The Story of Jezebel in the Bible

A Worshiper of Ba'al and Enemy of God

Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah
Sir Francis Dicksee/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Jezebel's story is recounted in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, where she is described as a worshiper of the god Ba'al and the goddess Asherah — not to mention as an enemy of God's prophets.

Name Meaning and Origins

Jezebel (אִיזָבֶל, Izavel), and translates from the Hebrew as something akin to "Where is the prince?" According to the Oxford Guide to People & Places of the Bible, "Izavel" was cried out by worshipers during ceremonies in honor of Ba'al.

Jezebel lived during the 9th century BCE, and in 1 Kings 16:31 she's named as the daughter of Ethba'al, the king of Phoenicia/Sidon (modern-day Lebanon), making her a Phoenician princess. She married Northern Israel's King Ahab, and the couple was established in the northern capital of Samaria. As a foreigner with foreign forms of worship, King Ahab built and altar to Ba'al in Samaria to appease Jezebel.

Jezebel and God's Prophets

As King Ahab's wife, Jezebel mandated that her religion should be the national religion of Israel and organized guilds of prophets of Ba'al (450) and Asherah (400).

As a result, Jezebel is described as an enemy of God who was "killing off the Lord's prophets" (1 Kings 18:4).  In response, the prophet Elijah accused King Ahab of abandoning the Lord and challenged Jezebel's prophets to a contest. They were to meet him on the top of Mt. Carmel. Then Jezebel's prophets would slaughter a bull, but not set fire to it, as required for an animal sacrifice.

Elijah would do that same on another altar. Whichever god caused the bull to catch fire would then be proclaimed the true god. Jezebel's prophets beseeched their gods to ignite their bull, but nothing happened. When it was Elijah's turn, he soaked his bull in water, prayed, and "then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice" (1 Kings 18:38).

Upon seeing this miracle, the people who were watching prostrated themselves and believed that Elijah's god was the true God. Elijah then commanded the people to kill Jezebel's prophets, which they did. When Jezebel learns of this, she declares Elijah an enemy and promises to kill him just as he killed her prophets.

Then, Elijah fled to the wilderness, where he mourned Israel's devotion to Ba'al. 

Jezebel and Naboth's Vineyard

Although Jezebel was one of King Ahab's many wives, 1 and 2 Kings make it apparent that she wielded a considerable amount of power. The earliest example of her influence occurs in 1 Kings 21, when her husband wanted a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. Naboth refused to give his land to the king because it had been in his family for generations. In response, Ahab became sullen and upset. When Jezebel noticed her husband's mood, she inquired after the cause and decided to get the vineyard for Ahab. She did so by writing letters in the king's name commanding the elders of Naboth's city to accuse Naboth of cursing both God and his King. The elders obliged and Naboth was convicted of treason, then stoned. Upon his death, his property reverted to the king, so in the end, Ahab got the vineyard he wanted.

At God's command, the prophet Elijah then appeared before King Ahab and Jezebel, proclaiming that because of their actions, 

"This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood — yes, yours!" (1 Kings 21:17).

He further prophesied that Ahab's male descendants will die, his dynasty will end, and that dogs will "devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel" (1 Kings 21:23).

Jezebel's Death

Elijah's prophesy at the end of the narrative of Naboth's vineyard comes true when Ahab dies in Samaria and his son, Ahaziah, dies within two years of ascending the throne. He is killed by Jehu, who emerges as another contender for the throne when the prophet Elisha declares him King. Here again, Jezebel's influence becomes apparent. Although Jehu has killed the king, he has to kill Jezebel in order to assume power.

According to 2 Kings 9:30-34, Jezebel and Jehu meet soon after the death of her son Ahaziah. When she learns of his demise, she puts on makeup, does her hair, and looks out a palace window only to see Jehu enter the city. She calls to him and he responds by asking her servants if they are on his side. "Who is on my side? Who?" he asks, "Thrown her down!" (2 Kings 9:32).

Jezebel's eunuchs then betray her by throwing her out the window. She dies when she hits the street and is trampled by horses. After taking a break to eat and drink, Jehu commands that she be buried "for she was a king's daughter" (2 Kings 9:34), but by the time his men go to bury her, dogs have eaten all but her skull, feet, and hands.

"Jezebel" as a Cultural Symbol

In modern times the name "Jezebel" is often associated with a wanton or evil woman. According to some scholars, she has received such a negative reputation not only because she was a foreign princess who worshiped foreign gods, but because she wielded so much power as a woman.

There are many songs composed using the title "Jezebel," including those by

Also, there is a popular Gawker sub-site called Jezebel that covers feminist and women's interest issues.