Jezebel in the Window

Credit:, Hecht Museum at Haifa, Israel

Numbers 5 contains rules for a problematic wife. If a man suspects that “wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him” he can take his wife to the priest to undergo the ‘sotah’ ritual. “The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her…after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”

1 Kings 16 tells of a different problematic wife. After Ahab became king of Israel, he married “Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians.” Jezebel killed God’s prophets, ate with 450 prophets of the god Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, threatened to kill Elijah, and inspired her husband to conspire to kill Naboth to take his vineyard. The Bible blamed her for her turning her Ahab away from God: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.” For these acts, Elijah warned that Jezebel had been cursed by God. “And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.”

In 2 Kings 9, Jezebel met her end at Jezreel. “Then Jehu went to Jezreel. When Jezebel heard about it, she put on eye makeup, arranged her hair and looked out of a window. As Jehu entered the gate, she asked, “Have you come in peace, you Zimri, you murderer of your master? He looked up at the window and called out, Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot. Jehu went in and ate and drank. Take care of that cursed woman, he said, and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter. But when they went out to bury her, they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, This is the word of the Lord that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. Jezebel’s body will be like dung on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, This is Jezebel.”

In the climactic scene of Jezebel’s death, she appears at a window. In the Iron II period of the ancient Near East, a woman in the window is a common motif in art. Examples have been found in Lebanon (, Samaria (, Assyria, which is the region of northern Iraq, and in Syria. This detail of Jezebel in the window perhaps has its echo in a popular theme of its time.

The image above is of an 8th century BCE ‘woman in the window’ ivory plaque that can be found in the Hecht Museum at Haifa.