Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen by Lesley Hazleton is a scholarly mixture of historical research, linguistic discussion/literary analysis, and imaginative speculation. Hazleton uses the original Hebrew to analyze the Biblical story of Jezebel as anti-polytheistic propaganda during a time when Israel was comprised of people who blended polytheism and Yawhism (what Hazleton calls this early form of Judaism), and fundamental Yawhists. This she contrasts with historical evidence, supplementing these sources with speculation on what a woman of Jezebel’s position and background might have experienced on a much more personal level.
Using her in-depth historical research and literary analysis, Hazleton creates a vivid image of Israel and its neighbors during the time of Jezebel and the Omride dynasty. Where history cannot go, Hazleton employs creative freedom to imagine Jezebel as she moved through her story. At times these imaginings seem to stray from the historical precedence they are rooted in, moving almost into the spiritual. The same rings true for Hazleton’s personal accounts of visiting and/or searching for the physical locations mentioned in the Biblical texts. One chapter includes Hazleton’s search for the birth place of the prophet Elijah, a venture which is cut short when her car is attacked outside a tiny, abandoned village by a pack of wild dogs. Considering the mythological death of Jezebel, Hazleton’s vivid description of the dogs’ frantic attack on her vehicle and their pursuit to the edge of their territory is almost hair-raisingly chilling.
Despite all of its research and analysis (both of which are thorough and very strong) Hazleton’s work in Jezebel is clearly colored by emotion. As such it is sometimes easy to see where, in her own attempt to deconstruct the propaganda of the Kings writers, her own writing begins to take on the feeling of the very propaganda she seeks to undermine. This doesn’t, however, diminish the value of her historical research or her attention to Hebrew linguistics in order to peel away the layers of meaning in the Biblical account. While Hazleton recounts her travels through the holy lands of the Abrahamic traditions, drawing parallels between the fundamentalism that brought down Jezebel and the fundamentalism that threatens many corners of the world today, it is easy to understand the sorrow and even rage that color Hazleton’s language.
Ultimately Jezebel is a fascinating and enlightening read for anyone with even a passing interest in history. Drawing on a variety of sources and shedding light on both the past and the present, it offers greater understanding into one of the stories that has helped to shape three major world religions and goes even further to shed light on biases in the scholarly communities which study such stories. All of this should be, I would argue, of interest to modern day pagans and neo-pagans whose practices and beliefs are inspired if not based on historical practices and beliefs. Even more, the story of Jezebel herself, especially as related in this book, is a poignant and powerful one, well worth the consideration of modern pagan practitioners.
[Tahni J. Nikitins is a graduate of the University of Oregon with her BA in Comparative Literature and Creative Writing. Her work has been published in the devotional Lilith: Queen of the Desert, upcoming Bibliotheca Alexandrina anthologies Garland of the Goddess and The Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadow Gods, and Unconventional Love, a short story collection by Good Mourning Publishing. Every week she shares poetry and readings at https://tahnijnikitins.wordpress.com/.%5D