Not long after the death of King Solomon in 930BCE, a succession-feud broke out among his children and the kingdom was split into two.
The area surrounding Jerusalem and the Beith HaMikdash was known as the Kingdom of Judah, and the area further north was called the Kingdom of Israel. This schism persisted for more than 2 centuries until the northern kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians and exiled in 722BCE.
King Ahab was the 8th of 19 kings who ruled over Israel – all referred to as ‘evil in the eyes of G-d’ for embracing idolatry. He married the Phoenician princess from Sidon, Iizevel, or Jezebel.
Though accused of seducing her husband into abandoning the worship of G-d and luring him to the worship of Baal and Astarte, the text doesn’t bear this out. Instead the three main Jezebel incidents are reported in I Kings Chapters 16-22. She persecuted the prophets of G-d, publicly threatened to kill Elijah, and sinisterly plotted the false conviction and stoning of neighbor Naboth to acquire his prized garden for her disconsolate husband.
Though King Ahab ruled 22 years and was granted Divine aid during two major battles against the King of Aram, this royal couple’s end was bitter. Ahab was mortally wounded in a third battle, and 3 years later, Jezebel, the despotic queen mother, was defenestrated by her staff; her blood splattering the walls below and her flesh consumed by stray dogs (II Kings 9:30-37). Yet before meeting this grotesque fate, she notably put on her make-up.
Jezebel’s name over time became synonymous with idolatry, treachery and harlotry. Mythologized in paintings, stories, films and music, since the mid-19th century Jezebel-like characters have served as a public warning against the corrupting influence of immoral female power.
Regrettably, the late 20th century decline in social mores makes this reference an outdated cliché. Instead, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme, disempowering women and endangering them to male sexual harassment.
Surely, there must be a happier, safer middle ground.
Rabbi Jeff Berger serves the Rambam Sephardi Synagogue in Elstree/ Borehamwood and can be contacted at RabbiJeffLondon@gmail.com.