Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Jezebel
Jezebel is a name notoriously borne from the Bible, in the Old Testament Book of Kings. The name is Hebrew in origin from ‘Izevel (אִיזֶבֶל) meaning “not exalted”. In the Bible, Jezebel’s story opens up in 1 Kings 16-22 when we are introduced to her as Ahab’s wife. Ahab is the 10th King of Israel who “…did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who before them.” In other words, Big Daddy isn’t exactly pleased with Ahab’s leadership (or lack thereof). Yet traditionally it’s Ahab’s wife, poor Jezebel, who has shouldered most of the blame for their story over the centuries. First of all we should mention that Ahab and Jezebel’s 9th century B.C. marital union was probably a political alliance of its day, as Jezebel was the beautiful daughter of the King of the Phoenicians. As the new Queen she brings her own form of religion: the worship of a variety of deities, particularly the Phoenician god Baal. Presumably under the influence of Jezebel, Ahab builds a temple in honor of Baal and all the prophets of Israel are slaughtered under their watch (except for 100 who are hidden in a cave). God sends His prophet Elijah to intervene, and Elijah holds a “Whose God is Better?” contest on the top of Mt. Carmel. The object of the challenge is a sacrificial bull; the prophets must call upon their God to light the bull on fire. Of course the Israeli bull spontaneously goes up in flames (thanks to God), but the Baal god does not come to the aid of his people. In a display of poor sportsmanship, Elijah gleefully mocks the Baal followers suggesting that perhaps their god Baal is on a bathroom break or sleeping. Then Elijah and his 100 prophets kill all of Baal’s 450 prophets. When Jezebel learns what Elijah had done, she vows revenge; and apparently she’s a force to be reckoned with because Elijah “…was afraid…and ran for his life.” [1 Kings 19:3]. Later in the story, Ahab spies a choice piece of real estate, a vineyard owned by his neighbor Naboth. When he approaches Naboth to purchase the land, Naboth refuses to sell. Ahab sulks back home, moping about and refusing to eat. When he tells Jezebel why he so sullen (Naboth won’t share his toys) she chastises her husband reminding him that he is King, but assuring him she will take care of the problem (we know who wears the pants in this relationship, don’t we?). Jezebel pays off a couple servants to lie, saying Naboth was heard cursing the king and God (an offense punishable by death). Naboth is killed and Ahab takes possession of the land. These sins of the monarchy do not go unnoticed by God, of course, and he condemns both Ahab and Jezebel to an unsavory end. Ahab immediately repents, but Jezebel goes on her merry way despite Elijah’s prophesy: “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.” Jezebel ends up out-living Ahab, and their sons become successor kings of Israel. God has other plans for the House of Ahab, so the Lord commands Elijah to anoint Jehu (an Israelite military commander) as king. A bloody coup ensues and all descendents of Ahab are killed rather violently. But it’s old Jezebel who gets the worst punishment. As she sees Jehu and his army approach and acknowledging her pending fate, Jezebel “painted her eyes and adorned her head” (2 Kings 9:30). This small passage in the Bible has probably become Jezebel’s greatest downfall in terms of her historical treatment. The main interpretation being that Jezebel is making herself pretty in order to seduce Jehu to save her life, when more likely she’s preparing herself to die with dignity.