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Death of Jezebel

Jezebel’s violent, bloody death represents the expulsion of foreign cultural and religious influences and the rejection of powerful female leadership in Israel.


In 2Kgs 9:30-37, Jezebel meets her demise at the hands of Jehu, her own eunuchs, a team of horses, and a pack of dogs—it takes a lot to kill a queen. When she hears of Jehu’s arrival in Jezreel, she arranges her hair and paints her eyes, actions that are often seen as sexually suggestive. However, these acts are those of a proud and powerful queen. She arrays herself in full royal splendor and stands at the window to await the usurper. The idea that these acts are more about political power than sexual seduction is confirmed by her words to Jehu when he arrives at the gate. She throws out a taunt: “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?” Her reference is to the earlier coup of Zimri, who killed King Elah and all of the other claimants to the throne (1Kgs 16:8-14). Her statement may also be a curse meant to thwart the success of Jehu’s insurrection, since Zimri ruled for only one week before he too became the victim of political violence (1Kgs 16:15-20). Jezebel’s last words are clearly meant not to entice but to deride Jehu; her last beautifying acts can be understood in the same way.

Jehu responds, “Who is on my side?” Responding to his call, Jezebel’s own eunuchs throw her out the window, her blood splattering as she hits the ground. Jehu’s now bespattered horses then trample her. The image of an adorned woman at a window suggests not only royal power but also goddesses (especially Hathor, Asherah, and Astarte), who are also depicted looking out windows. In this way, the death of Jezebel is not just the death of a Phoenician princess who became queen of Israel but also the symbolic death of the goddesses she worships and represents. It is not enough simply to kill her; she must be violently expelled from the political and religious community.

Jezebel’s body mangled and lifeless, Jehu goes inside for dinner. Almost as an afterthought, he commands her burial. But while he has been inside eating, the dogs outside are feasting as well—on Jezebel’s body. Dogs are powerful symbols in Canaanite religion, especially associated with the goddesses Anat and Astarte and the god Baal. There is a deep irony here. She who was devoted to these deities is devoured by them, all to the triumph of Israel. Only her palms, feet, and skull remain. A further reference to Anat may explain why only these fragments of her body are unconsumed. According to Canaanite mythology, Anat wore a necklace and belt of human skulls and hands. The religious rituals and images of ancient Near Eastern religions are inverted, perverted, and overturned in the death of Jezebel.

Consumed by animals, Jezebel becomes an animal; her dehumanization is complete. She is a foreign woman, a powerful queen, and a worshiper of deities other than Yahweh. She is ethnically and religiously different, transgresses proper gender roles, and is therefore a danger. The death and destruction of Jezebel eradicates the Other in order to protect and preserve the proper Israelite community.

  • Jennifer L. Koosed

    Jennifer L. Koosed is professor of religious studies at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives (University of South Carolina Press, 2011). She has edited The Bible and Posthumanism (SBL, 2014) and, with Stephen Moore, Affect Theory and the Bible, a special issue of the journal Biblical Interpretation (2014).