. 10:2, 28b). Every day she used to weigh out golden shekels for idol worship (Sanh. 102b). She also placed portraits of harlots in Ahab's chariot in order to excite him, and it was these which were smeared with his blood (cf. I Kings 22:38) when he was killed (Sanh. 39b). However, she was not without virtue. Whenever a funeral passed her residence, she would join in the mourning by clapping her hands, say words of praise for the deceased, and follow the cortege for ten steps. As a reward her palms, skull, and feet were not consumed by the dogs when the prophecy of Elijah was fulfilled (PdRE 17).

In Christianity

In the New Testament (Rev. 2:20–23) the church at Thyatira is admonished "because you allow that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." While Jezebel was probably an epithet rather than the woman's name, this passage based on the accounts in the Hebrew Bible served to immortalize the name Jezebel as a byword for an utterly wicked woman.

[S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]


Peake, in: BJRL, 11 (1927), 296ff.; Albright, in: JPOS, 16 (1936), 17ff.; Avigad, in: IEJ, 14 (1964), 274ff.; Cross, in: BASOR, 184 (1966), 9 n.17; Eissfeldt, in: VT Supplement, 16 (1967), 65ff.; Bright, Hist, index; EM, 1 (1965), 257–8. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1947), 188–9; 6 (1946), 313; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 60–61. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Rofé, in: VT, 38 (1988), 89–104; M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB; 1988); M. White, in: VT, 44 (1994), 66–76; G. Yee, ABD, 3:848–49; M. Cogan, I Kings (AB; 2000).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.