(Some) Villains of Tanakh - Jezebel By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb

Part I – Background Sources

Jezebel’s background: I Kings 16:29-32

1. What is her family background?

  • In this case her father’s occupation is important both for her upbringing and for suggesting why this marriage took place. Sidon is on the Lebanese coast, half way between Tyre and Beirut. The inhabitants were Phoenicians, a sea faring group of Canaanites.

2. What impact did she have on the cultic practices of Israel?

  • We will ask this question again, but let’s keep in mind that she comes from a polytheistic society where Baal and Ashera are prominent deities.

In Jezebel’s kingdom: I Kings 18:3-4, 17-20

3. So, what impact did she have on religion in Israel?

  • What we are looking at is not necessarily on the issue of belief but rather the creation of a new state religion. Jezebel goes about this in a two-fold manner; eradicating the old and using state funds for supporting the priests of the new official religion.

4. Notice Ovadiahu, the head-of-the-palace, and his behavior. What is ironic about the situation?

  • There is no lack of irony. Ovadiahu means ‘the servant of the LORD.’ It is this worshipper of the LORD that is King Ahab’s trusted helper. He is an impressive figure – saving the lives of 100 prophets of the LORD and providing them with food and water during a famine. Where did he get the food from? Maybe Baal priests were not the only ones living off the State?

The Clash (round 1): I Kings 18:40-19:2

On Mount Carmel, Elijah attempts to bring the people back to their ancestral God through a show of fire. Once the people declare that ‘the LORD is the God!’ he/He will provide rain. That is the positive end of the story. But how do you get rid of Jezebel’s influence? (Don’t act this out in class…)

Out of all things that Ahab could have told his wife Jezebel about the amazing events, he chose to share that Elijah had killed the Baal priests.

5. Why does she give Elijah notice that she will kill him tomorrow?

  • If the messenger can find him to deliver the message, why not kill him now?

6. Read her words in 19:2. She takes an oath to kill Elijah. How can we see from her oath that she is indeed a polytheist?

  • If you can, peek in the Hebrew and notice the verbs: כֹּה-יַעֲשׂוּן אֱלֹהִים וְכֹה יוֹסִפוּן vs. the oath formula taken by Solomon in I Kings 2:23: .כֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה-לִּי אֱלֹהִים וְכֹה יוֹסִיף
  • Notice that Solomon uses the verbs in the singular form ‘so may God do to me and so may He add…’ (Meaning the person puts a curse on himself if he will not fulfill the oath.) What form does Jezebel use?

Part II – Nabot’s Vineyard

I Kings 21:1-25 (The Clash, round 2)

In this story we meet Jezebel in her full power. Ahab, her husband, appears as a weak monarch alongside this iron lady. Outside sources (and a few verses in Tanakh) tell us that he was actually one of the kings of Israel that did the most to advance his country.

1. Nabot’s refusal to give up his vineyard puts Jezebel on the war path.

  • Read the accounts of Ahab’s offer and Nabot’s refusal, they are not quite identical. Try to notice the differences and their significance.
(ב) וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר אַחְאָ֣ב אֶל־נָב֣וֹת ׀ לֵאמֹר֩ ׀ תְּנָה־לִּ֨י אֶֽת־כַּרְמְךָ֜ וִֽיהִי־לִ֣י לְגַן־יָרָ֗ק כִּ֣י ה֤וּא קָרוֹב֙ אֵ֣צֶל בֵּיתִ֔י וְאֶתְּנָ֤ה לְךָ֙ תַּחְתָּ֔יו כֶּ֖רֶם ט֣וֹב מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אִ֚ם ט֣וֹב בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ אֶתְּנָה־לְךָ֥ כֶ֖סֶף מְחִ֥יר זֶֽה׃ (ג) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר נָב֖וֹת אֶל־אַחְאָ֑ב חָלִ֤ילָה לִּי֙ מֵֽיהוָ֔ה מִתִּתִּ֛י אֶת־נַחֲלַ֥ת אֲבֹתַ֖י לָֽךְ׃ (ד) וַיָּבֹא֩ אַחְאָ֨ב אֶל־בֵּית֜וֹ סַ֣ר וְזָעֵ֗ף עַל־הַדָּבָר֙ אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֣ר אֵלָ֗יו נָבוֹת֙ הַיִּזְרְעֵאלִ֔י וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹֽא־אֶתֵּ֥ן לְךָ֖ אֶת־נַחֲלַ֣ת אֲבוֹתָ֑י וַיִּשְׁכַּב֙ עַל־מִטָּת֔וֹ וַיַּסֵּ֥ב אֶת־פָּנָ֖יו וְלֹֽא־אָ֥כַל לָֽחֶם׃ (ה) וַתָּבֹ֥א אֵלָ֖יו אִיזֶ֣בֶל אִשְׁתּ֑וֹ וַתְּדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלָ֗יו מַה־זֶּה֙ רוּחֲךָ֣ סָרָ֔ה וְאֵינְךָ֖ אֹכֵ֥ל לָֽחֶם׃ (ו) וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלֶ֗יהָ כִּֽי־אֲ֠דַבֵּר אֶל־נָב֨וֹת הַיִּזְרְעֵאלִ֜י וָאֹ֣מַר ל֗וֹ תְּנָה־לִּ֤י אֶֽת־כַּרְמְךָ֙ בְּכֶ֔סֶף א֚וֹ אִם־חָפֵ֣ץ אַתָּ֔ה אֶתְּנָה־לְךָ֥ כֶ֖רֶם תַּחְתָּ֑יו וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹֽא־אֶתֵּ֥ן לְךָ֖ אֶת־כַּרְמִֽי׃
(2) Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it as a vegetable garden, since it is right next to my palace. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange; or, if you prefer, I will pay you the price in money.” (3) But Naboth replied, “The LORD forbid that I should give up to you what I have inherited from my fathers!” (4) Ahab went home dispirited and sullen because of the answer that Naboth the Jezreelite had given him: “I will not give up to you what I have inherited from my fathers!” He lay down on his bed and turned away his face, and he would not eat. (5) His wife Jezebel came to him and asked him, “Why are you so dispirited that you won’t eat?” (6) So he told her, “I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and proposed to him, ‘Sell me your vineyard for money, or if you prefer, I’ll give you another vineyard in exchange’; but he answered, ‘I will not give my vineyard to you.’”

2. What is the fundamental difference between Ahab’s and Jezebel’s understanding of Nabot’s refusal?

  • Different value and law systems are at play. Ahab is a monarch. Nabot invokes ancient tribal law. Who takes precedent? What is the place of the monarch vis-à-vis the law?

3. How does Jezebel go about obtaining the vineyard?

  • Even Jezebel isn’t brazen enough to just appropriate the land. (This might help us answer the question above.) She invents a crime that carries a death penalty (cursing God and the king,) and that we can assume will let the monarch receive the property of the guilty man. (Otherwise, his heirs should have inherited it. It is an ancestral plot.)

4. How do we know that the elders that had to play a part here knew that Jezebel stood behind the plot?

  • The letters were sealed with Ahab’s seal (v.8). But who receives word that the orders have been carried out?

5. What is God’s verdict (delivered by Elijah?)

II Kings 9:6-10, 21-37

Jehu, an army officer, is instructed by a prophet to rebel against the king Jehoram, Ahab’s son.

1. What is the moral basis for this instruction?

2. Jehu tells a different account of the events that led to Nabot’s vineyard belonging to the king. How do they differ? Which is more sinister?

  • Notice that now we are not talking about a vineyard but rather a plot of land. According to Jehu’s account (v.26) who was killed and when? What is Jezebel’s role in this account? Why did the narrator keep both accounts?

3. How does Jezebel handle the revolt?

  • Why does she fix her appearance? Why does she lean out the window to address Jehu?

4. Her line to Jehu is a sharp barb. What does it mean?

  • Look up the story of Zimri (I Kings 16:8-22). Compare Zimri with Omri who eventually reigned (Omri was Ahab’s father…) Consider their army position, the legitimacy of how they became kings, and how successful they were.

5. How does Jezebel die, and how does Jehu treat her death?

  • The palace servants knew who to bet on. But notice that Jehu is unable to be completely cool about the murdered Jezebel – she is a king’s daughter. What does it tell us about Jezebel? How is this connected to our story?

From: http://www.bible-archaeology.info/palaces.htm – the ivories of Samaria – Ahab’s capital.

Part III – Rabbinic Material (Midrash)

גמילות חסדים אנו למדים מאיזבל כי ביתה היה סמוך לשוק וכל מת שהיה עובר בשוק היתה יוצאה מתוך ביתה ומכה בכפיה ומקוננת בפיה ומהלכת עשרה צעדות. וכל חתן שהיה עובר בשוק היתה יוצאה מפתח ביתה ומסלסלת בכפי ידיה ומהלכת עשרה צעדות, ונתנבא עליה אליהו זכור לטוב הכליבים יאכלו את איזבל בחלק יזרעאל והאברים שגמלו חסד לא שלטו בהם הכלבים ונייתנו לקבורה שנאמר וילכו לקברה וגו'.

Acting out of Loving Kindness we learn from Jezebel,

For her house was close to the shuk

And [for] every dead that was passed through the shuk –

She would go out of her home’s entrance and clap with her hands and cry with her mouth and walk ten steps.

And [for] every groom that would pass through the shuk –

She would go out of her home’s entrance and twist her hands [in dance motions] and walk ten steps.

And Elijah, he shall be remembered for good, prophesied about her

“The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the field of Jezre’el.” (I Kings 21:23)

But the limbs that performed acts of Loving Kindness – those the dogs could not touch, and they were given a burial.

As it says: “And they went to bury her [but they did not find of her except the skull, the feet and the palms of the hands.]” (II Kings 9:35)

1. Midrash is usually based on something in the text. What in the story of II Kings 9:21-37 brought about this Midrash?

  • The death of Jezebel is rather strange. This is not the first royal family that was wiped out, but never have we heard a story like this. The window of opportunity for the Midrash came because of the curious details.

2. How does this Midrash fit with her personality, as you saw it in the text?

  • In other words, does the Midrash have a leg to stand on from the image of Jezebel in the Tanakh? Do we know anything about her in the social sphere? Maybe her husband, Ahab, might offer a suggestion. He introduced idol worship, and evoked Elijah’s wrath, but also developed his country greatly. In chapter 22 we are told of his death: Despite being injured, he remained standing, bleeding, in his chariot during the battle so the people would not surrender. It cost him his life. So what grade should we give him, and how will he be presented in a historiographic narrative like the Book of Kings?