The infamous Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab of Israel, lived more than 800 years before my time, so we never got a chance to hang out. If we had, we might have been friends. We have a lot in common.
Neither of us ever converted to our husbands’ maniacally monotheistic religion. But Jezebel went me one better: she did convert her husband to the worship of Baal and Asherah. He even built them a temple. I never attempted to convert my husband. (That said, he did spend many an ecstatic night with me at Temple Magdalen, my holy whorehouse, before and after our unexpected wedding. He was also the catalyst for my apotheosis, however brief, as Isis.)
Jezebel did things on a grander scale. She is said to have fed 450 priests of Baal and 400 priests of Asherah at her table. She is also accused of killing off the priests of Yahweh. Her alleged persecutions drew the attention of the prophet Elijah who mounted a contest between Baal and Yahweh. (Winner: the first to cause a sacrificial bull to spontaneously combust. Prize: status as top dog, I mean god.) When Yahweh prevailed, Elijah slaughtered all Jezebel’s priests. Enraged but not intimidated, Jezebel scared the bejeezus out of Elijah and he turned tail and ran for his life.
The most underhanded thing Jezebel is supposed to have done is to procure Naboth’s vineyard for her whiny husband by illicit means. When Naboth refused to sell to the king, Ahab went off his feed. So Jezebel had Naboth framed for blasphemy for which he and his heirs were promptly stoned. “Got your vineyard for you,” she says to her husband. Meanwhile Elijah comes out of hiding to prophesy some very nasty, gory doom for Ahab, Jezebel and their descendants.
Whether Jezebel did the wicked deed ascribed to her, I don’t know. As Janet Howe Gaines points out in her excellent article “How Bad was Jezebel?” she herself might have been set up. The bias of the biblical writer is clear: Jezebel stands for everything that is abhorrent (and a threat) to the cult of Yahweh. She has to go down. And not only that, be eaten by dogs! But before her grisly end, she shows her metal, painting her eyes with kohl and arranging her hair, then gazing out the window till the latest usurper comes near enough for her to insult him.
Though there is no account of Jezebel doing anything but doting on her sniveling husband, she is also accused of harlotries—and sorceries. Idolatry and adultery were then (and sometimes still are) synonymous. Think of the biblical phrase: whoring after other gods. If a woman has power (or even if she is merely outspoken like me) she must be a whore, a witch—and in my case demon-possessed. Personally, I have no patience with exalting or demonizing women. As Aretha sings, “A woman’s only human.” We, too, are caught up in the glorious, disastrous mess of incarnation. Why shouldn’t we make tragic mistakes, just as men do, and even commit crimes?
The name Jezebel, like the epithet whore, has long been used to intimidate women. We feel we must defend ourselves, protest our virtue. Well, next time someone calls you: Jezebel, whore, witch, go back to painting your eyes with kohl, finish brushing your hair, then turn and calmly gaze. Say, “Yes? And your point?”
For more about Jezebel and me see Bright Dark Madonna, Chapter 16: “Brawl” where the church fathers call me a Jezebel and threaten me with the same fate—all because I ran away to give birth to my daughter in a notorious and holy whorehouse.
Enough about Jezebel and me. What about you? Have you ever been called a Jezebel? Tell us your story.