(Book Review) Jezebel: the Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen by Max Dashu

A very short review of Lesley Hazelton’s book

Front CoverDon’t let that last part of the title fool you. Hazelton shows that this ancient queen of Israel, a Phoenician princess married to king Ahab in Samaria, was never a harlot. She is not only reclaiming Jezebel but lays bare the way fundamentalist totalitarianism works. She provides a really important analysis of the way that Elijah and Elisha dragged down the Israelite kingdom by their attacks on religious pluralism and on the queen specifically. (Jehu to Yoram: “What peace, when your mother Jezebel’s harlotries and sorceries are so many?”) Their actions turned two allies, Phoenicia and Syria, into enemies and quickly resulted in Israel (the northern kingdom) being made into a tributary province of the fell Assyrian empire.

Seal inscribed with the name of Jezebel.
(Egyptian influence was pervasive in Canaanite and Hebrew art of the time.)
Hazelton points out that the princess of Tyre’s real name was Ithabaal, and says that several centuries after her assassination, scribal spin doctors rendered it as Jezebel, meaning “woman of dung.”

There are some errors in the book, most of them minor. The most serious is her casting Astarte as wife of El (that’s actually Athirat, Asherah in Hebrew, who is not the same as Ashtart) but this does not affect her main thesis. She does a good job of breaking down the equation of polytheism with “harlotry” (zanah) and how this eventually made Jezebel to be regarded as a whore in the historical record and still today in popular cultures.

On this topic, she has a wonderful discussion of how the notion of “sacred prostitution” was canonized by 19th and early 20th century (European/American) scholars, a development we are still seeing the effects of even among some Goddess-oriented scholars today. It’s worth quoting her on this: “The old-style gentlemen scholars, hampered by Orientalism and blinkered by misogyny, simply could not conceive of women as priests. To the, there was only one possible explanation for the presence of women officiating in the temples of the Middle East: a consecrated woman could only be consecrated to sex.” (75)

Also, she identifies the “Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess” that John of Patmos denounced in Revelations 2:20-23, as the popular Christian teacher Thyatira. The true name of the original Jezebel is Ithabaal, “woman of Baal (lord)”. Hazelton says that the Bible writers twisted this name into a form that translates as “woman of dung.” She has something to say about that too.

Although the book has extensive endnotes, it is written in an easy to read style, at times journalistic and occasionally poetic. She doesn’t fail to draw parallels to modern fundamentalisms.
(Originally published here: http://www.suppressedhistories.net/articles/jezebel.html)

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Donna Snyder
Donna Snyder

Thank you for this concise review of a book dealing with the rehabilitation of Jezebel after the millennia of her disparagement. The facts, such as the transformation of her name, is new to me, but hardly surprising. I may not get a chance to read the book, which makes me appreciate this review even more.