Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab, son of Omri of Israel in the ninth century BCE and became queen of Israel. The Bible presents her as an ardent supporter of Baal, and she is frequently depicted in bloodthirsty confrontation with God’s prophets. Although she is sometimes portrayed as a seductress in popular culture, this association comes from the New Testament (Rev 2:20-22) and is not found in the Hebrew Bible.

Did you know…?

  • Apart from the unnamed wife of Jeroboam (1Kgs 14) Jezebel is the only queen of the northern kingdom of Israel given attention in 1-2 Kings.
  • Jezebel’s marriage to Ahab likely sealed an alliance between Tyre and Israel; other women from foreign marriage alliances in 1-2 Kings are also presented as dangerous to Israel’s Yahwistic identity (1Kgs 3:1-2; 1Kgs 10:1-8; 2Kgs 8:26; 2Kgs 11:1-3).
  • Jezebel worshipped Baal and apparently influenced Ahab to do the same (1Kgs 16:31-32), though Ahab also spoke with prophets of Yahweh and gave his sons (Ahaziah and Joram) Yahwistic names, which raises questions about the extent to which Jezebel violently opposed Yahwism.
  • Jezebel’s slaughter of Yahweh’s prophets and Naboth partly excuse the bloodshed of Jehu, who usurped the throne from her son. It remains a matter of debate whether Jezebel’s bloodshed is historical or whether it literarily serves to support the positive portrayals of Jehu.
  • The depiction of Jezebel adorned in finery has been thought to indicate that she was seducing Jehu, though there is no evidence of this in the text. Despite popular conceptions, only in Rev 2:20-22 is a figure called Jezebel portrayed as a seductress or whore. The Jezebel of Revelation was probably a prophetess whom the author sought to belittle through depicting her as a prostitute and calling her Jezebel.

How Powerful Was Jezebel?

1Kgs 16:31 presents Jezebel as the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians. Ethbaal was king of the Phoenician coastal city Tyre, and Jezebel’s marriage to Ahab likely sealed an alliance between Tyre and Israel, allowing Israel to benefit from Tyre’s trade routes. As such, Jezebel was an important woman, representing two royal houses. Her importance is also seen in her authority to use the king’s seal and send orders to nobles of Jezreel (1Kgs 21:8-16), in her execution of the prophets of Yahweh without consequences (1Kgs 18:4, 1Kgs 18:13), and in the reference to the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who ate at her table (1Kgs 18:19). In addition, apart from a brief narrative about the unnamed wife of Jeroboam I (1Kgs 14:1-17), Jezebel is the only royal woman who is mentioned in any detail in connection with the northern kingdom of Israel (she appears in 1Kgs 16, 1Kgs 18-19, 1Kgs 21, and 2Kgs 9). The Bible thus affords her an unparalleled amount of attention, all of which presents her negatively: Ahab seemingly worshipped Baal because of her (1Kgs 16:31-32; 1Kgs 21:25-26), she ignored God’s prophets and tried to kill them (1Kgs 18:4), and she had the innocent Naboth murdered so that Ahab could take his land (1Kgs 21).

Historically, it is plausible that she did worship Baal—the god of Tyre, represented in both her name and her father’s name—though the extent to which she opposed Yahwism and the bloodthirsty actions ascribed to her cannot be verified outside the biblical texts. Within the Bible, however, Jezebel appears as the epitome of royal female power, which manifests as a threat to Israel. She is not alone in this—two other powerful royal women who married into Israel and Judah to cement an alliance are also presented as a danger to the biblical kings (Pharaoh’s daughter 1Kgs 3:1-2, 1Kgs 11:1-8; Athaliah 2Kgs 8:26, 2Kgs 11:1-3). Regardless of the historical benefits these alliances brought, these narratives warn against the dangers represented by powerful foreign women who could corrupt Israel and its kings from the inside.

What Role Did Jezebel Play in 1-2 Kings?

First and Second Kings advocates for the worship of Yahweh above any other god, and the narratives concerning Jezebel (1Kgs 16–2Kgs 10) revolve around the prophets Elijah and Elisha and their relationship with the kings of Israel. In her support for Baal, Jezebel is presented as an adversary of these prophets to the extent that Elijah pronounced judgement on the entire house of Ahab (1Kgs 21:21-22). Elijah also prophesied that dogs would lick up Ahab’s blood in Jezreel where the blood of Naboth was shed (1Kgs 21:19), though this is generally thought to have been later expanded to include Jezebel (1Kgs 21:23; 2Kgs 9:9-10) and her son Joram (2Kgs 9:24-26) after Ahab apparently died in battle and was buried in Samaria (1Kgs 22:34-38). As an opponent of Yahweh’s prophets and someone who used bloodshed to achieve her ends, Jezebel’s actions foreshadow those of Jehu, who killed Jezebel and slaughtered the descendents of Ahab (2Kgs 9-10). Jehu’s coup was one of the most violent in the entire Bible, yet it is portrayed as just—revisiting the violence of Jezebel on her own house and avenging the blood of the prophets. Even at the hour of her death, Jezebel was presented as an adversary of God’s plan, appearing at the window of Jezreel adorned in finery and taunting Jehu about his murderous coup (2Kgs 9:30-37). She suffered the consequences—thrown out of a window, trampled by horses, her corpse devoured by dogs (2Kgs 9:33-35). Her character in 1-2 Kings presents a clear warning to the reader: be wary of powerful foreign women, worship Yahweh, and heed his prophets.


  • Quine-Cat

    Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

    Cat Quine holds a PhD in Hebrew Bible studies from the University of Nottingham where she works as Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible. She is the author of Casting Down the Host of Heaven (Brill, 2020), she publishes widely on biblical politics, gender, and history, and she is currently writing a book on Athaliah.