1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jezebel

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JEZEBEL (Heb. ī-zebel, perhaps an artificial form to suggest “un-exalted,” a divine name or its equivalent would naturally be expected instead of the first syllable), wife of Ahab, king of Israel (1 Kings xvi. 31), and mother of Athaliah, in the Bible. Her father Eth-baal (Ithobal, Jos., contra Ap. i. 18) was king of Tyre and priest of the goddess Astarte. He had usurped the throne and was the first important Phoenician king after Hiram (see Phoenicia). Jezebel, a true daughter of a priest of Astarte, showed herself hostile to the worship of Yahweh, and to his prophets, whom she relentlessly pursued (1 Kings xviii. 4-13; see Elijah). She is represented as a woman of virile character, and became notorious for the part she took in the matter of Naboth's vineyard. When the Jezreelite[1] sheikh refused to sell the family inheritance to the king, Jezebel treacherously caused him to be arrested on a charge of treason, and with the help of false witnesses he was found guilty and condemned to death. For this the prophet Elijah pronounced a solemn curse upon Ahab and Jezebel, which was fulfilled when Jehu, who was anointed king at Elisha's instigation, killed the son Jehoram, massacred all the family, and had Jezebel destroyed (1 Kings xxi.; 2 Kings ix. 11-28). What is told of her comes from sources written under the influence of strong religious bias; among the exaggerations must be reckoned 1 Kings xviii. 13, which is inconsistent with xix. 18 and xxii. 6. A literal interpretation of the reference to Jezebel's idolatry (2 Kings ix. 22) has made her name a byword for a false prophetess in Rev. ii. 20. Her name is often used in modern English as a synonym for an abandoned woman or one who paints her face. (S. A. C.)


  1. According to another tradition Naboth lived at Samaria (xxi. 1 [LXX.], 18 seq.; cf. xxii. 38). A similar confusion regarding the king's home appears in 2 Kings x. 11 compared with iv. 1, 17.