Music in the Old Bones: Jezebel through the Ages

Music in the Old Bones: Jezebel through the Ages

Music in the Old Bones: Jezebel through the Ages

Music in the Old Bones: Jezebel through the Ages


An alien, a polytheist from Phoenicia, the biblical Queen Jezebel posed a serious threat to the stability of the Israelites' single male deity. So powerful was this threat that writers through the ages have portrayed her as the incarnation of feminine evil, and her name has become synonymous with the misogynistic view of women as seductresses.

Janet Howe Gaines argues that the bride of the Israelite king Ahab became a convenient scapegoat for biblical writers who portrayed her as the primary force behind their nation's apostasy. The biblical account presents the queen as a murderer, as a disruptive force for evil. Despised, the strong-willed Jezebel is still one of the most intriguing women of the Bible.

Music in the Old Bones is a guide to the eternal Jezebel story. The first part of this illustrated study is a detailed analysis that explores the biblical tale from traditional and feminist points of view. Gaines then analyzes the ways authors through the centuries have treated Jezebel. Her unburied bones became misogynistic relics for generations of writers who retold her story as a warning about the dangers of rebelling against patriarchal society. From the sermons of John Knox to the novels of Margaret Atwood, from the poetry of Percy Shelley to the ballads of Boys II Men, from the drama of Racine to the Academy Award-winning film starring Bette Davis, Jezebel has long been the subject of artistic inquiry. Her image as the bad girl of the Bible is still useful to writers. Most exploit her name and evil reputation to enhance their admonitions to women, but a few break away from tradition and openly admire Jezebel's courage and vigor.

Placing the biblical account of Jezebel'sdoomed reign in the context of its xenophobic writers, Gaines proposes a new and more sympathetic reading of the murdered queen whose body was left to rot in the streets and whose reputation suffered a fate even more egregious.


Can these bones live?

--Ezekiel 37.3

THE BONES OF JEZEBEL WERE NEVER BURIED. HER ASSASSIN, KING JEHU, neglected to order her immediate interment. Instead, Jezebel's bones lay abandoned in the streets of Jezreel, deliberately left there to be trampled by horses and devoured by dogs. The rebel Jehu's ascent to Israel's monarchy in 842 BCE (Before the Common Era) was supposed to mark a return to God's order and justice after years of sinfulness under Queen Jezebel and her husband, King Ahab. Yet the promise of a fresh start under Jehu was never fully realized, and today Jezebel's bones rattle like a skeleton in our own family closet.

As the biblical story opens, God's laws have been violated in the Promised Land, and Queen Jezebel is the accused culprit. She is a foreigner, hailing from Phoenicia, but now living and ruling in xenophobic Israel. Though the Bible provides no details of Jezebel's upbringing in her native land, it is certain that she was a polytheist who greatly threatened the single-God requirement of Yahweh worship. In Phoenicia there were goddesses as well as gods, unlike the situation in male-dominated Israel, land of strong patriarchs and a lone masculine deity. It is also quite possible that Jezebel was raised within a despotic monarchy where rulers boasted of broader administrative power than in ancient Israel. So when Jezebel arrived as a young woman to wed King Ahab, her worldview and expectations of her role as sovereign were at odds with those of her adopted country. As a result, she became a convenient scapegoat. for misogynistic biblical writers who tagged her as the primary force behind Israel's apostasy. Someone had to bear their vituperation. Why not the alien woman who engaged in blasphemous worship customs and seemed to be the power behind Ahab's throne?

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