Friday, August 9, 2013

Jezebel: A Martyr of Polytheism

In honor of Jezebel, my ancestress, a freedom fighter for polytheistic religion.

᾿Iyazabal, Jezebel’s real name in Phoenician, means “Where is Baʻal,” “Baʻal is Exalted” “Baʻal Exaults” or “Baʻal Lives.” Other proposed monotheistically and polemically-biased translations of her name drag her name literally through dung and question her morality. A native of the Phoenician city of Tyre, ᾿Iyazabal was the daughter of a priest of ‘Ashtart who became the king of both Tyre and Sidon.

According to the narrative made “official” by monotheism, ᾿Iyazabal was a woman of loose morals and sexuality who “seduced” her husband Ahab into polytheism. With her urging, Ahab set up temples in Israel to her Phoenician deities so that she could continue doing what was right. This queen kept to her ancestral religion and did not follow the religion of her husband; she did not quietly allow the dismissal of her polytheistic religion. She is said to have rounded up a hundred of the one-god’s prophets and had them assassinated. In response, the one-god’s prophet Elijah (whose name means “Yah is God”) staged a showdown with four hundred and fifty of the prophets of ᾿Iyazabal’s Baʻal. Baʻal is a generic term for a Phoenician god and means “lord;” the lord referred to here is likely either Baʻal Hadad the storm god or Melqart, a god later identified with the Greek Heracles. In the biblical narrative, the prophets of ᾿Iyazabal’s Baʻal are unable to meet Elijah’s challenge. Elijah slaughters the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baʻal.


Elisha, a supporter of Elijah and their one-god, eventually coaxes Jezebel’s own son, Jehu to have ᾿Iyazabal assassinated for her "heresy". Jezebel is painting herself when they confront her and toss her like baggage out a window only to have her corpse trampled by horses, refused burial, and eaten by wild dogs. In Phoenician and Canaanite culture, one would be hard-pressed to meet a worse end: having one’s corpse dismembered by wild animals can cause the rapi’u (spirit of the dead) to become a zhillu, a wondering shade ill-at-rest. She tried to fight the tide of monotheism, and her work is yet left undone. We need her spirit, her inspiration, her devotion to the deities now more than ever. The method in which she was assassinated and her body treated after death was a profound disrespect and an effort to guarantee her a tormented afterlife. It revolts me on a visceral level to think of what the story says was done to her in the name of the one-god.

It is a Canaanite and Phoenician tradition of painting oneself with royal purple murex dye, or perhaps henna, prior to a sacred event or a celebratory event, or it can sometimes be a part of preparing the body for burial. Painting one’s eyes with khol was standard practice for both men and women: it helped offset the glare of the sun, and people believed it prevent eye infections and the evil eye I believe it likely that if the story has a grain of truth in it, that she knew her end was coming and wished to meet it in full regalia and prepare her body as best she could. However, supporters of the one-god have taken this story to represent ᾿Iyazabal as a vain, painted lady and no better than street trash. Add to this the idea that the monotheist Israelites believed that worshipping other gods was tantamount to committing spiritual adultery and voila, they sell the image of Jezebel the woman of loose morals, a conniving femme fatale, a seducer of the pious.

She was no perfect saint. According to the narrative, she had one hundred of the one-god’s prophets killed. I don’t condone this act, but I understand she lived in different times and if she committed this act, I believe that she weighed the options as queen and saw this as the only one. Of course, the biblical narrative likely exaggerates the body count on both sides of the argument.

Historically, she was a daughter of the Phoenician king ᾿Ittobaʻal (Ithbaal I, Ethbaal I) of the cities of Tyre and Sidon. ᾿Ittobaʻal had his daughter marry Ahab to solidify political ties with his neighbor, Israel. ᾿Ittbaʻal was a priest who seized the Tyrian throne through a coup and became king. ᾿Iyazabal followed in her father’s footsteps and stayed true to her ancestral polytheistic religion. Dido (also called Elissa), the legendary founder and queen of Carthage, is ᾿Ittobaʻal’s great-granddaughter and ᾿Iyazabal’s grand-niece.

Her magnificent seal demonstrates her queenship. Few women had their own seal, and few women had a seal with her own name upon it. The symbolism on the seal includes:
  • A female lion winged sphinx: a protective and royal symbol
  • The sphinx wears a Hathor-like horned crown-and-disc: a symbol of power, and even a union of solar and lunar attributes
  • An ankh: a symbol of life everlasting, and a symbol important to the Canaanite god Rashap, a god of war, plague, protection, and healing. Eshmun, a healing god, is the Baʻal Sidon, the god of Sidon, and is said to be Rashap’s son. 
  • A winged disc: a symbol of divine grace, of rulership, and of solar attributes, possibly a symbol of the sun goddess Shapshu
  • A falcon: related to the protective and warlike goddess ‘Anatu, also representative of the Egyptian god Horus (and sometimes by questionable linguistic connections to the Canaanite god of purification and exorcism, Ḥoron)
  • Two uraei, cobras raised in defense: a symbol of protection, royalty, and strength. Poisonous snakes are connected to Ḥoron.
  • A lotus: typically a symbol associated with femininity and with the goddess ‘Ashtart
  • The Phoenician letters of ᾿Iyazabal’s name on the seal: ᾿YZBL accompanied by the letter L before it to indicate “of” and you have the message of her seal: L’YZBL, “of ᾿Iyazabal”
  • The symbolism of the letters in her name indicate that she is as a leader, a teacher, a head-of-house, a person of strength, and a person who wields great power. ᾿ = leadership, Y = strength, Z = a weapon, B = house, L = teaching and learning.
I honor ᾿Iyazabal as my 67th great grandmother, and as a martyr for Canaanite and Phoenician polytheism. ᾿Iyazabal’s name and various images of her and her royal seal have a place at my ancestor shrine. She is rapi᾿atī, my ancestress.

In her honor, and in the honor of ᾿Ittobaʻal I, the founder of a Tyrian dynasty, I will take up a version of her royal seal and I will carry on the work of Bet ᾿Ittobaʻal, the house of ᾿Ittobaʻal and his daughter ᾿Iyazabal to honor the many gods of Phoenicia and Canaan even as my ancestors did. The seal is deeply personal to me: as well as being connected to my ancestress, it incorporates animals which I have seen the most frequently in my dreams and deities with whom I have a strong connection.

More about ᾿Iyazabal and her seal...

Malkah ᾿Iyazabal, Queen ᾿Iyazabal  is a symbolic ancestress to all of us who would champion our ancient polytheistic religions against overwhelming odds. She was martyred for her beliefs. I would be thankful if you would honor my ancestress and my house for the efforts to preserve and revive our ways. I have no doubt that she will guide us on and that our efforts will bring her spirit peace. Set her as a seal upon your heart. (In Canaanite terms, the heart was the center of the mind, so when you "set her as a seal upon your heart," it means "let her own your mind," that is, "think of her often.")

Yishlam le-ki, ya-᾿Iyazabali, peace to you O Jezebel, from your renewed Bet ᾿Ittobaʻal, my house, the house of my ancestors.

From my house, Bet ᾿Ittobaʻal, Yishlam le-kumu, peace to you all who would honor my ancestress and strive to bring her rapi’atu, her spirit, peace.

Today is
3 Ra'shu Yeni, Shanatu 85

The third day of the month of Ra'shu Yeni (New Wine). It is the 85th year since the rediscovery of the Late Bronze Age Canaanite city-state of Ugarit, from where we have gained much of our primary source documents written in Ugaritic cuneiform on clay tablets. Our next holiday, Ra'shu Yeni, which celebrates the grape harvest and the new wine, starts the evening of Monday the 19th and extends for seven days through the full moon. Our new year begins on the coming new moon...

Image Credits

13 comments:

  1. I found your blog the other day and have fallen in love with it and on a personal note as a Gaelic Polytheist I want to thank you and tell you I am so moved and inspired by your recent posts on defending our polytheistic ways. Can I ask how did you find out that Jezebel is one of your ancestors?

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    1. Hi, SeashellsAndShamrocks,

      Ancestry.com can do some wonderful things. My family claims certain legendary kinships which is how I am related to Jezebel. So, one could say that she is my ancestor in three different ways: 1) my family claims the kinship that would make her my ancestor, and 2) I claim her as an ancestor, and 3) she was a polytheist so thus I believe she would claim me as her progeny since I do what I can to carry on the ancient ways. Ancestor worship includes who your family claims as kin and who claims you as kin--often this goes beyond the boundary of biological kinship. I would also say that there's an ancestral lineage of education, as well--you inherit a great deal from a good teacher, and they in turn inherited a great deal from their teachers, and so on.

      I would wager that if you were to plug into ancestry.com you would likely find that your family also claims some biblical ancestors...who are eventually Canaanite polytheists.

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  2. I like polytheism, but even the One God is entitled to His own sacred land, just like the polytheistic Gods and Goddesses are entitled to their's. Since my father was Jewish, and by extention, so was my paternal ancestors, I can't support this. They were all killing each other it seems, anyways, so there are plenty of martyrs on both sides.

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    1. To further your analogy, Yahweh as the god of the Bible doesn't just have his own sacred land--he demands the sacred land of the other gods. This is a matter I will never be ok with. If his monotheism somehow turned into a henotheism, the discussion here would be different.

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    2. What Tess said.

      In my view, Yahweh may also have been an upstart in a greater pantheon. His devotees took things to extremes and demanded that only he be worshiped. (http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Yam_%28god%29#Connections_between_Yam_and_YHWH)

      Notice that the pater familias of the pantheon, El, is a kindly god. You can't say that about either YHWH or Yam. Also take into consideration what happens to Yam.

      Meredith

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  3. Where's Yahweh's own sacred land and where's the land of other Gods he also claims?

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    1. Hi, George, it was used as a figurative expression, not as a geographical location.

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    2. Most Christians and Jews think that Yahweh is the only true God and that he promised and gave the land of Canaan to his chosen peole,the jews.

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    3. Yahweh evolved from Yamm, the god of the sea, so he didn't have land.

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  4. I.m not a Caanite polytheist, but this account of Jezebel is quite moving. I would like to honor her among the Disir, but feel it would be inappropriate to use any form of her seal. Could you suggest an honorable alternative that I could place on my harrow?

    Regards,
    Selena

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    1. Hello Selena, I would suggest a lioness, an Egyptian-styled winged disk, or a crown. Also, her name written out: in Phoenician if you can wrangle it--in English, but in beautiful lettering, if you're worried about writing her name in Phoenician. I know she would be gladdened to be remembered among your honored dead...thank you!

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  5. This is wonderful! Thank you so much for rescuing a great woman from the slanders of those who have been mislead by myopic theologies!

    (And, I still owe you an e-mail...!?!)

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    1. Thank *you* for reading. I truly hope that one day more information will come to light about this lady and we can begin to restore her outside of biblical polemic.

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