Jezebel – Part 3
The Symbol of an Evil Woman Fighting in a Man’s World?
In part 1 we saw how Jezebel might have behaved differently and salvaged her historical reputation and her husband’s. Then in part 2 we saw how foreign-born Jezebel plotted against Naboth on behalf of her husband, Ahab King of Israel.
In a dialogue with Ahab, Jezebel is portrayed as a woman who is assertive and confident in her abilities as a queen. Ahab, on the other hand, is presented as a person who has no backbone. Ahab tries to impress Jezebel with his abilities as a shrewd merchant negotiating with Naboth for a vineyard.
Jezebel in turn volunteers to teach Ahab a lesson in royalty. ”You will now consolidate your rule over Israel… What is not given to you in friendly negotiations will be given to you for free.” After Naboth has been falsely accused and executed, Jezebel commands Ahab, ”Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth…which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” (verse 15) How surprising. A man refuses to give a king what he wants and suddenly the man dies.
Jezebel takes care to direct a trial ostensibly based on Torah laws, declaring a fast and having two false witnesses accuse Naboth of blaspheming God and the king. The false trial is based on the laws of the Torah: ”You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28) and ”Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses…” (Deuteronomy 17:6). See also Leviticus 24:16.
Jezebel’s use of the laws of the Torah is an extreme example of a Hebrew phrase roughly translated “a villain justifying his ways by means of Torah.” She stages a trial that will allow her to steal the vineyard in a “legitimate” way.
If we enter for a moment into the thought process of Jezebel the daughter of Sidon we will understand that she is finding a safe way to make her methods “kosher.” Although she is a queen, she knows she will always be a foreigner. Therefore, Jezebel is both controlling but also a survivor. Here is a clear example of a strong woman who is aware of her power, but at the same time fears her frailty. A woman who weaves dark plots, but weaves into them threads of law and Torah that will be used for cover and protection.
What Jezebel does not understand was that a king of Israel according to the Torah and the prophets should be as one of the people, not exalted and not above the law (I Kings 2:3). The foreigner Jezebel does not internalize the fact that the king has another role. The pursuit of truth and the establishment of true justice: these are the guarantee for the governmental stability of the royal house in Israel. Jezebel’s attempt at an absolute and corrupt royal model on the one hand, and using the laws of the Torah on the other, fails.
After this incident the prophet Elijah appears and gives his prophecy of wrath. Elijah prophesies to Ahab that wherever he dies dogs will lick his blood, and that his family will be destroyed. For Jezebel he prophesies that the dogs will eat her, and indeed that is what happens. Ahab dies a heroic death in the war with the Aramaeans, and the dogs lick the puddle of his blood.
But Jezebel continues to live for many more years and to have great influence in the kingdom through her two sons, Ahaz and Jehoram, and in the kingdom of Judah through her daughter Athaliah, who reigns there.
The title for Jezebel is “G’virah” or “Queen Mother,” a status that is probably higher than that of just a queen wife of a king – a status of actually ruling. This power in her hands greatly irritates her opponents, the prophets. Jehu finally has her and others killed, in fulfillment of the prophecy.
Sometimes as I read the Bible I am appalled by harsh, difficult and cruel behavior.
Jezebel’s behavior in the story of Naboth’s vineyard is morally unforgivable and shows more than tyranny. It shows exploitation of the law for corrupt purposes.
On the other hand, I also suspect that a certain portion of Jezebel’s bad reputation is due to her daring to take a real part in the power which was to be administered by men only. Jezebel has to this day become a symbol of an evil and sinful woman fighting men who know better than her, what should and should not be done.