Jezebel is a character mentioned in the Bible in the Book of 1 Kings. She is a Phoenician princess who becomes the wife of the Israeli King Ahab. Jezebel brings the worship of Baal, a Phoenician god, to Israel, angering Jewish prophets, and is eventually executed.
Another Jezebel appears in the New Testament Book of Revelation, but she may be given that name in reference to the Old Testament character. In Christian Western culture, her name has come to refer to a wicked, seductive woman. The name may be used as an insult, or it may simply mean that a woman is seductive and alluring, but not necessarily evil.
Jezebel is portrayed as a deceitful woman who uses her husband and later her sons to gain and retain power over Israel. In addition to instituting the worship of her god in Israel and causing temples to be built in his honor, she is responsible for the execution of many prophets of Jehovah, the God of the Jewish people she rules. After Jezebel engineers the death of a man named Naboth and his sons by wrongly accusing them of treason, so that Ahab may take possession of their vineyard, the prophet Elijah prophesies her violent death.
She survives both Ahab and her elder son, Ahaziah, as queen. Her younger son, Joram, succeeds to the throne, but is killed by Jehu, who thereafter becomes king of Israel. During the revolt led by Jehu, Jezebel is also killed, fulfilling Elijah's prophecy. She is pushed out of her window and her corpse is eaten by dogs. Part of her reputation as a seductress comes from a verse in 1 Kings that describes her applying cosmetics in preparation for her death.
The Jezebel in Revelation is a priestess who institutes blasphemous practices among her followers in Thyatira, in modern-day Turkey. Some scholars believe that this passage referred to a contemporary figure whom readers would have recognized from the description. Jezebel was likely used as a nickname to point to the woman's wickedness and worship of gods other than Yahweh, much as the name is sometimes used today.
Though the term Jezebel has been used for centuries as an insult towards women who are seen as immoral or sexually threatening, it has more recently lost some of its religious connotations. Today, someone called by this name may be simply an attractive, headstrong woman who takes control of her sexuality. Authors Tom Robbins and Isaac Asimov have both offered alternate views of Jezebel in their work, suggesting that the Biblical story is biased and that she was a strong woman who promoted the worship of the god of her people and supported the male rulers in her family.