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An enemy of Queen Jezebel, Elijah (right) prophesized the fall of King Ahab and his family.

Illustration by Pictures Now, Alamy

How a pagan queen became a notorious villain in the Bible

Thrown from a window because of her “wicked” ways, Queen Jezebel is one of the few female villains of the Bible.

National Geographic explores notable biblical figures in our ongoing series People in the Bible, as part of our coverage of the history of the Bible and the search for sacred texts.

Jezebel was a Phoenician princess, daughter of the Phoenician King Ethbaal or Ithobaal. According to the first Book of Kings, she established Phoenician pagan worship at Ahab’s court on a grand scale. At her table were no less than 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Baal’s consort Asherah (I Kings 16:31,21; 18:19). By her orders, the prophets of Yaweh were attacked and put to the sword (I Kings 18:13; II Kings 9:7).

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Possibly at her prompting, King Ahab went as far as to erect “an altar for Baal in the house of Baal” (I Kings 16:32), which in the eyes of the Judah scribes further underscored the perfidy of the Northern Kingdom. Ahab then became upset when he learned that the owner of a vineyard abutting his palace, a man named Naboth, was not willing to sell the property. Queen Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be arrested on a trumped-up blasphemy charge, and the vineyard owner was stoned to death (I Kings 21:7). His property thus fell to the crown. (See the 2,000-year-old Pagan alter unearthed by archeologists.)

Shocked by this blatant crime, Elijah pronounced a curse on Ahab and his house. His prophecy was fulfilled: Ahab would be killed during another campaign against his old Syrian foe, while his son Ahaziah would die after a fall from his window. Ahab’s second son Jehoram was then ousted from the throne in a bloody coup by a commander named Jehu, reportedly with Elijah’s assistance, while Queen Jezebel was thrown to her death and set upon by dogs (II Kings 9:34; 10:9). (Read about the children sacraficed to the gods of Baal and Tanit.) In the centuries to come, her name would become synonymous with a wicked woman (Revelation 2:20).

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This entry was adapted from Who's Who in the Bible: Unforgettable People and Timeless Stories from Genesis to Revelation, published by National Geographic Books.