Idolatry in Israel was not a new problem. Even before marrying Jezebel, King Ahab is described in the Bible as walking "in the sins of Jeroboam," a king of Israel who built and worshipped two golden calves, and built notorious "high places" for worship, to keep Israelites from going to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem after the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were divided (I Kings 12:25-31).
Ahab only makes matters worse by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Tyre or the "Sidonians" (the Phoenicians of the Mediterranean coast). Ahab begins serving Baal, the god to whom his wife is devoted. (Jezebel's name means "Where is the Prince?", a reference to the annual absence of the fertility god Baal--and his rain--in the underworld.) Jezebel's missionary zeal keeps Ahab "stirred up," as he does "more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (I Kings 16:33; 21:25). In Samaria, the capitol city of Israel, Ahab builds a temple for Baal. He also erects an image of Baal's consort Asherah. Jezebel persecutes the prophets of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal and of Asherah, eight hundred and fifty in all, "eat at Jezebel's table" (I Kings 18:4,13,19). Moreover, Ahab's and Jezebel's daughter Athaliah marries King Jehoram of Judah, where Baalism is then also promoted (II Kings 8:18).
There follows three years of famine. Elijah, whom Ahab calls "you troubler of Israel," then tells the king to gather at Mount Carmel all the people of Israel and all of Jezebel's prophets of Baal. When all are gathered, Elijah conducts a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal, to see which God will answer their calls to send down fire for a burnt offering. "The God that answereth by fire," Elijah says, "let him be God." The prophets of Baal entreat their god in vain to send down fire, whereupon Elijah prays to God, and "the fire of the Lord fell." The people fall down, saying, "The Lord, he is God." Elijah orders that the prophets of Baal be brought down to the brook Kishon, and there Elijah slays them (1 Kings 18:17-40). When Jezebel gets word of this slaughter, she sends a messenger with a letter to Elijah expressing her intent to kill him "by this time tomorrow." This sends Elijah into hiding (I Kings 19:1-3).
When Ahab, at war with Syria, is mortally wounded in battle while disguised as a common soldier, he is propped up in his chariot till he dies. His blood is then washed from the chariot, and as prophesied the dogs lick it up (I Kings 22:29-38).
Elisha sends one of the prophets to anoint Jehu, a commander of the Israelite army, as king of Israel, telling Jehu in the name of the Lord, "Thou shalt smite the house of Ahab, . . . to avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord, at the hand of Jezebel." "The dogs shall eat Jezebel" and "there will be none to bury her" (II Kings 9:1-10).
Jehu dutifully conspires against King Joram. He heads by chariot for Jezreel, where Joram is recuperating from a Syrian war wound, and where Ahab's grandson Ahaziah the king of Judah is visiting him. Joram and Ahaziah ride out in chariots to meet Jehu, who assassinates them both, for the "whoredoms" and "witchcrafts" of Jezebel. Jehu then goes after Jezebel herself in Jezreel (II Kings 9:14-28).
Aware that he's coming, the queen mother Jezebel paints her face, adorns her head, and looks out at an upper window. (Thus she is pictured, notes Mary Chilton Calloway, as a whore.) Knowing what to expect, and remaining true to her gods to the end, Jezebel shows Jehu bravery and defiance. "Is it peace, you Zimri?" she asks him, as Jehu arrives through the gate below. The question is rhetorical, since Zimri, as she immediately notes, "murdered his master" (see 1 Kings 16:8-12.).
"Who is on my side? Who?" Jehu shouts, and "two or three eunuchs" appear at the window. "Throw her down," Jehu commands, and they do so. Some of her blood spatters on the wall and on the horses. After trampling Jezebel with the horses, Jehu goes in for a bite to eat. He gives orders too late for "this cursed woman" to be buried, as dogs devour Jezebel's body, as prophesied, except for the skull, feet, and palms. Now her carcass, Jehu notes, "shall be dung on the face of the field" (II Kings 9:30-37).
For a biblical view far different from that of the two books of Kings on a foreign woman in Hebrew society, see the story of Ruth.
In the Ugaritic texts Baal is also called Baalzebul ("Prince Baal"), changed disparagingly in II Kings 1:2-18 to Baalzebub ("lord of the flies"). In the New Testament it changes to Beelzebul (RSV, "lord of dung") or Beelzebub (KJV, copying Kings), as another name for Satan (see Matthew 12:24-27).
Calloway, Mary Chilton. "Women in the Old Testament" in What the Bible Really Says, ed. by Morton Smith and R. Joseph Hoffmann. New York: HarperCollins, 1993, pp. 197-211.
Ecker, Ronald L. And Adam Knew Eve: A Dictionary of Sex in the Bible. Palatka, FL: Hodge & Braddock, 1995, pp. 26-27.
Efird, James M. "Baal-zebub" in Harper's Bible Dictionary, ed. by Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 86.
Exum, J. Cheryl. "Jezebel" in Harper's Bible Dictionary, ed. by Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, p. 489.
Hackett, Jo Ann. "Jezebel" in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 368.
Meeks, Wayne A., ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible, ed. by Wayne A. Meeks. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.
Metzger, Bruce M., and Murphy, Roland E., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 1126-1147.
Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.
Stoops, Robert. "Baal-zebub" in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 70.