thoughts on jezebel

Thoughts from listening to defending jezebel (on point 6 Nov)

The book is Lesley Hazelton’s Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen.

Jezebel was “framed” according to Hazelton, and she spends a lot of time setting up this concept.  Infidelity here is actually religious infidelity rather than sexual infidelity. The story is told as the epic battle between monotheism and polytheism: Elijah vs Jezebel.

In a sense what she’s getting at is another devolution of a word.  Infidel and infidelity should be able to mean being unfaithful to anything, but in our culture we’ve devolved the word to nothing more than a sexual betrayal. I don’t know that I totally agree because I believe the word is used as a way to portray lack of fidelity in the construct of the marriage contract, which goes beyond sex, however, I will grant that it is used in our culture to talk about straying from a relationship, rather than the other possible meanings.  In some ways, people in other cultures are more denotatively correct when they talk about people being “infidels,” though their meaning is people who are not true to the one true God. I agree that English speakers have, for the most part, trivialized the word.

I find very interesting the concept that Jezebel was used as a “fall girl” because she’s foreign and a woman. To go back and look at the story for a second, this woman was the only person around who could stand up to Elijah, and that was quite a feat.

It makes me think of incidences like the Gang of Four in China, whose ideas and motivations helped shape the Cultural Revolution, a period of over a decade of intense persecution and distancing from traditional Chinese culture.  Jiang Qing, a member of the gang of four, was a woman, and while the rise of the communist party stated in word that there should be equality between men and women, her rise to power stands as an example to many in China why women should never be given any real power. Add to that the fact that she was Mao’s wife, and I think it becomes plain why we never hear about any Chinese president’s first lady.

This isn’t to say that this doesn’t happen elsewhere. I think there’s a demonization of women in power evident in many jokes about Hilary Clinton, Martha Stewart, or even Oprah.  I am just as likely to laugh it up as the next person, but there’s something deeply disturbing about it and the idea that this has been going on since biblical times.

The idea is brought forth that Jezebel, being a typical polytheist of the time, is actually the more tolerant of other belief systems (every people have their own god, and the more gods you have the better because one or the other of them will help you out when in need).  The picture painted here is of Jezebel, the religious tolerant, and Elijah the conservative fundamentalist crusading and killing in the name of the one true God. (Personally I have to go back and read this stuff, but the concept is really interesting because it takes a different standpoint than i ever thought of) This sounds a lot more to me like the scary aspects of fundamentalism (both American and otherwise) than I had previously been willing to grant the guy you pour a glass for at Seder. He’s supposed to be looking out for us.

I’ll puzzle through it, maybe pick up Hazelton’s book, and come up with my own thoughts, because that’s what you do.  If you’d like, there’s an online audio bible, and also biblegateway has several versions online to check out. I’m sure a few friends could track down the Hebrew texts, but it’s not a language I’m functional with.  There’s also always Strong’s concordance if you want to check out word origins and meanings inherent in different translations, and complete with commentaries from different translations, the Online Parallel Bible Project.

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